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Rotoscoping (Roto) Artist
What is the job?
Roto Artists work closely with the Compositing Artists (Compositors) to integrate all layers and elements into a seamless VFX shot. It’s the very trusted and established route into a career as a VFX Compositor, the world over.
Roto Artists animate mask shapes to make mattes (alpha channels) which Compositors use to cut out characters and objects from one moving picture so that they can be inserted into another or that CGI can be inserted behind or so that a selective colour/tone change (grading) or image filter can be applied selectively (for example selective defocusing). In some companies this role also encompasses the Paint/Prep Artists’ job as well. In this case, Roto Artists will also be, at a very minimum, involved in tracking marker removal but may also be involved in more complex rig removal, paint and shot rebuilding tasks.
Whats it like?
In larger VFX companies, Roto Artists may be attached to a specific show and teamed up with a Compositor, or 2D Lead who will review new shots and brief them as to what ‘mattes’ are needed for the VFX compositing work. On other occasions Roto Artists ‘float’ and are tasked from show to show as needed. At smaller houses being ‘time served’ and experienced to at least Junior Compositor level means you will do your own roto and prep work as well as the compositing work. Roto for high end VFX compositing can be very exacting and precise. This can be rewarding for people who naturally like being precise in their work – with experience, artists do become surprisingly dexterous and speedy with a few short cut key strokes and movement of the Wacom tablet pen. Most find music helps them get into their stride and artists have anything from spoken word to thrash metal in their headphones.
Although roto is essentially a 2D animation task (the advice that you should analyse the movement of the focus object; use tracking to lessen the manual work and then think like an animator is well rehearsed in roto). Judgement and a very keen eye for detail is often called for (motion blur can present some tricky challenges). Although it might sometimes be seen as entry-level ‘grunt’ work, roto is still the main foundation skill in examining and accessing edges and these are qualities that every VFX Compositor needs to have.
Often VFX companies will have Lead Roto Artists to check roto work on the big screen or on a graded monitor. Notes are given in roto ‘dailies’, so small tweaks can be made to rendered mattes or exported splines. Mattes that chatter, wobble or contain holes get sent back to the artist to be fixed or re-done completely. There are occasions when you’ll augment articulate roto work with selective luma keying – this is usually the preserve of smaller companies, the http://courses.creativeskillset.org/pick_the_tick_degree_coursestradition in larger pipelined companies is to ask the Roto Artist to roto everything (even hair) and spend a lot of time producing accurate, clean mattes for use in compositing.
• Understand the principles of garbage and articulate roto, basic keying, matte maths, edge offset, shape animation and an appreciation of motion blur and edge fall off
• A strong eye for detail and precision
• High level personal quality control
• 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 a deadline.
• Enthusiasm to learn and develop professionally
Silhouette is the industry reference standard software for VFX roto work. Nuke also has a satisfactory and well used roto operator.
You can still get into 2D VFX from starting at some VFX companies as a Runner. You will need to complete roto training shots in between your shifts. Candidates who may have studied media, media production, media technology, graphic design, photography or similar University or College courses who come across as personable, keen and eager to learn will work their way up into roto via the Runner route. New entrants coming from VFX courses with a good junior VFX showreel demonstrating skill in matchmoving, modelling, texturing, lighting, prep, roto and basic comp can choose to go into either roto or matchmoving departments.
Whilst it is true that some companies have outsourced the majority of their roto work, others still use it as a 2D training department upon entry to the industry. Either way all VFX Compositors at all levels on lots of different types of show always need to do some roto – so it will always be a necessary skill.
Traditionally, from roto your career path is into compositing. As a 2D Artist you would expect to spend a year or so in roto then move gradually into increasingly more complex prep work until, after around three years working, you’ll naturally blur the gap between roto/prep and junior comp. A good solid Roto/Prep Artist with a number of shows under his or her belt and shots on the showreel is really a Junior Compositor in VFX.
Being time served is important – compositing is a craft based discipline. After an appraisal and pay review, three to seven years usually makes you a Mid Level Compositor and upwards of seven years and the prerequisite demo shots on your reel, you’d become a Senior Compositor. Senior Compositors usually have the responsibility of sequence leading which involves mentoring more Junior Artists, setting up template scripts and ensuring there is consistency in all the shots in a sequence. At larger companies some seniors with a particular interest and apptitude for Python coding use it to streamline the output of deliverables, and build tools for others to use – the job of Compositing Technical Director (CTD) is becoming more formalised. Some Senior Compositors will eventually go on to VFX supervision.