Effective Scene Lighting for CG Space... Organic

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In the previous lesson we looked at lighting organic-based ships: those with lots of curved surfaces rather than those with angular, flat panels.

All my beta-buddies (Fabio, Craig Clark etc.) have told me that this lesson is uneccessary, following the previous lighting lesson, so I will compromise and make this a short one.


1) Previous Step | Next Step

Luckily, the techiques involved in lighting curvy, organic ships are very similar to those used in lighting tech-based ships

For this lesson, I will be using my Whitestar v4.0 as the ship that we will be lighting.

Open Lightwave Layout with a fresh scene, and use the Load from Scene function to load in the Whitestar template scene, which will also load up the lights attached to the ship. The instructions for using this object are included with the zip archive,

Whitestar template scene loaded

When lighting organic ships, it is always important to make sure that your object does not appear too flat. When you are lighting tech-based ships, the very nature of the shapes you are lighting ensures that the 3D form of the objects is apparent (so long as you do not use ambient light, that is).

Once again, however, it is the highlights and shadows that will bring out the best when you are lighting this type of ship.

With organic ships, however, there are rarely any large, flat panels that will act as huge reflectors for light, so we can be a little more free with our light positioning, without destroying the look of the ship.

2) Previous Step | Next Step

The key light is always the most important light when illuminating organic ships. The curved nature of the surfaces on organic ships means that highlights will tend to accumulate on areas of the ship where there are 'corners' or 'edges' in the hull. This works to our advantage, as it can often give a good visual cue as to the true shape of the surfaces. The fact that sharp highlights form easily also means that we often do not need to use such high intensities for our key lights.

Compare these two images:

Both images use a single white spotlight at 100% intensity with a shadow-mapped shadow at 1024 size. Naturally, ambient light intensity is set to 0%.

However, image #01 does not offer any visual cues as to the shape of the main upper hull, which looks fairly flat under the protruding bridge section.

In image #02, this light has been placed to the rear of the ship, at a more oblique angle to the surfaces. This results in a sharp highlight travelling down the length of the upper hull, which clearly shows the change in angle between the sides of the hull and the top.

It also instantly adds more atmosphere and mood to the image, creating more contrast between the dark and light areas.

image #01

image #02

Spend some time getting your key light positioned just right. Don't worry if the majority of your ship is in darkness, so long as you have at least one really nice highlight that shows off the shape of your ship. We can always combat the darkness later on with fill lights.

3) Previous Step | Next Step

I plan to add a red nebula to this scene, so I am going to now lighten-up the lower portions of the ship with a very red fill light.

Organic ships often respond well to deeply coloured lighting, so I am going to colour my fill light pure red (R.255, G.000, B.000). The dark colour of this mans that we can give it a fairly bright intensity without it looking too out-of-place, so I will set it to 35% intensity.

To compliment this fill light, I will be altering the white colour of my key light to R.254, G.244, B.211 (a pinky-orange colour). I will also raise its intensity to 125% to compensate for the slightly dimmer colour.

I will place the fill light below the ship pointing almost straight upwards in order to spill some light onto the lower-nose section of the ship (image #03), and to generally light up the rest of the underside (image #04).

image #03

image #04

4) Previous Step | Next Step

So that sorts out one side of the ship... however, this light is heavily biased towards illuminating this side, and the opposite side is very dark (image #05).

As there is (or will be) a nebula on the opposite side of the ship, we can use this fact to add a fairly bright kick light, which will pick out some nice edges on the ship when we view it from this side, or will act as general illumination when we view from the other side.

The kick light was positioned on the opposite side of the ship, pointing almost straight down the X-axis (towards the camera), and I gave it a bright orange colour of R.255, G.155, B.081, with an intensity of 70%.

As you can see from the rendered images, the position and orientation of this light hardly affects the side of the ship at which we have so far been looking, except for adding some nice orange highlights to the extreme edges of the ship facing where the nebula will be. (image #06)

Looking at the opposite side of the ship, however, we see that the the orange kick light has bathed the ship in a pleasant light that removes the oppressive darkness we had before. However, the highlights from the key light are still quite apparent, without being drowned-out by the orange light.

image #05

image #06

image #07

5) Previous Step | Next Step

Finally, the addition of the nebula and starfields (from our space scenery scene) in the background helps to tie the image together, and the reason for the orange and red lights becomes apparent.

image #08

image #09

image #10

For your information, these are the light settings used in the scene I have been demonstrating:

  Key Light Fill Light #1 Fill Light
Type Spotlight Spotlight Spotlight
Colour-R 254 255 255
Colour-G 244 000 155
Colour-B 211 000 081
Intensity 125% 35% 70%
Cone Angle 30.0° 30.0° 30.0°
Soft Edge Angle 5.0° 5.0° 5.0°
Shadow type Shadow Map Shadow Map Shadow Map
Shadow Map Size 1024 1024 1024
Shadow Fuzziness 10.0 10.0 10.0
Heading 21.8° 135.3° 253.0°
Pitch 34.9° -18.3° 12.0°
Bank 0.0° 0.0° 0.0°
Position-X -45m -67m 118m
Position-Y 82m -40m 27m
Position-Z -150m 63m 21m

light settings

That concludes our look at scene lighting. Obviously, lighting a scene is one of the most subjective parts of any CG scene setup, but I hope that these lessons will give you some good ideas for setting up your own lighting rigs, and help you to avoid that nasty, flat lighting that is all too commonly seen.

© 2000 Kier Darby and Alternate Perspective 3D Ltd.