Lighting is, without doubt, a staple element of any visual representation. Perception of reality, in fact, depends on how light bounces back from objects that are in our range of sight.
In Computer Graphics, the lighting artist is part of visual effects or digital animation teams and is responsible for applying all lighting effects to a scene. He must be fully aware of how light works depending on the light source, the meteorological conditions and physical properties of elements depicted: textures, surfaces, reflectivity, or opaqueness.
A lighting artist knows how to manipulate color, intensity, and shaders to obtain realist effects or enhance a scene. Lighting is also a crucial element of the story. What are we telling? To which kind of audience?
Who are the main characters, and what are their challenges?
What a lighting artist can do
Lighting artists can establish where and when the story takes place. Is it indoor or in the wild? In the moonlight or at midday? Is it raining? Is it a modern town or a fantasy world?
They can create the general mood of the story, inspire emotions, create tension, enhance a scene, or revealing a character through desaturated or bright color palettes.
Together with staging and composition, they can shine a spotlight on a particular element of a scene to suggest a hint for the story.
Reflections, shadows, and brightness show the qualities of surfaces and textures. They also create the illusion of volume and depth.
Proper lighting can be used to blend different elements and shots, giving a sense of cohesiveness and consistency.
Lighting can also set a visual style and creating a particular and unique aesthetic. Let’s think about the “film noir” genre or iconic light of Sin City.
A multi-faceted artist
The lighting process in computer graphics is far more complicated than press on a “create light” button. Artists must know how light works in the real world and what are the physical phenomena involved in our visual perception.
They also must have full comprehension and experience of photography and composition. Communication with the concept artist and the animators is inescapable, just like a personal esthetic and the ability to search for useful references.
In the end, it is all about the story we want to tell.