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Art of lighting overview

Pixar lighters use virtual digital lights to create mood and story points in animated films. They control light intensity, size, color, and direction to evoke emotions. Soft, warm lights create friendly atmospheres, while harsh, cold lights add tension.

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Video transcript

- My name is Charu Clark and I'm a lighter at Pixar. I wanted to tell you about some of the lighting techniques we use in our films. But first we should clarify something that confuses a lot of people, including my parents. Computer animated films use lights and lighters just like any other film. In a live action set like this one, everything you see is illuminated by some kind of light source. If there's no light, you don't see anything. It's exactly the same in our films. The difference is that our lights are virtual digital lights just like the characters and the virtual camera. This means that we do get complete control over the light, which is super cool because we use light to evoke very specific mood and story points in every single shot in a movie. One critical aspect of lighting in our films is choosing the light intensity and size. A larger light will create a softer more diffused image, softer shadows, whereas a harsher more focused light source can create more tension in a shot. Another very critical aspect of light is its color which is measured in temperature. A cooler, bluer light can create a cold feeling, whereas a warm, soft more orange light can create a friendlier, open atmosphere. Another technique is the directionality of light, where you put the light in a scene. A front lit character can appear more open and approachable, a character who's back lit can appear dark and dangerous. A bottom lit character can appear spooky. If they're top lit they can feel like they're being interrogated. We use all of these lighting techniques to heighten both the look and emotional aspect of a shot. Here for example are some shots from Incredibles 2. You notice we use two very different lighting setups. In the first instance, Violet approaches Tony and realizes he has forgotten about their date and barely remembers her, now this is a very common scene, a long sterile hallway with a line up of lockers. The light sources are blue overhead fluorescent lights that makes a hallway feel like a sterile almost hospital-like environment and makes the audience feel unsettled and uncomfortable. Similar to what Violet is feeling. Now contrast this with later in the film where Violet and Tony interact in a stairwell at school. It's a happier moment and the two of them make a new connection, the main light source is a warm and soft outdoor sun filtering in through the trees. The lighting feels friendly and keep in with the emotional state of the characters. That's the emotional story point and we want to feel it in every aspect including the lighting.