Compositing is where it all comes together. This is where the creatures and the backgrounds and the live action are all mixed together to give the audience the sense of a seamless scene.

Because everything is in the computer, it seems as if all the compositor does is grab all the elements and slap them together like a jigsaw puzzle, but that's not entirely accurate. A jigsaw puzzle can go together only one way, while a scene can be composited any number of ways. The compositor needs to be able to judge density, size, and contrast to make sure things that are supposed to look far away, do. He or she also makes sure items created in the computer don't pass through real items, such as walls or people.

There's also a huge sense of timing that goes along with compositing. When you're adding in an explosion, you have to add it at exactly the right frame; otherwise it will look fake. If it's done, right, though, it can look perfect. For a low-budget film, the effects team of Howard/Granite used a still picture of a city, some overhead shots of cars moving, and a couple of explosions to create a composite of an end-of-the-world scenario. They put moving cars on the streets to give it a sense of action and then set off the explosions, smaller in the distance and larger as they got closer. In all, they completely destroyed a major metropolitan area for little money, lots of time, and no actual damage.

Compositors can also do subtle things such as change backgrounds, add shadows (remember the spaceship's approach in Independence Day?), even combine two live-action elements (the tiger scene in Gladiator is a prime example—the big cats were nowhere near the actors).

If this sounds like fun, manipulating time and space to get the ultimate, perfect scene, then by starting in I/O, you might just end up putting yourself in the picture.

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