January 14, 2010
Mobile, AL – Mobile native Anthony Davis works as a digital compositor in the Hollywood film industry, and had a hand in James Cameron’s epic “Avatar.”It’s not as far from Mobile to Pandora as you might think: At least one Mobile native has spent considerable time there.
Ultimately this space-traveler hopes to return home with a rare and potentially lucrative commodity: A slice of the multimillion-dollar digital special effects industry essential to Hollywood filmmaking.
Pandora is the faraway moon where the action of the blockbuster movie “Avatar” takes place. The movie’s success has been driven in no small part by its innovative special effects, which blend live-action footage and computer generated material with a degree of realism never seen before.
The images of the film are made up of countless elements, from real actors working on real sets to flora and fauna that exist only within computers. The task of putting it all together is where people like 1994 McGill-Toolen graduate Anthony R. Davis come in.
As a digital compositor, he was one of the people who worked on final assembly of the film. Compositing is big job in an effects-heavy film, but Davis was quick to say that his individual role is small.
“It takes a team of artists,” he said. “It’s a huge pipeline.”
He’s also clear that in their work, compositors aspire to be invisible.
“The thing about my job, you would never know I did it,” he said. “You wouldn’t know it was there. That’s when it’s successful.”
The average moviegoer doesn’t have to ponder everything that goes into a composite image. He doesn’t have to calculate whether the light falling on a human actor is the same as the light falling on the computer-generated tree beside him, for example, or whether a patch of skin stays the right color as it passes from shadow into light.
Yet the average human’s eyes tend to realize that something looks fake, when such details aren’t right. Which is why digital compositors have to sweat the small stuff, frame by frame by frame. Davis acknowledged that it can be tedious work, even if you are helping construct a revolutionary science-fiction action adventure.
“It takes a lot of dedication,” he said, mentioning 70-hour weeks and 36-hour shifts he’s pulled on various projects. “You have to be passionate about what you do because of the high demand of hours.”
Davis’ interest goes back to his high school days. After leaving McGill-Toolen, he earned an associate’s degree in computer science at Bishop State, then a bachelor of fine arts in computer art at the Savannah College of Art and Design.