Help me paint convincing rim light on a character’s hair, please
Anders Marwood, England
Answer Kelley replies
Introducing a splash of rimlight on your character’s hair can be a great way to bring in a little magic to your portrait. For this article I want to create a late autumn mood for my elf girl with a warm, golden light that contrasts with a cool, silver mist in the background.
Remember that hair isn’t a flat object – it sits on top of a round head. I place the light source in the scene slightly up and to the right, so that it’s stronger on one side of the girl’s head than the other. Notice how the autumnal sunlight follows the curve of the character’s head.
Light will shine through in most of the places where the hair is thinnest. If the hair is spread out – for example, if it’s blowing in the wind – then a lot of light will filter through. If the hair is thick – if it’s tightly braided, say – then you would only see light around the edges, not filtering through. In my example, a lot of light is coming through the bottom of the girl’s hair, which is more fluffy and fanned-out.
In addition, the hair tends to look more saturated where the light hits it. This effect is especially evident in redheads or other saturated hair colours. Here, the light is a pale yellow colour, but appears goldenorange where it’s filtering through the red of the girl’s hair.
Finally, I add a few stray strands of hair around the edges, using my lightest colour, to introduce a soft, natural finish.
Think of hair as a rounded shape. Follow the shape of the head and vary the intensity, thickness and colour of your light.
Here’s an example of how not to draw rim light: as a thin, even outline around your character’s head. It makes the hair look like a cardboard cutout, rather than soft and dynamic.