Understanding Compositing in 3D Animation

By Michael Jones

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When watching a breathtaking animated movie made by Pixar or Dreamworks Studios, you might be wondering exactly how the animation comes together. Many different teams with different skills collaborate from beginning to end to make the final product you see in theaters. One of the essential steps when finishing any 3D animation is the compositing stage. Read our guide below if you would like to know more about understanding compositing in 3D animation.

3D Animation

3D animations are used in more than just cartoons like Toy Story or How to Train Your Dragon. It encompasses a broad range of motions brought to life with the aid of computer graphics. Typically, 3D models are used to generate objects. 3D software modifies the generated objects. These modifications allow for the output of picture sequences that appear to be moving in a 3D digital format.

Before Compositing

As we mentioned before, there are many different stages involved in bringing 3D animation to life. These stages will roughly be the same whether you’re working by yourself on effects or part of a large team working on a big-budget movie.

Stages of 3D Animation

The exact stages of creating 3D animations will vary on several factors, including its intended purpose or the size of the team. No matter what art form generates the 3D animation, some steps apply when developing it all the way through. Below we’ve created a simplified guide to give you a general idea of this undertaking that will also help with explaining compositing.


It’s hard to begin developing your animations if you don’t know what you’re supposed to create. Almost every animation starts with figuring out the concept and illustrating the ideas, characters, designs, and any other visual information in 2D during storyboarding.

3D Modeling

Modeling is the method of transforming a shape into a finished 3D mesh. The most common way to create a 3D model is to start with a basic geometric shape called a primitive and expand it into a form that can be detailed and polished. Textures are added in combination with colors and other designs. The models become rigged with a malleable skeleton that is then manipulated in the animation stage.


At this stage, an animator will manipulate the model to give the illusion that it is moving. One form of manipulation is keyframing, which means to move the object frame-by-frame. Another is to use your 3D software’s physics engine to simulate movements.


Once your animations look good, the lighting for the animations is tweaked, and the animators figure out the camera movements. You will now start the rendering phase. Rendering is where the hardware and software translate the 3D data into images, typically done in layers such as the background and foreground. The Modeling, texturing, coloring, illumination, and motion details get mixed and processed pixel by pixel to decide the overall look of the final render.

What Is Compositing

All previous stages make up pre-production and production, which are the planning and animating phases, respectively. Compositing, the first stage of post-production, is the combination of visual objects from respective sources to produce a single image. This first post-production stage is where the different layers of rendering come together in creating the final product.

Why Is Compositing Necessary

There is a mind-numbing amount of data computers have to process inside 3D software engines. Compositing allows you to a degree of polishing that would take too long inside of the 3D software. Compositing software will also give the animators the option for non-linear editing, where the animators will rearrange shots, re-time sequences, color correct, and more. A highly advanced composite can adjust the color in a series of shots or show a specific reflection in less time than the generated software.

What Does a 3D Compositor Typically Do

Compositors make sure animation gets created with a cohesive, consistent display of all the visual elements. They work with a diverse mix of images from 3D software and combine them into a single product. A high degree of technical expertise is needed to integrate the layers of various formats. Utilizing their skills enables a shot to appear smoother than if produced in just one 3D software program.

What Skills Help With Compositing

A good compositor will possess many different traits and skills that help improve their VFX work. One of the critical skills you would need as a compositor is simply having knowledge and utilizing additional compositing software. Some examples of this software are Nuke, which has a node-based workflow, and After Effect, which Adobe maintains. While these aren’t necessary, a good compositor will also have a good eye for compositions, color, light, and film techniques. Recognizing and learning different aspects of cinematography and photography will help you create better shots. Another big plus is having excellent communication and collaboration skills. Compositing is just one aspect of bringing 3D animations together, and being able to converse with different departments effectively will help make sure there are no errors in the product.

How To Become a Compositor

While a degree in art or graphic design, animation, or other relevant fields can help land a job in compositing, they aren’t vital. As long as you have the fundamental skills such as a basic knowledge of animation and film, a good eye for detail, or at the very least, a willingness to learn, you can teach yourself how to use compositing software and set yourself up for success. If you’re working independently, you can start to create a portfolio as you continue to work through the software. For example, if you know anyone who does 3D animations, you can apply your knowledge and help to composite their rendered images. There are many different avenues to make connections and get your work out there.

Many people have been switching careers to find more fulfilling jobs in their lives. Suppose you’ve ever thought about a career in animation, or you are looking for a hobby that challenges you creatively. In that case, you might consider taking classes that will teach you the necessary skills to navigate software. Our mission at MoGraph is to offer you 2D and 3D animation courses online to help you succeed in the profession of your choice. If you found this guide on understanding compositing in 3D animation helpful, check out what our courses provide for you.

Understanding Compositing in 3D Animation


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