Visual Effects Alumnus Talks Career in Compositing
The Coke 'Heist' advertisment won an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial in 2009. Jolly describes it as “Awesome. It was a great project in that it had a lot of collaboration between departments as well as being a fun project to work with all kinds of various types of bugs.” Courtesy of Lane Jolly.
Since graduating in 2003 with a B.F.A. from the Academy of Art University’s School of Animation & Visual Effects with an emphasis on compositing, Lane Jolly has put his skills to good use. He is currently one of the lead compositing supervisors at Psyop, a production company that works within the entertainment, video gaming and advertising industries to produce integrated visual effects, live action and animation.
Jolly has also been nominated for an Emmy for his work on the 2004–2009 remake of the science fiction TV series Battlestar Galactica, putting together effects including space shots and explosions. Read on to hear what Jolly has to say about this work, as well as his current position and his time at the Academy.
How did you come to work for Psyop?
A friend of mine whom I’d worked with at my previous job had started there as a producer and told me they were hiring. At the time, I was just finishing up a booking and decided to give it a whirl. Six years later, I’m still there and it’s a great place to work.
What do your main duties include?
When I first started at Psyop, I was compositing in Combustion. [The] Coke Heist [advert] was my first job using Nuke and once I had figured out the way it worked, I didn’t want to use anything else.
I am now one of the lead composting supervisors and do a number of things including bidding new work, conforming, supervising jobs and artists, supervising on set shoots and also writing tools for use on projects … [which are] simple as I’m not the best programmer.
Tell me a little about the work you did on Battlestar Galactica. How did you get involved? What did the work entail?
Working on Battlestar Galactica was pretty much super fun all the time. Space shots, cool ships and blowing things up are three things that I very much enjoy, amongst many sci-fi fans. Getting to be the person behind that was a good time. The team I was working with at the time were all about making it look really cool, so we were all on board on throwing more and more in all the time.
I had originally started working on various TV shows and eventually moved into doing roto/cleanup for Battlestar, which then led into comp work and then lead comping on the show in season 2.
A lot of work went into giving the world a bit more of a gritty, cold feeling when it came to the ships. Given that, when explosions happened, it would make them pop even more as it would warm up the frame pretty nicely. There was a lot of back and forth on the “fire in space” idea, which we ended up just making fire because it looked cooler.
How did your time at the Academy prepare you for your career?
It helped me to know composition above all else, what looks good and what doesn’t. Simple things can be done to make it look better, but if you don’t’ know what it needs in the first place, you’re going to go around in circles.
The storytelling and the storyboarding classes were excellent as they are more than useful when coming up with ideas on how things should play out, especially in commercials now. Having hands-on experience with the software was an excellent investment.
The fine art aspect was helpful as it showed me the differences between color, light and shading as well as how they work together to form the final look of most projects.
It also helps to know these things backwards and forwards as most work as a compositor is exactly that, blending those three. It helps to know what direction you need to take to make things look a certain way versus messing with color corrections until you get what you want. It makes for better efficiency, which makes you better at your job.
Do you have any advice for current Academy students looking to follow a similar career path to you?
If you plan to be a compositor, make sure to take the rotoscoping classes and any classes you can that deal with paint/cleanup basic compositing as more than likely, that’ll be the job you’ll get fresh out of school. Simple things like shooting some footage of a skyline and removing some of the trees are enough on the reel to get you a job doing cleanup.
Working in L.A., you tend to see a lot of things shot in L.A., which means palm trees, but there are no palm trees in most of the country, so a lot of the time those have to be removed. It’s a crummy job but if you put in the effort, it won’t last very long until you move into full compositing.
I hadn’t taken the rotoscoping class in school and that hindered me when I started working. I picked it up though fairly quick and now I’m pretty good at it, just don’t tell my boss that.
Another good thing that has helped me is knowing multiple [types of] software. I’m pretty good with Nuke, After Effects and Combustion. I know enough of Maya to be able to export something from 3-D but wouldn’t trust myself to jump in and do a shot in it. Knowing Nuke and After Effects has given me a leg up a lot of times, as they’re the most widely used pieces of software in this business, aside from proprietary stuff you find at larger houses.
Academy alum Lane Jolly. Courtesy of Lane Jolly.