Composition – How To Make The Shot Look Good

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We’ve been having such a positive response to our asset giveaways that we’ve decided to post assets, scenes and helpful tips, tricks and tutorials from projects we work on. We believe there’s so much to learn from seeing real files and examples from real animation studio projects, and today’s offering is from our most adventurous project yet; our studio led project, Back From The Dead Red.



Today’s release is a handy guide for making stuff just look good, and finding a way to do so efficiently. Composition is hugely important, and we have a few handy tricks up our sleeves.


You can download the render passes for a still frame from the sequence and an After Effects file to see how the final look was achieved. Even though we used After Effects on this scene we didn’t use any plugins or anything that any other compositing software couldn’t do.


Concept Art

concept art


Working from a concept, it’s important to breakdown the elements that make up the scene. Look at what makes the image look nice, what the colours are, which ones stand out, how much contrast there is, what areas of the image draw the eye. The concept artist will have thought about all of these things when making the image so it’s important to understand them before starting to make the composition.


3D Scene


For this scene we wanted to closely match the concept image so we brought in the artwork as a background to the 3D viewport and created a rough perspective match, so that we had a fixed camera. From there we simply started populating the scene, modelling and positioning shapes mostly from the camera position.


To speed up the process we used models from our library, and also bought a few from sites like Turbosquid and CGTrader, you can usually find something very similar that will save you some time and some really don’t cost much at all; well worth the time saved. We also found models for the rocks from sites like 123DCatch and tweaked the models from there. Photogrammetry can be a great reference resource as well as being used creatively, we’ll post more about this soon to show we used photogrammetry on Natasha Price’s film The Ship.


Another time saving technique was to model some of the grass and plants as flat shapes and position them facing the camera. For the self illuminated objects it didn’t matter how they caught they light and we were not going to see them from any other angle; we only modeled what was necessary for the shot.


You can see from the viewport screengrabs how basic the geometry and the scene was. We could have tried to create everything in 3D such as the volumetric light, the trees far off in the background, etc. but the artist who drew the concept image didn’t use those things, and if we’re trying to replicate their artistic vision why would we do anything different.


View port Composition

View port Composition




The biggest challenge is to know how much you’re going to rely on post-production to get the final image. It’s tempting (and sometimes necessary) to create a perfect scene that creates pretty much the final image right in the render, but it can be much quicker to create a lot of the look and effects in post. For this shot we knew that any depth effects would be done in post as it’d be too hard to control in the 3D scene so we made sure the objects in the foreground were roughly the right colour. We back-lit everything as the strongest light source in the concept was coming from high up in the tree canopy further back in the scene, and that was our main ‘beauty’ pass. This also made the water have the correct looking reflections. We also had an HDRI light in the scene to generally illuminate everything a little bit. In other situations, we might have rendered the two lighting passes separately for more control in post.


To add details to the trees, the floor and the water ripples we used normal maps and displacement to catch some of the light and made the scene appear more complex than it was.


main render pass


We also rendered a Z depth pass for the scene and a mask for the water as we wanted more control over the colours and contrast of that area in particular. In the beauty pass, there wasn’t enough contrast between the bulk of the image and the blue algae from the concept image, so we rendered the scene with the blue algae self illuminated and everything else black so that we could boost that of the image later. We didn’t want to spend a long time getting the brightness balance right in the 3D scene, it’s much easier and faster to make these changes later on.


We also rendered a toon pass in case we wanted to pick out any highlights, we were thinking especially on the rock this might be nice and would mimic some the concept artist’s shading, but in the end we didn’t use it. It’s good practice to anticipate these things and passes like this take next to no time to render so it’s worth having a few to play around with.


Post Production


You can download and have a look at the After Effects scene to see how the final look was achieved. We really like to get stuck in and start playing around creatively in post, trying different effects, different blending modes, always looking back at the references or concept art to see the differences. You’ll see from the concept and the final image that you can get pretty close to matching the reference even from a very basic and not very inspiring render, although that doesn’t mean you can polish a turd!


animation post production


We’d love to see what you can come up with from these few passes, hopefully taking the image into new and better directions. Download everything you need by filling out the form below – there are a couple of other free assets give aways you can unlock too if you haven’t already.

If you have a play around with it please share your results with us at


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