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Heat Distortion

Heat distortion, that strange rippling in the air that occurs when hot air is dissipated into cooler air, is another one of those effects compositors love. Like a lens flare, it's a highly visible effect that, if properly motivated and adjusted, lends realism to your scene rather than distracting from its story.

Figure 14.13 shows the fabricated results of heat distortion in a scene. Its rippling effect adds to the dynamism or chaos of the scene. When your eye sees heat distortion, it understands that a strong conflict, accompanied by an abrupt mix of hot air with cold air, is occurring. This adds to the visceral reality of the shot, whether it's a desert exterior, a day at the racetrack, or a jet engine exhaust. When the fire itself is in the shot and you can see through it or anywhere above it, you expect the fire to heavily distort whatever is visible behind its heat.


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