What is a Compositor?

Written by 90 Seconds
Last updated: October 4, 2023
What is a Compositor?

Anyone who has worked with film knows that there are numerous roles that have to come together perfectly in order to produce a successful film. One of the essential roles to this process is called a compositor.

This person is responsible for making sure all of the visual elements of the film flow together perfectly. These individuals have had roles since the dawn of filmmaking when they had to make sure the props were in the right place at the right time. As technology has advanced, this role has become more and more important.

With numerous special effects, video editing, graphic design, and the variety of locations involved in making a movie, it can be a challenge to make these elements fit together perfectly.

With numerous movie elements from the blue screen to the green screen and even the chroma key, the compositor has had to make these elements come together to communicate the proper message.

Primary roles

Green Screen and chroma key

Most people have watched the special features on a movie and have seen the importance of the green screen or the chroma key. The green screen, more commonly called chroma key today, is the screen in the background that allows for the combination of two or more features into one, single image based on different color hues.

This is how intense, live-action scenes in movies are filmed. Without this vital position, the green screen scenes would not happen.

Digital image manipulation

As movie production has advanced, much of the role of compositing today rests in the art of digital image manipulation.

While green screen technology is still used, much of the digital image manipulation occurs on the computer.

This person sits down at the computer and combines multiple images into a single scene and then runs the scene to make sure that everything flows smoothly.

Technology has advanced to the point that much of this can be performed without the green screen because everything can be combined digitally without needing the special screen in the background.

Secondary roles

Physical compositing

Because much of this is performed digitally, this role is largely a secondary role today. In the past, some scenes were too large to be filmed in one shot.

Instead, the scene would be filmed in multiple shots and the compositor would have to physically place the images together.

Today, this job is done chiefly to add a nostalgic feel to movies. Because the camera technology and digital image manipulation has progressed, physical compositing is no longer performed frequently; however, it is still a secondary role.

Background editing

This is still a secondary role in filmmaking but involves the projection of a background while a scene is being done. This is sometimes called background compositing.

This isn’t used much anymore because of the chroma key and digital image manipulation; however, it is still used sparingly in film production. If this was needed in film production, this would be the job of the compositor.