Setting up the lights for a cg animated movie


Hello, i want to ask a maybe basic question for CG animation. How must i approach lighting the different aspects in a animated movie?

Do i light the characters in a studio setup with 3 point lights?

Do i light up the environment scene with a sun?

When i import the character in the environment and the sun starts lighting up the character it changes everything… do i make the character lighting WITH the environment lights ON? What is the pipeline?



You light the scene so that it tells the story as part of a compelling image that fits within the broader world you are creating.

What is the story point for the shot? That is what you want people to look at and understand. How you go about doing so depends on the stylistic and technical constraints of the scene / project.

A light is a light. How it is used - placement to subject, exposure, size, color, textures, gobos etc - defines how it serves your shot, say, between it being a key light or a fill. Most shots will need a key and a fill. Some might want a rim. Some will want helpers.

If you have a character in your shot, chances are that character’s performance is going to be the centre of attention, so it is likely you will try to make him/her look good first. That same set up might not work for the other elements in the shot without some more work, so expect to refine from there.


Okay, but just in the most basic way is there a correct pipeline. Because at work we have some quarrels about the way to do things. One Artist lights up his character in a studio setup. Then we import him in the big scene and that character “burns” because of the V-ray Sun. So should the character artist light up his character in the big scene with the sun… Or is it normal to do a studio render to show what he has done and then in the big scene to adjust the lights so it looks good there? Obviously for an exterior daylight scene a 3-point light is not needed, But 1-2 lights can be added for depth and effect.

We also have a huge debate about exposure control. One artist sets up his character renders without a camera or exposure control. Then in the final scene there is a camera and exposure control and the character appears either too dark or too bright… what is the correct way to approach this?


“Correct pipeline” is a loaded term :slight_smile:

What you want is something effective, standardised and agreed upon, so that you can cut down on duplication of work. Standardisation is one of those things that gives you as an artist a better quality of life and saves your company a lot of time and money.

The tasks in other departments are often standardised: Models are built using certain tools to reference imagery because it helps give a good result. Creatures try to use the same rigging workflow so they are predictable to control. Animators like the same symbols for the same controls so they know what they’re looking for.

Similarly, assets, lighting and compositing can take advantage of standardisation. Assets (characters AND environment) undergo lookdev under the same development lighting setups so that scenes featuring collections of those assets will hopefully respond to adjustments in unison. Shot/Lighting pipelines are standarised so that shots can be made to look consistent between themselves, regardless of the artists assigned, and so that one rig might be given minor modifications to work for multiple similar angles. Compositing templates are set up to take expected lighting output and to save Compers building the same thing time and again. Artists can spend more time making pretty pictures.

You can definitely set up and organise a scene without loading in the cameras or exposure control, but ultimately those both need to imported and included so that the shot can be lit correctly. It should be lit correctly. If exposure levels are inconsistent then your artists should be test rendering before committing to significant batch renders.

Personally, I would gather the parts to the scene, organise it according to the specified shot template if one exists, then start lighting the shot: Study the sequence your shot has to be cut into, especially any finaled shots. Establish fill levels, block in key light (sun or otherwise), set correct exposure and color and carry on making it look pretty. If you do it right and your supervisors/client have bought off on a look, you can probably come up with a basic lightrig that can be passed around TDs that will save you time and allow you to get on with making shots look good.


Thanks for your reply!