The light in the world comes principally from two sources, —the sun, and the student's lamp.

— Christian Nestell Bovee

Chapter 8

Mood and Lighting

"In the beginning of interactive [video] game development, -the programmers did all the art. …"

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"…There always seems to be that time in the schedule where everybody hates everybody.…"

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In a scene with one simple light source, the lightest area of a form (the highlight) will be the part of the object that is at a right angle from the light source. The darkest part of the object will, if there is no reflected light, be the side of the object farthest away from the light source. This isn't how light is usually in the real world, but the surrealistic approach helps in defining mood and three dimensionality.

The origins of dramatic mood lighting in static imagery goes back to the 16th century with the brush of Italian painter Caravaggio, who is know for his use of dramatic single source and duo source lighting.

The Denial of St. Peter, painted by Caravaggio in 1610 was one of his paintings that used dramatic mood lighting.

Copyright: Shickman Gallery, New York

In a theatrical adaptation based on the sleeper hit film, The Full Monty, Tony Award winning lighting designer Howell Binkley was assigned the task of coming up with a way that would allow the actors to actually strip naked on stage, but have them invisible to the audience. So, how can several perfectly good, live men, on center stage be without their clothes on, and not have the audience see them?

Obviously, there wouldn't be much of a show if they closed the curtain. "You don't see them, but they see you." Binkley told Stage Direction magazine. "It's so funny talking to all of the guys after we had our first show in San Diego because they can see everybody—the only thing you can see of them is a silhouette."

Here's a simple example of "Biograph-Griffith" lighting (see Chapter 4), that give this image added mood.

Lighting has significant power over mood and perception. The use of lighting has significant power, period. It's not unusual to recognize its similarity in stage, film, games and/or comics. The use of high-contrast single source shadow on the face signifies mystery, a split personality, or if highlighted with a single color, such as red or dark green, it can signify evil or madness. This holds true for any visual storytelling media. It will become even more prevalent in films as they become more and more "rendered" rather than photographed.

Will Eisner, in his book Graphic Storytelling, discusses the use of stereotypical elements to immediately present the character's personality or a situation to the audience/reader. For example, the bad guy has cat-like eyes, which can shine in the darkness. The face of the evil-doer is almost always under harsh contrast lighting, and the good guy is usually your handsome lead actor lighted more like a guardian angel. Very rarely are there any of the visual storytelling media alter from these simple variables, to provide storytelling hints to an audience, effortlessly. This is more important in media that has strict time guidelines, and less important in an interactive game with as much as 120 of game play to develop a character.

In the theatre, lighting always focused on illuminating the characters first, then the scenery. That is not always true with a filmmaker, interactive game designer or comic book artist, because they will spend more time lighting the surroundings more than the performers themselves. This is due to the larger scope of the environment; large vistas, long endless roads, and rooms within a house, all to establish the location and the underlying tone of the visual story, without the use of words. This is also due to a need to control the pace of the story, as explained in the next chapter.

The auteur creates the ambience, decorating the character's words with the sense of the world's undertone. As a result, painstaking time is spent on creating the silent "character" called lighting.

Orson Welles was fascinated with how the camera framed reality, and enjoyed exploring new ways to tell a visual story, sometimes even bending the rules of light, mood and perception. Citizen Kane was a 1941 black-and-white film, and the first he ever made. With that single feature, Orson Welles changed the media. In his many years in theater, Welles liked to violate the frame, always experimenting with scenes, sets and lighting. He transgressed its borders and made history with Citizen Kane, a film that is considered one of the most influential and important American Films of all time. Level after level, hailed as "visually sumptuous," Welles combined many elements to each frame, creating a rich cinematic experience that shattered all of the existing dynamics of commercial filmmaking at the time. He had relentlessly studied the films of King Vidor, John Ford, René Clair, and Frank Capra, but his biggest influence was the expressionist methodology developed by Fritz Lang at United Film Artists in Germany, which utilized the stark images, superb camerawork, with huge foreboding sets that dwarfed the shadowy actors, and distracted the viewer from the storyline. It made them think. Gregg Toland's experimental cinematography was pioneered by James Wong Howe in Transatlantic in 1930, and other films.

The reverberating impact Citizen Kane has had on the cinema originated from Welles' visual storytelling technique, and not from Herman J. Mankwiecz's screenplay (which won the Oscar in 1941).

Copyright: Jack Frost is TM & (C) 2001 Kevin Van Hook. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The artist must master the black-and-white images that are the core of the comic book art. The addition of color can help in visual storytelling, but it cannot fix an inadequate framework. Here's a page with a dramatic use of blacks and shadows.

Copyright: Captain America and the Claw are TM & (c) 2001 Marvel Entertainment. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The definition of "light" is "electromagnetic energy within a narrow range of frequencies capable of causing the sensation of vision." The human eye/brain combination acts kind of like a radio receiver tuned to receive this particular range of radio frequency energy. Just as the radio is programmed to receive and understand specific frequencies, all providing different moods; hard rock, classical, new age, rap, etc, — so does the human eye/brain combination. Black and darkness is eerie, mysterious, evil, while white and bright is angelic, good, and happy. It's programmed human nature.

First-timers in any media often overlook the importance of lighting. In larger film and interactive game productions, a group of people are assigned to focus exclusively on lighting techniques and effects. As mentioned in Chapter 3, the same visual lighting effects used in visual storytelling today (from film to comic books) was first introduced by D.W. Griffith during the early days of silent film era. These were the first special effects. Today, lighting technicians, camera operators and computer graphics artists require real-life lighting experience and theoretical background to develop exceptional lighting effects. There are big dollars at stake and a film re-shoot can be expensive, and the lighting layers of the 3-D modeling in interactive games usually takes more time than rendering the animated characters themselves. Computer graphics artists will often use sophisticated cheats to squeeze lighting out of the limited offerings found in most 3D rendering engines. Cheats like hanging many soft lighting effects that cast only diffuse light, or pre-rendering the lighting effects into texture maps. The same holds true for any type of photography, including film, which is why much of a film is still shot on a sound stage – more control of all the elements.

Illustrators of static imagery need to be very careful with "lighting cheats." In film more than interactive games, the momentum of the linear experience can hide some of the subtle errors. What are the chances that the scene is only five seconds long? Interactive games have it tougher, as the player may decide to explore the scenery for hours, making the chances of discovering inadequacies much higher. This leaves the comic artist, whom does not have the opulence of any real pretense; it's all there in black-and-white (pardon the pun). A reader may admire a single page of artwork for days, returning to it once again months or even years later.

In the past decade alone, the cost of making Hollywood quality eye candy went from $50 million in the early 1990s, to $5 million in the mid-1990s, to $50,000 just a few years ago, to less than $5,000, today.

We need to understand how traditional computer graphics ray tracing and comic lighting differs from real physical lighting, which is far easier to replicate in photographic film. Lighting in the real world is diffused; fluorescent tubes with wide surface area, frosted light bulbs and lampshades. Human beings do try very hard not to find themselves in the direct beam of bright headlights. However, traditionally in comic books and computer graphics, there's most often a small point source. This harsh lighting creates sharp shadows and less dimensional looking characters and objects. The newer 3-D rendering programs provide for better handling of such lighting effects for interactive games, and comic books thanks to computer coloring, has provided the flexibility of more "natural" lighting, through multi-layered more interactive coloring techniques, rather than flat process color choices. Comics are a visual storytelling art form where natural lighting may play second fiddle to a more expressionistic illustration technique, much like how the pioneers of film, when they too were only black and white.

Visual storytelling in particular necessitates the establishment of a mood, a physical and emotional setting. This is extremely important for readers, particularly when dealing with fantastical subjects. Readers will gauge the authenticity of a visual story based on tiny clues, the little visual details that the mind seeks to register and read as real, that help give the story weight. So hitting the right visual tone and creating the right atmosphere for your subject matter is something I would regard as a necessity.

© 2001 Mark Smylie. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

The early interactive games were flat 2-D, even more two-dimensional than comics, but dynamically animated so the idea of lighting wasn't a real issue – it moved. It was a flat animated world, but with the advent of 3-D rendering, from Doom to Toy Story to the more sophisticated X-Box games, such as Hunter; The Reckoning, lighting is a real issue (see Figure XX in Chapter 5). Previous methods in interactive game development, involved using many more light sources, or area lights that increased rendering time and costs, so until the system becomes easier, "real world lighting" will stay in the real world. It will become easier as an after effect of more and more films being rendered (3-D and traditional animation), rather than photographed. This is due to America's new found acceptance to the comic book style of visual storytelling – surrealistic, dynamic and exciting.

Andrew Loomis provided some basic lighting studies from his 1943 book, Figure Drawing, for all it's Worth.

Copyright: From FIGURE DRAWING FOR ALL ITS WORTH by Andrew Loomis, © 1943 by Andrew Loomis, renewed 1971 by Ethel Loomis. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Putman, Inc.

The same planes that are used in 2-D drawing are also used in 3-D animation.

Here are reproductions similar to the Loomis examples, within all visual media. The illustrated examples show how the comic's artist can bend the rules of light to add dynamic elements to each figure, above and beyond "real world" lighting. 3-D modeling for realism, rather than animated, gives you the ability to offer photographic quality imagery, but with the flexibility of rendered lighting.

To explore lighting techniques further, let's assume that light is a photon wave. In the real world, a single light source constantly shoots photon lights waves from the bulb, in all directions throughout the room. These light waves shoot around until they make contact with another object. If the object has a white matte and opaque surface, it will naturally absorb the light waves, but reflect at least some back out into the room. This new light wave has been compromised by the white opaque surface, so they may cruise at a different intensity, until it connects with another surface, where it will be absorbed again. Some light waves will emanate from a new object, back into the room, once again looking for another object. Each bounce changes the lights' energy and eventually, it disappears; absorbed into the last surface it touches. This is how a room is lighted. The point of explaining all this is color, which has a dramatic effect on light and lighting. For example, a flat black surface will absorb most of the light wave like a black hole, while a glossy red surface will stain the light rebound wave red.

Why artifical light is a poor substitute for the ambient light of the real world. The photographic flash or light can only dirtect it's illumination directly at the object and drops off dramatically the further the object moves away from the light source. That's not the case when you're outside under the reflective ambient light of the sun.

The light wave will lose momentum after each object it contacts. It will also become dimmer as it passes through space, so in order to create more natural looking lighting, a figure closest to a light source would be more illuminated than the furthest figure. The light wave isn't really losing energy as it dims, but falls off or gets absorbed once it enters a larger area. In computer graphics and comic books, the artist can control this light wave far more than film, as it's all completely rendered by an artist, who can artificially compensate for light failure.

Artificial Light

Real World Light

Technology has provided the tools to replicate more natural lighting effects for a more realistic setting, but in comic books; it's still up the artist to transfer those images in his mind, onto the static page.

Human beings perceive the wavelength of light as a hue, ranging from long waves in the red portion of the spectrum to blue and violet in the shorter range of the visible spectrum. In other words, we see hues of colors, not black and white, and everything in between. In black-and-white comics, the artist can master the same techniques used in the classic black and white films such as Citizen Kane, where the "mood" was mastered to establish more reality, making up for lack of color, but most comics are in color, so creator can have expressionistic art and also experiment with multiple light sources. The more references in the real world and in other media used (and the more time spent on each panel) the more outstanding the end result.

Comics' illustrators have the advantage of surrealistic lighting, whereas the "mood" can be artificially created, without having to follow the natural laws of the light spectrum. In film and interactive games, the photographic images or photographic quality renderings do not have that luxury as the human eye/brain perceives it as "reality," or close enough to reality, thus it must appear as reality or you'll lose the audience's attention. Oh, wait a minute… this isn't real. Time to get some food." The more realistic the rendering, the more realistic the renderings need to be.

The human eye/brain sees reflective hues of wavelengths of light. Here you can see the colors of the candy within the white plate.

Here you can see that even the blackest black, as long as its not a flat mat finish, it can both absorb (making it a warm or cool black) and reflect some color.

When the light bounces off a colored surface and changes wavelength, it also changes hue, picking up the hue of the surface it radiated out from. For example, a rainbow of candy in a white dish in the bright sunshine, the dish near the colored candies will absorb some of the color bouncing of the candy. Simulating this effect in interactive games is often called Radiosity, and is difficult to accomplish in comic books, but has and can be done using computer color or unless painting the images, rather than using line art or modeling the color onto the line art, which is very popular with comics today (thanks to the computer).

It's easier to present enhanced, yet realistic reflective lighting effects in watercolor or computer generated color, than in the photographic world. Figure 7.7 is an illustrated work from the graphic novel story Artesia, by Mark Smylie. Here, Smylie controls all the light and colors in this world he's created to provide the most expressive interpretation of the scene.

Copyright: Artesia is TM and © 2001 Mark Smylie. Inferno is courtesy Avenue Edit, Chicago, IL.

There are four basic types of light source. They are Point, where the light radiates from a single source, Spot, which is light a spotlight, Distant, coming from far away, so it may be somewhat diluted and Ambient light, which tends to be more lifelike.

In his book, Dynamic Light and Shade, Burne Hogarth presents examples of what he's determined are five different levels of lighting effects. They are (1) Single Source Light, which is where a single side of an object is illuminated, (2) double source light, which is when two different levels and even colors of lighting highlight an object or character from dual sides, (3) flat, diffused light, which is a more naturalistic lighting effect, (4) moonlight and (5) sculptural light, which emphasizes the three-dimensional form. These are all presented to the artist, who is drawing the images and the chosen light source.

This is where you can add specific moods very effectively, in any media of which many techniques were first developed by D.W. Griffith in the silent film era.

© 2001 Epoch Entertainment. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Natural light falls off as the square of the distance, but this often makes it difficult to cast enough light to illuminate interactive or comic scenes, so forget the math (and the left side of the brain) and while using the guidelines, take in consideration a more linear falloff. The comic artist can experiment much easier with multiple light sources. The following images shows an example of using two light sources, with one being the primary light source (major) and the other a simple wavelength of light with a blue hue (the minor), which creates a more 3-D feel.

The two light sources encircling these examples creates a more dynamic lighting effect, even in a 2-D comic book drawing, as compared to the single light and single flat colors of the top image.

© Respected rights holders. All rights reserved.

Up lighting is one that everyone first learns in their youth, with flashlight in hand, it can be loads of fun scaring little brothers and sisters by jumping out of a dark room, with the flashlight illuminating a screaming face from below the chin.

The more realistic the rendering, the more realistic the renderings need to be.

We can clearly see here that even the most innocent can appear malevolent by casting lighting from below the horizon line.

Dramatic, even in comics.

© 2001 Nifty Comics. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Another important element of lighting is the silhouette, which the concept of recognizing a character simply by their silhouette. This was first introduced by Ub Iwerks, the first animator of the early Mickey Mouse cartoons for Walt Disney (hence the big round ears).

Meanwhile, after the second world war, Osamu Tezuka single handedly created one the richest comic book and animation cultures in the world, and during the process created the "Mickey Mouse of Japan," Astro Boy, a boy robot with rockets in his feet and a punch that could knock down the largest of evil-doers. Following in Iwerks' and Osamu Tezuka footsteps were many animators, but few as popular as Nintendo game master Shigeru Miyamoto, who also recognized the importance of recognizing characters by their silhouette and brought the formula to interactive games.

When drawing or rendering silhouettes, it's been recommended by many artists to "rough" in whole figure first, thus making the figure more convincing. The silhouette is used in a number of different ways; to show distance, for a dramatic representation of a lone figure or a stark image of an imminent creature as seen below in Patrick The Wolf Boy.

Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani understood the importance of having Patrick the Wolf Boy recognized by his silhouette, something that was first introduced by Ub Iwerks, the first animator of the early Mickey Mouse cartoons for Walt Disney (hence, the big round ears).

© 2001 Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

A dynamic silhouette page from Terry Moore's Stranger's in Paradise.

© 2001 Abstract Studios

Silhouetted figure can provide an instance touch of mystery to any character.

Copyright: Skeleton Krew is TM & © 2001 BOXTOPTV.COM. All rights reserved and used with permission.

There are several reasons to use silhouettes. They can easily pinpoint an action, or something, or somebody (or any combination of these things), very quickly since there is no extraneous detail to confuse or distract the reader. Moods can be created, such as the feeling of impending danger (see Figure 7.44), a feeling of entering the unknown, mystery, terror (see Figure 7.5) or as a design element as in Figure 7.42. It must work within the story, so keep in mind that it's another visual storytelling tool and not a shortcut.

Silhouette Guidelines:

  1. Keep the action simple. For instance, isolate an action so if there is a battle with hundreds of antagonists, just silhouette the two fighters who are important.
  2. Keep drawings clean and clear. As an example, keep a figure's arms out, away from the body and with the legs separated. Don't have too many silhouetted objects touching them (breaking the figured outline), and be easily recognized as the characters.
  3. Tag figures, as Ub Iwerks did with the big round ears. We have to know who each silhouetted figure is. Tags can be as simple as Batman's ears, or as subtle as body language, but make sure the tags are clear and visible. They must be strong, but subtle details of a figure or object that give the figure its unique look and identity.
  4. Silhouette must be functional. If a character is supposed to be firing a gun, we have to be able to see the gun clearly, and do not use a silhouette just to use a silhouette.

As explained in Chapter 3, the eye path of the audience should be considered when working with darker, more moody lighting and colors in scenes. By highlighting a single form or area, the audience can quickly spot those figures. Make sure it's intentional and not accidental as that will clearly affect the experience.

By using black areas as a subtle roadmap, you can make your audience's travels clearer and at the same time, more dramatic. For more on the use of negative space,.

Copyright: Jack Frost is TM & © 2001 Kevin Van Hook. All rights reserved and used with permission.

As Operation Extermination is produced as a multimedia product, the horizontal nature of the computer screen forces a shifting of the traditional vertical comics' page.

© 2001 CWS Studios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Mushrooms Mushrooms2

Lighting is an important contributor to the art of 3D modeling. As you can see from the previous two images, the shadows from even a single light source adds depth to the image.

© 2001 CWS Studios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Chester Speiwak works with two basic types of lighting. The first is traditionally considered natural light. This can be either sunny and daylight, or diffused, which is a cloudy day, where objects cast little or no shadows. Spot light, or the typical one source lighting where there is a highlight and shadowed area. The second is artificial light, which is from candlelight or electrical bulbs. This tends to be either diffused, again where the objects cast little or no shadows, or spot, casting well defined shadows.
The most dramatic and the lighting of choice is usually daylight, where it can cast a wide spectrum of shadows that establish more dimension to the rendered 3D environment or characters.

When designing characters for 3D animation, Chester Spiewak believes that you can't get away with not having modeled shadow on 3D images as you can with 2D drawings. Here are Spiewak's sketches for characters for Operation Extermination, with the final modeled characters below.

© 2001 CWS Studios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

"An improperly lit scene, with incorrect balance of light and shadows can ruin an entire illusion of three-dimensions," said Spiewak. "Although the rendering of the lighting is time consuming, it's well worth the effort to exude a more realistic feel to the scenes."

Another important factor is that whatever is created in a 3D environment must be prepared to be manipulated—characters, sets, objects and even lighting and shadows have a life of their own. "Everything must be constructed with the notion that they will be manipulated for animation, it's a different mind set when you're creating characters with moveable joints, rolling eye sockets morphing mouths and a trailing shadow. That also includes the shadows of the objects within the world around them— doors that swing open, cars, floral, etc. When creating a 3D environment, the realism gets lost when the lighting is neglected. If you're going to spend the time creating this new world and build these new characters, you should take care of establishing the ambience of that environment. It's part of the immersion factor."

© 2001 CWS Studios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Here's another example of a single light source for added dimension.

© 2001 Valkyrie Studios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Alisa Lober of Valkyrie Studios and Creative director for the Septerra Core RPG game recognized that many of their programmers would rise to any challenge—one of which was to create three-dimensional lighting effects within their 2D environment. The team that created Septerra Core all wanted to create something extraordinary, so any added elements that Lober felt was added value they jumped at the chance. "I'd say something like wouldn't it really be nice if we had translucent clean shadows and lighting effects?" said Lober. "They came up with mind-blowing ways of doing things couldn't be done."

There are elements within Septerra Core's environment that are rarely seen in 2D games. They developed colored 3D lights and shadows without programming in 3D (see Figure 7.59). "I don't think many people noticed it's not a 3D game, like the first person shooters," said Lober. "It's an interesting phenomenon that we've kind of noted. We have characters walk past colored lights and the lights cast colored shadows behind them and change the colors of the characters. We did it all, like I said, without doing any true 3D programming."

Many of the players didn't notice the amount of detail that was added into the game, because as mentioned in Chapter 5, people are less forgiving if it isn't there and take it for granted when it is. It's not flashy, but the audience would take immediate notice if it wasn't there as the immersive environment wouldn't have been as convincing when characters don't seem to belong within their environment. The lighting effects and shadows provide added depth to 2D and 3D characters, whether on paper or on the screen.

The lighting and coloring of all visual media, from comic book to film will need to understand more about rendering 3-D lighting on a more sophisticated level, as the media (and human beings) become even more sophisticated with technology that provides for entire films to be rendered rather than shot. Static visual storytelling will always be static, as discussed in Chapter 3, because there are many elements of the interpersonal experience that make it unique and enjoyable. However, as we've seen with the explosion of digital technology in prepress, animation, special effects and filming in general. The next generation of Internet/3-D/computer literate kids will be the catalyst of this change as we've seen within the past five years the stop-motion artists of Hollywood replaced by computer graphics artists.

Depending on how the comics are colored, the colorist has just as an important role at following the rules of visual storytelling as the writer and penciller.

© 2001 Marvel Entertainment. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

In the past decade alone, the cost of making Hollywood eye candy went from $50 million in the early 1990s, to $5 million in the mid-1990s, to $50,000 just a few years ago, to less than $5,000, today. When the lower cost of 3-D graphics and special effects make it homogeneous, it also lowers their importance. This is why comics will always be an importance part of human culture, as it will always be an interpersonal experience – unique and vibrant, not just for the reader, but for the artist's themselves as well.

The sophistication of artwork within comic books has reached a point where they can compete, visually, with other visual media.

Here we have a two dimensional drawing enhanced by computer generated coloring (or more like painting), which enhances the dimension of the illustration.

TM & © 2001 Anthony Caputo. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

For more techniques on light and shade, check out Burne Hogarth's book "Dynamic Light and Shading." Information on this title and others can be found in the Appendix of this book.

Very simple two color, duo light source example, but see how it can change the mood and storytelling.

© 2001 All rights reserved.

The time spent on the details in the lighting and shadows gave Septerra Core's 2D interface an acclaimed 3D look and feel.

Alisa Lober

Creative Director, Game Designer

"In the beginning of interactive [video] game development, -the programmers did all the art. As the graphics became more sophisticated, the technology became more sophisticated. You had more colors, depth and textures. Eventually, they'd say; you know what? We can't draw. We need to hire real artists."

Catherine Court

Executive Producer, Video Games

"In a long collaborative effort, there always seems to be that time in the schedule where everybody hates everybody. I felt the producer's job is also as referee and my methods were very unorthodox; drag them out to go-kart races, give them baseball bats and 50 pumpkins to smash in the back parking lot. Management let me get away with it and it worked."