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Lighting Tips - Featuring Coney!

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Date Added: 9th December 2009
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Part 5 - Time of Day and Mood

To convincingly convey Time of Day and create a Mood all the principles, rules and tricks we know will now come into play. This is where it all comes together and stories are told. A well planned light set up will establish Time of Day, Seasons and even the Emotional State of the characters involved in a scene. In this Section we will discuss techniques used to believably create a scene that pushes forward and supports the story. Most likely the main light source of an outdoor scene is going to be the Sun. It is a well known fact that the Sun rises in the east, arcs through the sky and sets in the west. This makes the decision where to put the key light when the time of day is known. But, please don't be to strict a bout where the sun is placed tin the scene. Aesthetics and a well light scene are more important than a astronomically accurate representation of the sun. No one will notice if we fake the sun position if the scene looks good.


This image shows a possible representation of a day to night transition.

Morning light tends to be a light blue with a pale pink sky or fill. The shadows are long and crisp. The sun itself will be a very orange and fade quickly as it rises to more of a pale yellow. Light from the sun bends quite a bit as it travels through the atmosphere and it shifts color more and more as it nears the horizon. However, in most cases, there is very little atmospheric perspective visible during the very early hours of the day. This is due to the fact that the dust has literally had time to settle in the inactivity of the evening. Dawn has a distinctively different look than Sunset because of this. Emotionally the morning represents rebirth and optimism. A use of bright colors both in the light and shadow will bring across that feeling of crisp cool air of the morning.

As the day goes on and the Sun reaches its apex in the sky the rays of light are traveling through the atmosphere nearly perpendicular to the ground. This means that the light won't bounce around and bend as much and its light is closer to a bright white. The shadows are dark and colors seem muted in the bright light. The term "high noon" evokes a lot of feelings. There is nowhere to hide in the relentless rays of the bright daytime sun. In winter, however, the sun would be much lower and pushed more towards the blue.

Finally the sun begins to set and the color of the light becomes more and more red. The shadows stretch out and are blue or purple. Because of the activity during the day and the increase of particles in the air, sunsets are very orange and red. The hours preceding sunset are used in film quite often. It is because of the vibrant and rich colors that are present in the late afternoon.

The sun is gone and the stars and moon are the only natural light sources. Now that night has arrived this is no excuse to ditch color. . Nighttime can be full of color, just mostly blue. But if we accent it with warm manmade practical lights we can get a full and rich palette for our scenes. Also, keep shadows sharp and have a high key-to-fill ratio to enhance the feeling of night.

Part 6 - Quality of Light and Colour Balance

This image shows a possible representation of SUMMER.

I used a pale yellow key light with a bluish fill. I also added a bluish "sky" lightthat I placed directly above the scene.

This image shows a possible representation of FALL. I used a bluish key light with a reddish fill. I also added a bluish "sky" light that I placed directly above the scene.


This movie shows the transition between a typical studio set-up to one possible representation of a winter scene.

Showing the difference in season can be tricky. Of course, it is easier if we rely on some recognizable conventions. Most of the viewers will know these conventions, Winter is bleak and cool, Summer is bright and warm, so why not exploit that fact. The only people that have absolutely no clue what seasons are, are from southern California, but I am sure they have seen Fall and Winter on television.

Look at the accompanying images to get some inspiration to create your own seasonal scenes. Think about all the things that it takes to light a scene and try to apply them to the look you are trying to achieve.

Hopefully these tips and suggestions will jump start your curiosity. There are so many ways to light a scene, but as storytellers we must ask what is the best way to illuminate the character and the story.
Creating a specific Mood in a scene can be one of the most important thing a good lighting set-up can do. The ability to convey feeling with your lighting can greatly enhance the story and the understanding of a characters motivation. The are some "universal" color theories on the subject of color and emotion. Used wisely, these can be incorporated in to an intelligent color palette of your scene.

Kory Heinzen is a Production Ilustrator at PDI/Dreamworks currently working on Shrek 2. Although he was trained as a traditional illustrator he has always had a passion for digital media and is always looking for ways to bring his traditional skills to the 3D graphics world.

Visit his website to see recent work and projects.

Here are just a few of books that are available on this subject...

Painting With Light by John Alton

Film Lighting: Talks With Hollywood's Cinematographers and Gaffers
by Kris Malkiewicz, Leonard Konopelski (Illustrator), Barbara J. Gryboski

The Five C's of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques
by Joseph V. Mascelli

Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen
by Steven D. Katz

Lighting for Digital Video & Television
by John Jackman

Digital Lighting & Rendering
by Jeremy Birn, George Maestri (Editor)

The Art of 3-D: Computer Animation and Imaging, 2nd Edition
by Isaac Victor Kerlow

Inspired 3d Lighting & Compositing
by David A. Parrish

Cg 101: A Computer Graphics Industry Reference
by Terrence Masson

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