Storytelling with light and color

I remember when I was a kid, I would sit in front of the TV and start flipping channels in a search of a good movie. While I was quickly switching channels, it took me less than a second to identify if I was looking at TV news, a talk show or a commercial ad. I guess almost everyone has this super skill, especially those who grew up in the age of SD TV and the VHS era. How could I instantly identify the type of show in just half a second?¬† The answer is quite simple, but isn’t obvious at the beginning. Apparently, as a kid I learned to differentiate various lighting scenarios that are employed for different media. So when I saw a picture filled with uniformbright light, I could tell that it was a commercial or a sitcom.When I saw moody teal colors I could tell that it was a Hollywood blockbuster with Bruce Willis beating up bad guys. The power of light and color is so strong that it can communicate information in just half a second. Light can influence our emotions, augment the drama, and simply make a difference between visual genres.


Now back to what I do on a daily¬† basis.When the Tellur Aliens project started, I knew that I didn’t want the photo real look. I didn’t want to use global illumination technique, because it could yell generic results that are based on the rules of physics and not artistic choice. Although global illumination algorithms provide a nice and balanced image out of the box, I wanted every frame of Tellur Aliens to look like moody impressionists’ paintings – with small nuances that only a human being can craft through a trial and error creative process.Every shot of the project required a unique approach in the lighting process. Sometimes the scene would contain dozens of lights, or we would manually paint an HDR image that would propagate its colors to the scene, making it look more dramatic. Despite the non-photo real style of the project, we used in-house physically plausible shaders which respected energy dispersion and conservation laws. It helped us to maintain a bridge with reality and to not go completely cartoony. Once a shot was rendered the process of image compositing would takeoff. During the compositing stage, we would further enhance the look with 2.5d relighting. The 2.5d relighting added in a bit of improvisation into the whole process, and allowed for some last minute changes in the lighting of an already rendered image.


Considering the different lighting scenarios that I unconsciously perceived when I was a kid, I tried my best to push the Tellur Alien look more towards a movie-like style than a sitcom or a news program with generic colors and lighting. Would I flip over the channel if I saw a frame of Tellur Aliens? Hopefully not!


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