CGI Lighting and Colors in The Movie Industry

CGI Lighting and Colors in The Movie Industry

Aug 28, 2021, 7:34:42 PM Creative

Lighting acts as the backbone of every motion picture, TV series, and theatre production. On top of that, lighting is invaluable for our everyday routines and lives. We see and experience the world through the light, which is why we can confidently say that it is a fundamental part of our everyday lives. Computer Generated Imagery – CGI – plays a crucial role in the movie industry. It has offered us the most unimaginable experiences throughout the years, allowing us to enjoy movies on a completely new level. What once was the moving foil rocket ships across the screen, and we’re offered a more creative sense of realism, where cinematographers and filmmakers try to transport us to another place or time with ever-fantastic CGI special effects. In order to achieve the best effects, mood, and reaction with the audience, CGI lighting and color play an indispensable role too.

How CGI evolved over the years

The movie industry began its journey with the short film. As the industry progressed, so did the longevity of films, leading to longer and bigger motion pictures, that eventually introduced sound as the crucial element of a film. Gradually filmmakers added color only to make their biggest breakthrough with CGI in the late 20th century. Many will agree that CGI and its evolution actually define the modern era of film. But to truly understand how CGI changed the film industry in the last few decades, we have to understand what it is, and what it is used for. 

CGI had its start in the 80s and early 90s’, but the real breakthrough happened in 1995 with the release of “Toy Story”. It was Pixar's masterpiece that marked the beginning of fully computer-animated films thanks to CGI. The fact that they had managed to create the illusion of life in a fully CGI-made movie deserves the biggest respect and admiration. “Toy Story” was a huge leap that shed new light and made a revolution in the animated film industry. 

As the popularity of CGI grew, the film set has gained an entirely new dimension. Long gone are complicated structures and utility, and today all you need to create life-like imagery is chroma keys and LED-based virtual sets. 

Practical lighting

Practical lights are any lights where the source is in the frame. It can be any light that’s a part of the set locations, such as televisions, floor lamps, or ceiling features. The example of outside practical lamps includes car and street lamps and strings of Christmas lights. Using practical lights on-set is a fundamental tool in capturing the tone of the scene at the moment, on camera, and to help sell composites in post-production. The end result in CG-heavy films becomes more believable when the visual effects artists can draw from a concrete reference point. The rays of practical lights wrap around corners, for example, to create subtle shadows and make the job for the digital artist a bit easier. Drawing those shadows in a natural way would be rather challenging, so practical lights make the entire process fuss-free. 

CGI in the film industry

Making an animated film is one of the greatest arts of the modern world as it allows CGI artists to bring all the elements of the real world into the screen. Working with 3D images comes with one of the biggest challenges, which is to mimic the attributes from the real world and transfer them to the silver screen. Just imagine how much hard work is required to create plant foliage, grass, and all the outdoor elements to make them look as detailed as possible.  A true CGI artist understands that accuracy and convincing CG lighting are the key to making stunning, realistic 3D images. To light CG films like a pro, you have to apply some of the most important illumination principles in the scene. The 3-point lighting technique is the one every renowned CGI artist will use for portrait and cinematic lighting. The illumination principle is based on the placement of 3 different sources of light: the key light, fill light and rim light.

  • Key Light is the primary source of light which should be set 45 degrees in front and above the subject of the scene.
  • Fill Light adds soft illumination to the scene to cast out shadowy areas in the composition and lighten the scene. The fill light is often set opposite the key light.
  • Rim Light is a stark source of light, often placed behind the subject to add distinction between the subject and the background. Thanks to the rim light, you will achieve a thin frame of light along with the subject's figure.

While lighting is usually one of the final elements added in 3D animation, CGI artists still have to think about it early on in the production and filmmaking process. The director and production designer can break down the emotional story arc based on the way the lighting will be introduced in the story, so knowing exactly how to use it to the film’s advantage is of the essence.

The choice of colors

The color palette used in films is one of the key ways in which filmmakers set the tone and mood of the entire feature. An actor doesn't even have to appear in the scene, much less utter a word, for you to feel the ambiance in the movie itself after you’ve been presented with a dark, gloomy, grey-to-black colored scene. You will notice how each color/ color palette denotes a certain mood and is able to introduce the entire atmosphere of the movie before the plot has even started to build.

Red for anger and power

When filmmakers want to intensify the feeling of anger, passion, and love they’ll always use red color in their features. Be it in the form of rose petals spread over the bed as in American Beauty, red bedroom walls, or having a woman put on red lipstick – whenever red color dominates the scene or the majority of the film, you can feel and see the power radiating from the screen. Red is presented also as the color of danger. Therefore, it's no wonder that you'll see plenty of red hues through action films such as Deadpool.

Pink as the color of innocence and sweetness

Femininity, playfulness, empathy, and beauty are just some of the characteristics that pink depicts in movies. Remember Mean Girls, Grease, and various scenes of Th Wolf of Wall Street? The combination of various shades of pink and red such as magenta, burgundy, and maroon, highlights the prevalent moods in those features. Innocence and sweetness are also some of the characteristics depicted by pink color in films. 

Orange denotes warmth

The variety of orange and brown hues combined in a film scene will always represent warmth. From Alice Through the Looking Glass to Life of Pi, you can notice how the amalgamation of these hues adds friendliness and affection to the entire mood. Orange is also the color of happiness, sociability, youth, and exoticness. 

Yellow brings in the madness

Yellow color is the true representative of madness, sickness, insecurity, obsession, utopia, and naivety. Take films Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Shinning as the perfect examples. Scenes that portray madness and obsession are best presented through yellow hues of the clothes, walls, and the interior in general.

Green connected with nature

Naturally, green cannot be seen as anything less than the color of nature. On top of that, it's also used in the film industry to depict darkness, corruption, immaturity, ominousness, and danger. It all depends on the hues of green used the lighter the shade, the more natural and less threatening the mood will be. You will see the best representation of these moods and tones in movies such as Maleficent and The Hobbit, for instance. 

Blue is cold, calm, and passive

To best describe the feeling of melancholy, passivity, calmness, coldness, and isolation, cinematographers will introduce blue hues into their movies. From The Truman Show to Corpse Bride, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and The Revenant, you’ll notice how all of those films were portrayed through cold blue hues mixed with a dose of white and grey for balance. 

Purple brings out the fantasy

Spirited Away, Peter Pan, Frozen, and Avatar radiate purple hues all over, which allows the audience to be sucked into the world of fantasy and mysticism. When filmmakers are trying to introduce fantasy, eroticism, mysticism, illusion, and ethereality into their motion picture, they’ll use a variety of purple hues. 

Final Thoughts

CGI has evolved immensely over the years, presenting us with some of the greatest movies we have ever had the opportunity to see. Thanks to the masterful use of lighting and colors in their features, CGI artists and cinematographers were able to produce some of the most iconic film features that we’ll have the chance to enjoy for decades to come.



Published by Nina Simons

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