How Lighting Plays A Crucial Role In Your CGI’s Mood


Image Foundry Studios | 19.01.2017

Whilst there’s evidence that demonstrates how people are more optimistic about themselves, as well as the stock market (!) on a bright sunny day. Unfortunately, the same is true for the gloomy dull days, for some, reduced sunlight can even result in Seasonal Affective Disorder which may stop the production of key hormones that affect our mood. It just goes to show how crucial lighting is to the human brain, psyche and functionality.

Lighting in Computer Generated Images is no different. By definition, it refers to the placement of lights in a scene to achieve a desired effect; that effect has the potential to be negative or positive depending on the intensity of light in the render. Consider this, just as ‘lighting’ can be used to create a 3D effect by separating the foreground from the background, it can also merge the two to create a flat 2D effect. It can be used to set an emotional mood and to influence the viewer.

A lot of beginners in 3D graphics err on the side of choosing surface colors ­that are too saturated thereby creating surfaces that don’t respond realistically to light, making the image look unconvincing and mundane. This is why we believe that it’s always good to add bevel. Even a small bevel can catch highlights from a range of angles that would be missing if you left a corner unrealistically sharp. What this does is distribute light in a way that makes an image not only look realistic but adequately lit for the human mind to process its details, to retain and recall on them later.

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The emotion derived from an image is directly proportional to the amount of time a viewer spends analysing it. Now, we want our images to catch the viewers eye, we want to keep their attention long enough to be able make a cognitive impression and a good one at that!

The fact of the matter is that anything visual has a direct link to the subconscious. There’s a reason why we react differently to different settings. Have you ever wondered why sunrises and sunsets (both stunning in their own ways) still manage to look different and be perceived differently by different people? Our minds can perceive the small changes in light (increasing at sunrise, decreasing at sunset) and can even figure a subtle differentiation as to what time of the day it is. While sunrises are beautiful, sunsets tend to have more saturated colors. How light is dissipated and colors obtained during these times are majorly influenced by particles and water vapor in the air. This also explains why winter skies look gloomy.

If such be the magic of lighting, then how can we create more engaging lighting in a 3D scene?

One basic rule is to divide your 3D environment into different areas that have different levels of light. If one room has a window that lets in daylight, and another room is lit by a lamp, then the room lit by daylight will look brighter and have cooler colored light. Whereas the room lit by the lamp would appear less bright, but have warmer illumination. Many a times, spill light in an interior rendering also does wonders, especially if you are working with a sunbeam in the scene.

All in all, the point to note is – to keep the intensity of lighting to an effect that keeps the viewer happy. The aesthetics of a scene or an image go beyond technical details and the best way to assess that is to figure what works best in the eyes of the majority, but beginning with yourself first and foremost. In this case if it doesn’t ‘look’, as well as ‘feel’ right, it probably isn’t!