Climate: Air, Water, Smoke, Clouds
Its rare indeed that weather conditions cooperate on location, and even rarer that a shoot can wait for perfect
weather. Transforming the appearance of a scene using natural elements is one of the most satisfying things you
can do as a compositor. The before and after comparison alone can be stunning, and the result can be worthy
of a blockbuster film.
Particulate Matter
Particulate matter in the air influences how objects appear at different depths. What is it? Fundamentally, it
is water, and other gas, dust, or visible particulate usually known as pollution. Even an ideal, pristine, pollu-
tion-free environment has water in the aireven in the dry desert. The amount of haze in the air offers clues as to
The distance to the horizon and of objects in relation to it
The basic type of climate; the aridness or heaviness of the weather
The time of year and the days conditions
The airs stagnancy (think Blade Runner)
The suns location (when its not visible in shot)
Particulate matter does not occur in outer space, save perhaps when the occasional cloud of interstellar
dust drifts through the shot. Look at photos of the moon landscape, and youll see that the blacks in
the distance look just as dark as those in the foreground.
The color of the particulate matter offers clues to how much pollution is present and what it is, even how it feels:
dust, smog, dark smoke from a fire, and so on (Figure 13.1). Essentially, particulate matter in the air lowers
the apparent contrast of visible objects; secondarily, objects take on the color of the atmosphere around them
and become slightly diffuse (Figure 13.2). This is a subtle yet omnipresent depth cue: With any particulate
matter in the air at all, objects lose contrast further from camera; the apparent color can change quite a bit, and
detail is softened. As a compositor, you use this to your advantage, not only to re-create reality, but to provide
dramatic information.
Climate: Air, Water, Smoke, Clouds
Figure 13.1. The same location under varied weather conditions. This type of study
reveals environmental subtleties, such as how backlighting emphasizes even low levels
of haze and reduces overall saturation, or how more diffuse conditions desaturate and
obscure the horizon while emphasizing foreground color.
Figure 13.2. This shot was taken with a long lens. The structures one block away retain
a good deal in the black of their shadows; buildings a mile or two away, far less; and
the foothills ten miles away are so desaturated they begin to fade right into the sky—
at first you don’t even notice them.
As an example, consider Figure 13.2, shot with a long lens. Long (or telephoto) lenses bring background ele-
ments more prominently into the frame; and a long lens is sometimes employed when a background element
is meant to loom large or seem menacing. Anything far away that appears not only large but crystal clear,
however, will simply look wrong. With the right amount of haze for the weather conditions, even a shot highly
compressed with a very long lens will be something the viewer simply believes.
Match an Existing Shot
Figure 13.3 features the results of an exercise that is also included on the books disc (as 13_planePlanes.aep).
Imagine the same aircraft flying through the scene as a toy model in the near foreground, a low-flying daredevil
in a full size airplane a block or two away, and high in the sky, miles away.

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