Let there be Light

The importance of lighting and shading is often underestimated, but it is crucial to the development of any animated film. I found this out mainly by taking a look at the pixar website and this feature that shows all of the steps it takes for them to make a feature film. An alternative title for this post was going to just be ‘Pixar do something cool’, but with their entire catalogue of films, ‘renderman’ and the way that they run their offices, I could probably end up titling every post under that heading. In that link, take particular notice of steps 11 and 12 when the image is transformed entirely with some shading and lighting. It is tempting to read, “simply” some shading and lighting, but in truth this one step is a detailed, difficult and sometimes arduous task that makes all the difference in the finished product.

This makes me think about lighting in general and how badly it is neglected in a lot of films or animations. This is particularly true in the work of students in either medium. Light seems to me to be the greatest forgotten element but it enhances the finished product immensely. For example, here is an image of two characters standing by a tree



That’s another still from Disney’s Tangled and considering I didn’t really rate it as a film, I’ve used the images from it in this blog as great examples of doing everything right surprisingly often; so their characters are certainly pretty, now they just need to be likable and involved in an interesting plot.  Well now that I’ve shown Tangled again, I’ll balance it out by showing some lighting effects and one of my favourite shots from cinema, which is the image I have put to the right, from Casablanca. Maybe I’ll start a new policy, every time I use a still from something awful, I’ll post about Casablanca as well.

It is important in the world of stop motion animation where shooting for even very short films can take days and the changing natural light will cause you to lose continuity and create a very off-putting flickering effect between each shot. i can remember spending hours making a small animation out of clay sat in my bedroom only to be disappointed when my lack of proper lighting made it look shoddy. Here’s a good example I found; it clearly shows careful thought of a cool idea, dedication and a lot of hard work that is let down by the use of changing natural light:

Okay, so to be fair nothing I made ever looked this good. But imagine it shoddier…

So what can we learn? Well, it is all about trying to think about where the light would be coming from in a scene so that you can try and make your artificial light looking like the sun both in stop-motion and traditional hand-made animation. This gives you an important decision about visible or invisible light. Think about whether you want to use your light to create an interesting effect or whether you want to just create a natural effect because sadly if you are going for a natural effect, the goal of all of your careful lighting efforts should be that nobody even notices or thinks about the lighting at all.