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Creating Lighting for DreamWorks' Spirit Untamed

Eva Mateo Fábregas talked about the production process behind DreamWorks' Spirit Untamed from the Lighting Artist's perspective.

Introduction

I got the Lighting Artist position for Spirit Untamed by applying for the Jellyfish Pictures. I remember not believing it because I have less experience than other people who were working on the gig. It was a great opportunity to work on it and I took this opportunity to give the best of myself to others. I was lucky to get this opportunity to work with a talented team. I enjoyed working with them.

As always when you work in production, you have a production coordinator that manages the deadlines. In this production, the production coordinator managed the lighting and compositing. Also, he flagged and reported the other department from some stuff that should have changed it: for example, the camera has a strong motion blur, the production coordinator must flag to the layout department.

On the first day of the week, the production coordinator would tell you your priorities of the week and your deadlines. And when the deadline was soon, he asked you if you could finish the stuff. It was very important to flag to the production coordinator if you don’t finish your stuff by the deadline because he can manage the compositing team quickly.

The most important thing that I remember to learn is to always communicate with everyone and keep updating the production coordinator and the team. Also, ask for help when you need it. Depending on the sequence, I managed the stuff differently. I worked on 3 different sequences.

I worked in the first The Race to Rescue Lucky that I had 3 trailer shots and this stuff has more priority than the others. I made it first and after I took some lights that I used in these shots to copy to other shots.

Over the months and the final deadline is coming, the workload was harder and the shot per day changed.

The Creative Process

The Lighting Artist appears in the final of the production pipeline, before sending the render and sending it in post-production (in this case, compositing). We check the stuff from Layout (camera motion blur), Modeling (correct subdivisions of the objects and last stages of the set dressing), Shading, Texturing (correct texture resolution), Animation (doesn’t have intersection), and FX (correct simulation and doesn’t have intersections).

As always in production, you have a different role. The most upper you are the supervisors, after the lead, senior, mid, and junior (was my role). You are in a team with different lighting and other artists like a Lighting TA, Generalist TD, and the production coordinator. We work together in different sequences from the film.

The lead and senior make the light rig and the other artist works based on this one. Depending on the sequence, you have more room for maneuver to add different lights in your shots.

But you need to adapt to this light-rig and don’t change it. But in the situation that you have a close-up character lighting, you need to add some lights to complete the shot. For example, if you received the key, fill and bounce light, this shot probably needs extra lights like for example a top and rim lights. These extra lights help to give shapes your character. Also, it is pretty important to not get crazy to add extra lights because your shots need to be optimized and organized.

The first shots that I remember to start to work were the sequence in which Lucky arrives at the Train Station. This sequence was so hard because it was difficult from a technical point of view. I remember to light 5 shots and these shots were the most simple because it was the first one that I lighted. 

After this sequence, we worked on the first The Race to Rescue Lucky, and this sequence was for me the most enjoyable. I had assigned 3 trailer shots, my favorite shots that I’ve been working on for this gig. It was my favorite because I enjoy lighting.

And the next sequence and the last sequence that I worked on was the Lucky meets Spirit. For me, it was the hardest sequence that I worked on. I did the shots from the train conversation (it is not appearing on the video) and I just used the lights from the light-rig and we should match with the mastershot. Sometimes the shots that seem the most easier to work sometimes are the most difficult to work. It was hard to work because you need to match exactly with the master shot and keep the raccord in this kind of shot, it is hard to do. But after that, I’m happy with the final result.

The Role of Lighting

Always in animation, the lighting is pretty important for the narrative context. The other sequence that the team that I worked in where they lighted was the first sequence of the film. The lighting from this sequence changes it because it follows the narrative. We have two scenarios: the show and the emotional context when we see the fireworks. In this case, they made two different light rigs and after in comp, they used a smooth transition to change the light rig. Also, it changes it when the sequence ends. The first light rig was natural lighting and the lights simulate the sunny day. On the other hand, the fireworks moment is practical lighting. This kind of lighting focuses on emotions.

In the film, I always light daytime and I didn’t light different light situations. But there is also a sequence that plays with different light situations: the sequence in which Lucky and his friends travel to rescue the Spirit’s family. This narrative tool helps to give more dynamics.

Workflow

In general, when you work in art, you add more detail when you are closed with elements in your composition. It happens the same with the lighting, you add more detail when the character is closed. In the sequences of the Lucky Meets Spirit, in the exterior shots, we light-rig that simulates the daytime.

The case of the warm breeze in the valley is a matte painting and it has a very great work made by the compositing and matte painting department. The final result of the film is because they are a strong work from the different departments.

The main workflow that a Lighting Artist in production receives is the light rig and after a match or complete the light rig, depends on the shot and sequence. And when you are happy with that, you check the render layers and send them to the farm for the test frames. After that, you made a slap comp with the tool and the studio had a show in dailies. After the lighting is already approved, you send it to the farm full-frame range and send it again in the dailies and they check your stuff and the stuff from other departments.

We work with Arnold Render and this engine works physically correctly. We play with direct lights that help to give a more realistic look. Also, we played with Arnold bounces and the colorspace helped to give more bounces on the lights. 

The main tip that I would give to the artist who wants to play with physical lighting is to use a few lights in his works like in real life. Don’t play with excessive extra lights and focus on the light direction of the key. 

Conclusion

The Spirit Untamed experiences taught me how to work better in teamwork with other lighters and artists to get better communication and enjoy working in a team.

The role that I think that it played in shaping me as a professional was to adapt myself to a big production following the deadlines and quality requirements. I felt that I adapted faster in style because this is the kind of style that I play in my own work of my portfolio. Probably it is the reason that they contracted me. On the other hand, I had an adapted week and I appreciated my buddy that helps me to teach how the pipeline works. And also, it helped me to have a couple of calls with the lead that I had to give me feedback about the shots that I worked on. 

In the future, what kind of project I would like to work on. I enjoy working on different kinds of projects. I’m sure that I would like to continue to be a Lighting and Compositing artist but I’m not sure if I would like to continue with the animation or VFX industry. Currently, I focus on my current work. Probably I will continue to focus on animation because I enjoy a lot of lighting and cartoon characters.    

Eva Mateo Fábregas, 3D Lighting Artist

Interview conducted by Kseniya Serebrennikova

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