Thursday, 18 February 2010

Playing with lights

Movies are, as my buddy Phil South always says, about painting with light. You set up the action, point the cameras, but it's the lighting that determines what that looks like to the audience. So I've been putting together some Moviestorm Made Easy tutorials on lighting. It's a huge subject, and I could go on about it for at least an hour, but I'm trying to cut it down to just a three or four tutorials of a few minutes each.

Anyway, while I was looking at the best way to present this, I was experimenting with a single scene, and setting up the lights in different ways. Here's the set view: two street lights, and three on-set lights, plus the ambient and directional views.

Here's the fancy terminology:
  • The key light is the main light in the scene, which usually comes from in front.
  • The fill light is off to one side and is used to smooth out shadows and create contrast
  • The back light is there to illuminate the background and help the character stand out.
I took a single camera shot from the scene, and set it up with a long lens and out of focus background, then snapped it with a load of different lighting setups. (There's one cheat in there, but I'll 'fess up to it when I get there. All the rest are pure Moviestorm.) Each of these setups took about a minute to create: I just switched lights on or off, changed the colours, and changed the views. Making the decision as to which one to use in a movie? That's the bit that takes hours!

This one uses a plain white ambient light, with a bright pale blue directional light. There's a small amount of pale yellow fill just to add some colour to his face. Nice and simple.

By dropping the ambient light a lot and bringing in a slightly yellowish key light and a blue background light, we have much more control. The colour of the background has changed, and we're starting to get something that's not as flat.

Now I've added in just a touch of extra lighting from the street lights. The straw colour is just enough to take out the shadow on the back of his head. It's not a huge difference, but it can be enough if you want something with less contrast. Personally I don't like it so much, so I wouldn't bother.

This shot dispenses with ambient and directional lights completely. I've gone for a moderate key light, with a lot of the light coming from the fill to give the shot some shape. The background is lit by with a dark blueish tinge so we keep the separation from the foreground character. It's quite low lighting compared to the previous one, and a bit drab and moody, but it works well.

And here's the same thing with the key light turned up and made a bit more blue-grey. It's a bit flatter and brighter, and suggests a different time of day. It's also more of a "video" look as distinct from a "film" look, and feels a bit raw.

Now I've taken the key light down again, and made the fill smaller and closer, which gives more uplighting. This is nice and moody and gives me plenty of contrast, which is great for doing ....

... this. I desaturated this in Photoshop to get a washed out, high contrast look. (I tried it in black and white but it was pretty terrible.) I like this effect, but it can't be done in Moviestorm yet.

And finally this, which is probably my favourite of all the setups. I gave it a really strong blue background to make it a noticeably different colour from the foreground. I used a strong orangey fill, set slightly low with a short range so it didn't affect the background, and a wheat coloured key light with a short range so it comes across quite soft. Add in just a touch of cream lighting from the street lights, combined with a little pink ambient glow, and you get this interestingly balanced shot.

Of course, there's no right way to light a scene. Play around, have fun, and see what you can come up with!


Evan Ryan said...

Thank you for this. I love film with a passion, and I hate to admit that lighting - such a crucial part of filmmaking - is something I've never been able to get my head around completely. That's what I love about Moviestorm. . . I can play around with the lighting indefinitely and not worry about my actors getting bored with me.

Chat Noir Studios said...

Three-point lighting was one of the first things we experimented with when we started with Moviestorm, but we decided that lights and lighting work slightly differently in virtual environments and in real life.

That said, some of the shots above inspire us. Perhaps we'll go back and experiment with three-point lighting some more.

Matt Kelland said...

Yeah, being able to control the ambient and directional lights as well as the on-set lights gives you extra freedoms you don't get in real life. There's a lot to play with in there, but it all depends what look you're going for.