Technology of Animation
AN AWARD WINNING LIGHT SYSTEM
Every year, in addition to honoring actors, directors, and writers for their contributions, the Academy Awards also recognize the scientists and engineers that pioneer technical innovations for filmmaking. The winners are presented with a Technical Achievement Award, one of which was presented to DreamWorks Animation for advances in light.
Light is an important part of storytelling -- providing drama, setting the mood in a scene, and plunging the audience into the environment. Unlike light in a live action film that is captured by a camera, light in a Computer Graphic (CG) animated film must be created to provide texture, depth to objects and cast shadows like those found in the real world.
In the early ‘90s, current lighting software was not evolving quickly enough to keep up with the pace of DreamWorks Animation’s ambitious productions. In 1996, DreamWorks Animation engineers saw the opportunity to change the lighting workflow and started development on a state-of-the-art tool designed to advance the way light is applied to an animated film. The studio’s Light System provides a unique, intuitive, and interactive lighting workflow by integrating a deep image render system and a powerful, artist-focused spreadsheet.
In prior animation light systems, lower quality data was cached to provide rapid on-screen feedback. The lower quality meant lack of detail, which often led to artifacts in the final image, and extra artist effort to remedy those issues. The deep image render system is built around showing full quality image information from the same render that produces the final images. Therefore the lighter is interactively adjusting and viewing the final render of a character within the tool.
As animated scenes become more complex with millions of objects, furry characters and crowds of thousands in the background, making bulk lighting changes becomes difficult. The solution in the DreamWorks Light System is to display the lighting data in a spreadsheet. Each row on the sheet represents an object grouped by type and each column is an attribute of the object. The spreadsheet made it easier to select multiple cells to make many changes at one time. This evolution in lighting helped when the movie Antz began production in the mid ‘90s. Lighting setups to render a single ant were already too complex to view and edit with existing tools. The Light System was finished a few months into production, and thanks to the spreadsheet, was able to handle lighting a sequence involving a crowd of 7000 ants in a single frame.
With the Light System, the studio is able to produce high quality results quickly. Lighters are able to run more iterations to achieve the perfect lighting for a scene. After using the tool for 23 animated and visual effects films, the studio was recognized in February 2013 by the Academy Awards for Technical Achievement in engineering their Light System. With an award winning tool and the dedication of DreamWorks Animation lighters, expect to see even more impressive and amazing environments in upcoming films.
Watch Markus Manninien, Visual Effects Supervisor discuss the lighting techniques in The Croods: