Cre­ate light­ing set­ups for a film

Shelly Wan gives a film’s art di­rec­tor sev­eral op­tions.

ImagineFX - - Issue 130 | January 2016 - Shelly Wan

As a sketch/colour artist for Pixar, my job in­volves cre­at­ing colour and tex­tu­ral de­sign for sets and char­ac­ters, and light­ing de­signs for se­quences or par­tic­u­lar shots. Un­like in illustration works, my fo­cus is not on pro­duc­ing a fin­ished paint­ing that’s pleas­ing to the eyes, but on gen­er­at­ing im­ages that sup­port the story and the di­rec­tor’s vi­sion. Be­cause the story is con­stantly evolv­ing, the se­quences/shots, char­ac­ters and sets I work on are of­ten changed, and my paint­ings must change to match on the fly. On top of this, my paint­ings need to serve as ref­er­ence for the shad­ing team, so I would need at least two ver­sions of the same paint­ing: one to show the tex­tures and lo­cal colours, and an­other to show the light­ing.

In this work­shop, I’ll show you how I struc­ture my lay­ers and ad­just­ment lay­ers in my work as­sign­ments to best pre­pare for such changes, and take you through my steps for making changes when re­quired. The goal of this work­shop is to show you how de­sign­ing for a movie (se­quen­tial im­ages) is dif­fer­ent from de­sign­ing a sin­gle, stand­alone im­age: your im­age must take into con­sid­er­a­tion the big pic­ture – the whole movie – and you need to be able to ad­just the im­age to feed the needs of dif­fer­ent de­part­ments.

1 Rough draw­ing

I’ll use one char­ac­ter and a sim­ple set with a flat-on an­gle, so deep space (per­spec­tive) is elim­i­nated up to a point, be­cause I know the dif­fer­ent light­ings I’ll later cre­ate will seem more dy­namic and dif­fer­ent in con­trast with this ini­tial flat look. Ever since I took a trip to Ti­bet, I’ve yearned to cre­ate im­ages that cel­e­brate the bril­liant colours I saw, so that’s what I’ll de­pict.

2 Shape block­ing

Us­ing the Lasso tool, I se­lect the dif­fer­ent el­e­ments from back to front (such as the drape, chair back, seat and chair arms), and place them in­di­vid­u­ally on dif­fer­ent lay­ers. This way, when a small change is re­quired such as a colour change on the walls or value change on the chair, it could be ad­justed quickly, with­out af­fect­ing other el­e­ments of the paint­ing.

3 Colour/ma­te­rial rough-in

I of­ten start by work­ing all the lay­ers up roughly, to ad­just the colours and val­ues as needed to cre­ate a har­mo­nious im­age. I reg­u­larly use the op­tion to lock trans­par­ent pix­els on the dif­fer­ent lay­ers, so I can paint only within each of the el­e­ments. For the mar­ble floor and throne, I’m draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s paint­ings.

4 Shadow ad­just­ment layer

I add a Hue/Sat­u­ra­tion layer, pull down the Light­ness and push up the Sat­u­ra­tion. Be­cause I want to cre­ate an over­cast light­ing sce­nario to best show off the tex­ture, the shadow in this light­ing con­di­tion tends to be warmer than the light. I’ve tried to model out the form shadow and a soft cast shadow based on dif­fused light com­ing from the up­per-right of the screen.

5 Add vari­a­tions and mod­el­ling

While adding shadow to the forms, I de­cide to make the sleeve of the dress a semi-trans­par­ent ma­te­rial. The key to in­di­cat­ing this ef­fect is that the ma­te­rial is en­tirely vis­i­ble only where it’s bunched up; in other ar­eas it has just a slight in­flu­ence over the colours un­derneath. Fol­low­ing the forms un­derneath the dress, I also in­di­cate the wrin­kles and folds on the bot­tom.

6 Com­po­si­tion changes

Now when I take a step back and ex­am­ine the im­age, I no­tice that it has many ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal lines, and is ap­pear­ing too stiff and for­mal for my taste. So I add a freeflow­ing red shawl that stretches di­ag­o­nally to the edges of the paint­ing, to bring more dy­namic en­ergy into the com­po­si­tion.

7 In­di­cate ma­te­ri­als in the im­age

I now work on each el­e­ment as much as pos­si­ble at this point, to il­lus­trate its ma­te­ri­als or pat­terns. I fo­cus par­tic­u­larly on the dif­fer­ent types of ma­te­ri­als and with them, dif­fer­ent re­flec­tive­ness and translu­cency. I also pay at­ten­tion to the tonal val­ues within each el­e­ment. I’ve taken off the shadow layer here to show you the close-to-fi­nal tex­tures.

8 More re­fin­ing of the scene

There’s some awk­ward­ness with her left arm (screen right), so I ad­just it. I also fin­ish the bot­tom of the drape, and the slight translu­cency of the shawl. Now the white light paint­ing is done, and this would be a good paint­ing now to show to the di­rec­tor. If okayed, it would be handed off to the set depart­ment, to serve as a shad­ing tar­get for all the ma­te­ri­als on the set.

9 Cre­ate a dark in­te­rior light­ing pass

Next I pro­vide a dif­fer­ent light­ing pass on top of the ex­ist­ing white light paint­ing. Again, the goal isn’t to cre­ate a fi­nal im­age, but a pos­si­ble light­ing sce­nario for this set. I thought a dark in­te­rior would be a good start to con­trast with the white light version, so I add a Mul­ti­ply layer with dark blue. I also cre­ate a layer mask on the layer, to erase out a path for the light.

10 No­tice the colour of light tran­si­tion ar­eas

Next I cre­ate an­other layer on top of the Mul­ti­ply layer, set the new layer to Lin­ear Dodge mode and fill it with dark or­ange. I cre­ated a layer mask for it as well, to erase the light and re­veal the dark in­te­rior, and both the form shadow and the shad­ows cast. Pay at­ten­tion to the tran­si­tion be­tween the light and shadow, be­cause it’s of­ten a more vi­brant colour.

11 Ad­just the shadow ar­eas

The warm light I cre­ated is so strong, in re­al­ity it would af­fect the ob­jects in the shadow as well. So in this step I paint di­rectly on the layer mask of the light layer, to bring in the warm in­flu­ence on the bot­tom sur­faces of the forms. I also copy out the shadow layer, and man­u­ally ad­just the shadow shape so that it cor­re­sponds bet­ter to the new light­ing.

12 Es­tab­lish a dusk light­ing pass

For this setup, I first ad­just the shadow layer so the light is from the lower-right. Fol­low­ing the sur­faces, I darken half of the face and ex­tend a larger shadow area be­hind the throne on the left. Note how sharp the shadow is un­der the screen-right hand com­pared to the shadow on the drape, be­cause the hand is closer to the light source and the throne it casts shad­ows on.

13 Bring in a dark red colour

Next I cre­ate an Over­lay layer with a dark red colour. I ex­per­i­ment with the layer mode and the colour to achieve the dusk light hue that I feel com­ple­ments the colours in the im­age. I erase the red from the shad­ows. Fol­low­ing the bone struc­ture, I re­fine the light shape and the shadow shape on the face. It helps to imag­ine that I’m turn­ing on a phys­i­cal light on the scene.

14 Take into ac­count light from above

To soften the look of the piece, I de­cide to add a bluish top-down sky light above and in front of the fig­ure. It in­flu­ences the top sur­faces in the im­age. It af­fects sur­faces in the shadow as well, and is more no­tice­able on top than in the bot­tom. This is also an ad­just­ment layer set to Soft Light, masked by paint­ing on its layer mask. The colour could be ad­justed to fit the paint­ing.

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