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Lighting DreamWorks projects with Greg Jennings

By 3dtotal staff

Web: www.greg-jennings.com (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 17th April 2014

3dt: You're lighting style in the DreamWorks productions is quite distinct, can you tell our readers how you go about designing and applying lighting to the scenes? Is it purely creative and trial and error, or is there a method to the process?

GJ: As a lead lighter, I find it essential to be very methodological. I usually spend the first day or so going through the sequence and breaking things down, taking notes and thinking
about how to optimize things. I then start grouping geometry, building layers, putting things aside and globally making things easy to find and work with.

It's important for me to take the appropriate time during this process because if the foundations of the setup are solid and I have a full understanding of the needs of the sequence, then everything else is pretty straight-forward.

In parallel, I start the lighting rig and try to rough in the basic intention of the key shots, refining things gradually throughout the following days. When I reach 50%, I usually pick a few frames and do paint-overs (or play around with values in NUKE) which helps me focus on the next steps and allows me to very quickly take the shots to a solid 75% state.

I also look at a lot of real world photo references or try and find interesting stills from movies I've seen. It is often a great start to understanding how the light or materials react in a specific scenario, even though we often have to tone it down or interpret it graphically because of the cartoony feel of our movies.

The final step is to start breaking the 'logical' rig and fine-tune the lighting with localized light sources that will help balance the final image and enhance important story points – this could be an action, an object, or just highlighting the hero character. At the end of the day, the final image should feel naturally lit but have a strong narrative statement.

A variety of lighting types in these stills from a scene in Shrek Forever After
Images courtesy of Dreamworks, and used with permission

3dt: That sounds like a lot of work! How long does this process take, and do you have a team the helps fill in some of the areas?

GJ: Usually the setup of the sequence takes around 6 weeks, along with a few key shots that will set the look for production lighters, but this time frame can vary according to the schedule, the complexity of the sequence or the story changes.

In the beginning we work closely with TDs (technical directors) who help copy over the templates and take care of a few things such as running test frames of the diffuse maps to check on the surfacing status of the sequence, baking static exposure maps and regioning the scatter assets. After their initial pass, I will usually go in and start adapting things to the sequence as well as flagging technical issues – some things I fix, others I kick back to TDs or other departments.

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