Lighting 101 - Tutorial -The Importance of Form  

Posted by Aayush Sharma in , ,

First, I want to mention that this tutorial is purely theoretical. My intention is not to show how to light an object in Maya or Max or anything of the sort. There are already many tutorials and books about that out there.

Rather, I want to emphasize the thought process an artist needs to put into his image before, during and after he completes it (or thinks he has completed it).
In the first part of that process, I am going to discuss form and its importance in what an artist is trying to achieve.

Let's begin at the basic premise - what is form? To put it simply, form is the shape and size of an object as portrayed by light. In the case of solid objects which are not being transformed, the shape and size remains constant over time. However, their form may appear to be different based on the qualities of light shining on them. This can be a crucial factor when lighting. An artist must ensure he does justice to the object and brings out the most flattering form.

A good example to understand the point illustrated above is to think of the differences between mainstream porn and erotic photography. While eroticism tries to indulge the mind with striking and unusual play of light, pornography is more "in your face" in terms of imagery (or lack of it).

Now that we understand what form is, we must dwell on its importance to a picture. Based on the requirements of the image and the artist, form is what determines what emotional reaction is evoked from a viewer. Is the picture of a gorgeous woman? An evil murderer?

Each of these, though dependent on other qualities of light as well, is primarily reliant on the form being portrayed correctly to induce the correct rejoinder from an audience. If the beauty is lit from underneath with dark overtones, will she come across as a damsel or a demon? The latter, likely. If the killer is lit with Rembrandt lighting and lots of soft fill, will he send a chill down your spine? Definitely not.

The better an artist understands the form of his subject with respect to his circumstance, before he even starts actual work on the image; the more likely he is to be satisfied with what he achieves at the end. Notice that we are not disputing the absolute form, only its relativity with respect to the terms that an artist limits himself to when he creates art. Not all flat form is ugly and not always is contrast desirable as described in the above examples.

While the native shape and design of an object is the major contributor to its form, its surface properties and material properties also play an important role. A strong texture, translucence (sub-surface scattering of light) etc can play a key role in determining form.

An aspect to consider is how to bring in all this thought process when one is working in a production environment with a deadline to consider. Obviously, time is a luxury that cannot be spent in thought, rather in action.

Here, the trick lies in practicing the art of seeing. Observation is a virtue that all artists will do well to abide by. One must make an effort to scrutinize everything one comes across in day to day life. Look around yourself in the washroom, your office cabin, your kitchen, your car, everywhere. Understand how light affects form of objects and then try to reproduce the same from memory when working. Not only will this ensure that your work progresses efficiently, but will also improve the quality of the work since you are putting in something extra that you have learned.

An excellent instance of this is light reflectance; or what is called specularity in the CG world. In real life there is no specular component, only light reflecting off of surfaces. Noticing the play of light as it moves over and off an object in reality can help you nail the position, strength and character of a specular hit in your CG shot.

That about sums up my discourse on form. Remember to observe everything in your surroundings to learn how light affects form and how you can incorporate that into your work, whether it’s a personal piece or a production shot.
Do get in touch with me with questions and/or comments.