Presentation on Lighting and Look Development

Due to the research-centric process of Design Discourse 2, I feel it is only appropriate to consolidate the last two weeks worth of work on Megan and I’s topic – Lighting and Look Development – into a single, rather informal “essay” structure.

The following post will include all research I have recorded over the past two weeks such as looking at the aesthetics of look development, the theory of colour and stimuli, and the importance of lighting and technicalities of such an animation department. I will also discussion how Megan and I prepared for the presentation and how I found it to be my first significant focus on preparing for what is an appropriately planned presentation. My area of study of was in lighting, colour management, camera and optics, and shaders, hence this post will include only my findings and subjective analysis.

The presentation can be viewed at this link:

The Lighting and Look Development are responsible for finding the final look of the shot through processes in lighting and colour correction. It’s only an element of maintaining the artist quality of the IP, but for also enhancing the emotional weight of the narrative, as Dancyer notes having the right look is a ‘necessary overmodulation simulating the thematic extremes of the narrative’ (2011, pg. 205). For example, in the final scene of Gladiator (2000), there is a juxaposition between Maximum’s death and his dying dream. The present setting to maintained through strong colour contrasts that look natural to the audience such as high orange contrast to reinforce the heat of the arena. His dream on the other hand is much more desaturated, with the blacks being crushed (defining the intensity of shadows, a term given to black in colour correction) to exaggerate the dramatic morbidity of the scene.

In animation, light is controls far differently than real world lighting. While in live action settings, cinematographers tend to favour the use of tungsten lights or LED lights considering they’re more affordable on tight budgets and pose less health hazards. However, there has been known use of fluorescent lighting to give a grainier and unnatural feel to the cinematography such as Fight Club (1999), which director David Fincher intended to look ugly and lifeless to convey the seedy and decrepit life the characters live in. The colour correction then takes advantage of the lighting set up to enhance the colours for dramatic effect such as blues and greens to add a gritty look to each location and character.


Fight Club. (1999) Film. Directed by David Fincher. [DVD] US: 20th Century Fox


Fight Club. (1999) Film. Directed by David Fincher. [DVD] US: 20th Century Fox

In CG, lighting needs to be blended fluently with real world lighting by adjusting the intensity and positions of lights. For example, in Real Steel, CG lights needed to be added to the arena with volumetric scattering so that rays of light added to the smokey arena. The lighting then needs to ensure it’s working in accordance with the cinematographer’s direction in order to place the right empahsis on the right area. A Visual FX Supervisor would take photos and HDRI’s of the production so that they have an understanding of the lighting rigs, while the cinematographer would provide a diagram of the lighting set up of each shot. I created a 3-point lighting set up below to demonstrate this point. A storyboard is combined with a layout to show the lighting positions, character and property locations and camera movement. I also included the type of lens and lighting type so that the CG artists can recreate it. Ben de Leeuw argues that the goal of good lighting design is to make the scene readable to an audience (1997, pg. 29). This also supported by Mealing, who illustrates how colour moitors RGB and pixel resolution influenced how technology and filmmaking work together (1992, pg. 53). For example, CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors had the issue of picture quality darkening over time, so the introduction of LCD (liquid-crystal display) monitors saw the create of a gamma correction of 2.2 sRGB, which brightened the midtones to make the image easier to see (Skill Set, 2012).

light diagram

The recreation of lighting works in conjunction with appropriate shaders and textures in order to make CG elements appear part of the real world scene as Zajonc believes light and geometry have a strong synergy as they ‘dignified’ the setting (1995, pg. 30). There has been a misunderstanding between the term ‘shader’ and ‘texture’ according to the Skill Set journal (2012). A shader allows light to interaction with a surface while a texture adds addition information upon this. Hullfish and Fowler break down the correlation with a 3 factor process – ‘a source, a modifer, and a detector’ (2003, pg. 11). A source is the light which is influenced by the modifer (the surface) then the detector (us) interpet the information. By adding subtly changes to a shader, we can influence how someone percieves a light such as a gloss that scatters light while high specular sends light in one direction. In Transformers (2007), the robots are given dominance in each shot they’re in due to their high gloss and shine, and with the addition of volume scattering and lens flares perpetuates their presence throughout. Light interacts accordingly to their shaders and the additional textures reinforces their mechanical design.


Transformers. (2007) Film. Directed by Michael Bay. [DVD] US: Paramount Pictures

Transformers. (2007) Film. Directed by Michael Bay. [DVD] US: Paramount Pictures

Transformers. (2007) Film. Directed by Michael Bay. [DVD] US: Paramount Pictures

With the rise of 3D, there has been a push towards the use of stereoscopic cameras as opposed to single mono cameras. Stereo cameras use multiples with the intended purposes of having more control of the depth of field and composition of a shot. Dashwood 3D (2014) explain that you can adjust the interaxial distance (the space between the lenses) and convergence distance (where the lenses meet). If you put a pen in front of your eyes and change force, the double vision causes is from your eyes diverging.

IMG_2664 IMG_2663

Corrigan and White illustrate that manual adjustment of the optic lens of the camera can achieve similar effects to colour correction by manipulating the colour balance (2012, pg. 114). For example, when shooting The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (2007), cinematographer Roger Deakins manually created a bleach bypass effect on the lens to give the shots a more authentic look to the 1800s, much like photography at the time (source). The goal of adding chromatic abberation enhances the visual fidelity and made the film feel like a story being retold than happening in real time.


The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford. (2007) Film. Directed by Andrew Dominik. [DVD] US: Warner Brothers


The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford. (2007) Film. Directed by Andrew Dominik. [DVD] US: Warner Brothers

In moments when CG is added to the film, the look team have to recreate the same bypass and abberation that the cinematographer did. Today, much emphasis is placed on filters and compositing to achieve the same effect. Three years later, Deakins shot True Grit (2010) for The Coen Brothers, and instead of residing to the same optical effects, manipulation was placed on colour correction to subdue the visuals and add a dry aesthetic to the film.

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True Grit. (2010) Film. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. [DVD] US: Paramount Pictures

In order to ensure we could present in the 4 minute time limit, we planned our notes and constantly condensed our notes until it provided enough sufficient information within the time slot, especially taking into account a 42 second video. We scripted our parts in the presentation and continually condensed them using a timer.

IMG_2679 IMG_2669

We managed to get it spot on at several points as well as giving us room to maneuver in case we spot too slowly or too fast, so we were ready with a plan in case of issues.



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