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Softwares: Maya, Arnold, Houdini, Mantra, Nuke
Film Director: Rachael Britton
Be There is a collaborative SCAD graduate thesis film that I was able to work on from July 2021 to June 2022 as the Lighting Supervisor. I learned a lot from working on this film. It was my first time leading a team, and it was a great opportunity for collaboration and problem solving.
I was lucky enough to join the project early in production, and was able to collaborate in making color choices for the sequences, establishing pipeline, and then in production I oversaw master (environment) lighting and a portion of shot lighting and compositing. I also created and maintained a spreadsheet for the lighting team to organize lighting assignments and track progress. Due to production delays, I had to leave the project in June 2022, with Allie Sargent taking over as Assistant Lighting Supervisor to oversee the remainder of shot lighting and compositing.
The film was overseen by our director, Rachael, and her thesis committee of professors. I would also like to thank Professor Gaynor, Professor Fowler, and Professor Ilardi at SCAD for answering questions and providing guidance.
Aaron Thomas, Kaitlyn Kearns, Palm Piraban, Alexis Behilo, Allie Sargent, Amanda Skeith
Early on after joining the project I was able to collaborate on direction for mood and lighting for the film. As a starting point, I gathered different references as possibilities for lighting for sequences (shown below), and shared them with the director and the visual development team. After some conversations on what mood we wanted to go for and the progression of the mood throughout the film, the vis dev team created passes of the color script and I was able to help with some small revisions, and this final version (shown second below) was reached.
Images from various sources including: Toy Story 4 (2019), Black Swan (2010), Film-Grab.com, Pinterest, Google, Ratatouille (2007), La La Land (2016), "Drivers License" music video (2021), Little Women (2019), etc.
The final color script that charts the color, mood, and emotion through the film and guided lighters.
On this project I was also able to collaborate and help establish our pipeline. I learned a lot about pipeline and lighting for a film from working on other SCAD collaborative projects such as Hex Limit, and from resources (such as https://chrisbrejon.com/) and information from a student presentation at SCAD from Amanda Jayapurna. I was able to use this knowledge while modifying for our needs. Our most challenging shots pipeline wise were theater shots that included crowds, and one shot that included rain. After lots of research, reading through documentation, testing, and trial and error, we were able to find solutions to make the shots work. We worked closely with our FX artist, Sanat Charankar, in order to find these solutions.
Crowds: Between crowds and rain, crowds were our biggest challenge in terms of optimization and pipeline. Filling a theater with a full audience while keeping render times down required a lot of testing of different workflow options. Sanat did a an incredible job creating the crowd, and after lots of trial and error and some bumps in the road we went with this workflow: the main characters and set were rendered in Maya with Arnold, and I created a simplified version of the light rig in Houdini for the crowds to be rendered with Mantra. This basic rig would be adjusted and built upon per shot, and then all passes were brought into Nuke to make the integration as clean as possible with adjustments in compositing.
Master Lighting - Theater
My main lighting responsibility on the film was the theater set. I started doing lighting tests in this set very early, before there were textures. This helped to get a head start on how we wanted the space to feel and what we wanted the mood to look like. This master light rig went through several iterations and changes until we reached the final look, some of which are shown below.
Very early lighting test, before any textures and shaders were added.
Our primary lighting reference for the theater set sequences was Black Swan (2010) (Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique). Image from https://www.artofvfx.com/.
As lighting progressed, we realized that some shaders needed adjustments to values such as IOR, roughess, and the bump intensity. Though I was not a look development artist on the project, I was able to help with some shader changes to make the shaders more consistent. Additional changes were later made after these screencaps as well.
After looking at a few versions of test composites, it was clear that the look was not quite where we wanted it to be yet. It needed to match the color script more closely, and therefore needed to be more stylized and colorful. I was able to meet with Professor Gaynor to get her advice, where we came up with this paintover as a guide for the look. In addition to some changes in Maya, we decided that the best way to achieve these colors would be in compositing.
Early Test Composite 01
Early Test Composite 02
Color Script Key
Updated Master Lighting Composites
Once we were happy with the master lighting and test composites, I turned the nuke script for these test camera angles into a template that the team could use as a starting point if they chose to when compositing shots for the theater sequences in order to maintain a cohesive look.
References from Unsplash and iStock.
In addition to the master lighting for the theater, I also worked on shot lighting and compositing. Below are the shots I was able to work on.
This is the final version of the shot.
I was able to work on rough testing for this shot to ensure we would be able to integrate the crowd from Houdini close up. This work was primarily testing, and the shot would be assigned to another lighter for shot lighting and final comp.
I completed lighting and compositing for this shot. After I completed it, I was no longer on the project but some changes to the animation and curtain
needed to be made, so Allie Sargent made those changes and reran the renders through my comp script to get the final composite shown above.
I completed lighting and compositing for this shot as well. Similarly to the shot to the left, additional animation changes needed to be made after lighting and compositing was called final, so another lighter would have updated the animation after I left the project. The shot shown above, however, is the latest version of what I worked on.
References from Unsplash and Pexels.
Overall, this project taught me a lot about how to communicate with and lead a team, and how to problem solve. I am very grateful to the lighting team for all of their hard work and dedication to the film. And thank you to our director, Rachael, for all of her guidance!
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