[FRAMED]: Noah Catan, Compositor, New York
[FRAMED] exists to shine light on Framestore’s most fascinating cast of characters: its people. Presented with a probing list of questions and a demandingly short deadline, this feature puts the hopes, dreams, and desktops of our MVPs on the digital wall, for all to see. Welcome to [FRAMED].
If you could travel back in time, which film, tv series, advert, or immersive project would you love to have worked on?
It would either have to be Transformers (2007) or any movie from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those movies inspired me the most to pursue VFX when I was young, and I can watch them on repeat forever. Being a compositor on Into the Spider-verse would have been awesome, as well.
What fictional world or place would you like to visit?
Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings. Imagine spending a relaxing afternoon in Hobbiton or walking up the levels of Minas Tirith. Would be a dream.
Your career highlight to date:
I worked on some cool shots of Bumblebee the Transformer for a Paramount+ commercial. We had him striking a pose while getting doused by a ginormous bucket of water — a parody of the Flashdance movie. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m a huuuge Transformers fan, so getting to do this was such a thrill.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in VFX?
Watching the DVD behind-the-scenes featurettes for Lord of the Rings and Transformers was so inspiring. It showed me that there were talented teams and individuals behind everything I saw on the screen.
The DREAM project would entail:
Anything with a good story, good cinematography, dark, dramatic lighting, vintage dirty lenses, and possibly giant robots / creatures would be a dream project. That, or anything Transformers-related. I am a simple man.
How do you explain what you do to someone who doesn’t work in VFX?
I do compositing, which is like making all the fake stuff that we create in the computer look like it fits seamlessly within the real live action footage. Kind of like “video photoshop,” you could say.
Describe your career journey (into the exciting world of VFX).
I used to be a 2D animator working on Disney cartoons overseas, but when I learned how to use Nuke in college I was instantly hooked. I worked non-stop, taking on any freelance music video and short film to slowly build up my reel. I was fortunate enough to get internships at Digital Domain Beijing and The Mill New York. It was at these companies where I really learned and honed my live action and CG compositing skills.
At the same time, I was working on a student film at university, a 2D animated film called The Pope’s Dog. The style of the film was similar to Netflix’s Klaus, it needed 3D-esque volumetric lighting, despite everything being hand drawn. I had to build a completely custom toolset within Nuke and train a whole team to use it. Through this film, I honed my technical and programming skills. I recently spoke to Animation World Network about the project: https://www.awn.com/news/scad-alumnus-creates-new-2d-lighting-tools-popes-dog-short
I moved to NYC when I got a comp job at The Mill. Worked on some cool projects, and met fantastic industry peers and mentors all around the city. Now I’m here at Framestore, with super smart and talented people, working on some really cool episodic jobs and helping out the Comp TD team with any technical stuff. It’s been pretty exciting and I’m hyped to see what comes next!
What does the day in the life of a Compositor look like?
I really like bouldering, so I wake up really early and go to the climbing gym before work. After a good climb and the commute home, I’ll make breakfast and catch up on any unfinished tasks before dailies. After that, I’ll have some lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon working on my shots or any pending revisions from the past dailies sessions. On slower days, I’ll do some technical tasks for the Comp TD team, helping make or fix any tools or templates they need. When the day is done I’ll make some dinner, chill out and watch a movie, or work on whatever personal project I’m hyper-fixated on at the moment. Rinse and repeat.
Framestore is, to you, in three words:
Smart. Technical. Creative.
Best thing about your work environment?
I currently work from home, and I love the freedom that comes with that. I can customise each aspect of my space to improve performance or experience, like having a huge desk, a proper color-calibrated monitor, a good speaker system, distraction-free environment, etc. There is something that’s missed about not being able to physically work and chat with peers, but overall it’s been very effective and efficient for me.
Framestore is great at:
I really love Framestore’s creature work — everything from the animation, lookdev, lighting — it’s all really good, and very believable. I would love to work on a big creature project someday. Framestore’s pipeline is also insane. It’s much more structured and robust than anything I’ve come across before and I’ve been really enjoying working with it.
Hard to choose, but I’m a sucker for anything vintage. Whether that be a baroque oil painting, film photography, or an old 80s anime. The sheer craftsmanship and detail that was put into these is truly inspiring. Every detail is done with importance. No wonder we always try to emulate these looks digitally. As amazing as these new digital / AI techniques are, I hope we always have a foot in the old traditional ways.
This changes frequently. Right now, it’s a beautiful painting of a waxy monkey tree frog by my friend Raven, who is an amazing oil painter.
What’s your favourite movie/ series/ advert/ immersive experience and why?
Transformers and LOTR will always be my favourite, but right now I’m really enjoying more slow burn fantasy and horror, like The Green Knight and The VVitch. Stellar performances that absolutely captivate paired with beautiful cinematography and natural lighting. Stories that feature an otherworldly fantastical element. Always a good time.
What is the last piece of art (e.g. music, film, TV, writing etc.) that inspired you?
I’ve been getting into a lot of punk / hardcore music recently. My current favorite band is Drug Church. Really loud, really angry. Total opposite of my personality in real life but it gets me in a nice mood, especially for personal projects that call for a grungier aesthetic.
How do you unlock your creativity?
I really like working on multiple projects at the same time, so I don’t get tired or burned out on either . Also doing small experiments outside my comfort zone using new techniques or materials or art forms. It’s really good for the artistic soul.
From where do you seek inspiration?
From my peers, from my mentors, from the best of the best, and from those long gone.
Who in the industry do you admire most and why?
There’s this compositor called Miguel Santana, I think his work, taste, and eye for compositing is like no other. His photography skills are on such a brilliant level, and I admire his passion and experimentation of film emulation. Very artistic and very technical, which is the sweet spot I aspire to be.
Share the best piece of advice you’ve ever received:
My parents always taught me to strive for excellence, no matter what, in whatever you do. Not perfection, but excellence. The best you can do with the skills you have right now. I try to do that with all my work here at Framestore, my own personal projects, my rock climbing, and anything else life throws at me.
What tech/innovation could you not live without?
Procedural noise. I feel like so much of CG and Comp techniques rely on some variation of procedural noise. I can’t imagine working without it.
What tech/innovation deserves the hype?
Some of the AI tools coming out are seriously very impressive. I just hope that the datasets used are ethically sourced and the artists / creators / sources have the ability to be properly compensated for their data being used.
What tech do you need that hasn’t been invented yet?
Someone needs to invent a coffee bean that still has caffeine, but not the kind that makes you stressed out. I want to drink more cups of coffee in a day!
Noah Catan, you’ve been [FRAMED].