3D Animation School: The Fundamentals of Light

February 19, 2009

This is a post for the 1 year animation 2nd semester group project at the New York Film Academy 3D Animation School, which encompasses many disciplines necessary for an animation/vfx career.

The fundamentals of light. Shaders are the elements of an animation program that provide a surface with color, lighting effects and textures. Understanding the behavior of light and it’s relationship to photography is essential to creating convincing renders and imitating real world natural phenomena as seen by a camera.

In this class we study how light behaves when it meets different surfaces such as skin, metal, wood and marble etc. Knowing how to construct shaders to emulate these diverse surfaces and the manner in which light is absorbed, refracted and reflected on them is the cornerstone of the lighting and rendering arena. Think for instance of Gollum in LOR or the latest Hulk, their skin textures were quite convincing, and the reason why is that the shader “writers” spent many hours studying the different qualities of skin, how it light responds to it, getting lots of references with which to inform their work and then creating shaders to reproduce that look.

In order to produce the best possible project lighting and rendering is top of the list. There is a demand in the animation world for those who have lighting and shader construction as their primary skill. It’s in demand because few really understand the deeper concepts of shader construction and rendering, and can do it well. It’s a great opportunity for getting into the industry.
By Robert Appleton, New York Film Academy 3D Animation Instructor