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Digital Preparation (Paint/Prep) Artist
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The tasks of a Paint/Prep Artist are to digitally prepare the plate for the Compositing Department to layer in CG, digital matte painting, graphics or other photographed elements, for example using green screen, black screen or second unit effects photography.
Wires, harnesses, markers and all kinds of film apparatus may need to be digitally removed from a shot – having played a part in assisting the shoot, they now need to be rendered invisible to the eye. In addition, there are sometimes mistakes on the shoot, such as boom mics or crew members accidentally appearing in the frame and other incongruous elements that may disrupt the story, such as pylons or wristwatches in a period drama. Sometimes images need to be restored too, removing damage in the shape of scratches and dust. This does pertain to images acquired on film, as oppose to those acquired digitally, although now in the minority, some productions needing VFX are still shot on film negative.
What is it like?
Paint/Prep Artists are briefed by Paint/Prep Leads or Comp Leads on the Paint Prep and rig removal tasks for a particular shot or sequence.
In dealing with large resolution plates and working on cinema release feature film prep/clean–up work, high-level quality control and a dispassionate and discerning eye for repair work is necessary. Such work needs to be invisible and unnoticed and artists need to prove it to themselves and others with the use of a/b comparisons. The work of a Paint/Prep Artist is likely to be reviewed on a regular basis by a Comp or VFX Supervisor, often a frame at a time, and compared back to the original plate on a graded monitor or cinema screen.
Today, the term ‘paint’ can be used as a short hand or catch–all term for every prep and clean-up task in VFX. It is certainly not all about the act of digital painting although such skill with a Wacom pen is held in high regard - artists who can paint their way out of trouble in the absence of more straight forward possibilities such as image patching or image re-timing are highly prized, particularly in those companies doing high end feature film VFX work.
In Paint/Prep, technical expertise is required in:
• Grain removal and grain matching
• Generation of clean patches through collaging or clone painting on still frames
• Image transformation, point/planar tracking
• Basic matte generation through rotoscoping, luminance, chrominance and difference keying
• Image filter types and effect on the image
• Camera tracking and image re-projection in 2.5D
• Warping and morphing
• Image stabilization
• Tracker marker removal
• Dustbusting, scratch removal and image restoration
• Colour correction
• Image Retiming
• Frame by frame painting
• Understanding of photography
• A forensic attention to detail
• Ability to conduct your own quality control
• Initiative and a keen ability to problem-solve
• Ability to match grain, restore colour balance and edge characteristics
• Knowledge of relevant software (see below)
• Ability to communicate with colleagues and work as part of a team
• Ability to take direction and willingness to address feedback
• Ability to manage priorities and bring multiple tasks to completion within deadline.
• Enthusiasm to learn and develop professionally
The predominant VFX software packages used in paint and prep is Nuke, which is used for de-graining, patching, tracking and keying, roto, colour correction, warping, morphing, finishing and re-graining and Silhouette which is a specialist package used for articulate roto and detailed, high-end paint work. Commercials VFX houses may use Smoke or Flame for clean-up as well as for compositing and finishing work.
Paint/Prep Artists are likely to have done either a VFX undergraduate or postgraduate course or undergone training with a private training provider. Some study Art at FE or University but are likely then to enter the industry as a Runner and use that as an opportunity to be trained ‘on the job’ in all the junior 2D roles including rotoscoping and paint/prep. Some companies provide formal training as a Runner, either through formal mentoring or by being asked to work on training shots independently.
In most companies the job of a Paint/Prep Artist is relatively junior – the next step up in 2D VFX to entry level Roto Artists work, however some more experienced Paint/Prep Artists become senior in the field, progressing to the position of Lead Paint/Prep after two to three years. Some companies working in high end television and feature film VFX pay skilled and experienced paint artists on a similar level to Senior Compositors. This tends to be very niche, but Senior Paint and Rig Removal Artists do exist, working in larger VFX companies. For the majority though, the paint/prep role is a stepping stone to compositing.
The usual career route is to progress from Roto/Paint/Prep Artist to Junior Compositor, Mid Level Compositor, then Senior Compositor.
The skills and experience of a Paint/Prep Artist are recognised as the best foundation for a career in 2D VFX.