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Lighting TD / Lighter

In many companies in the UK, particularly facility houses, Lighters are called Lighting TDs (Technical Directors) and can work their way up through the Lighting Department, starting from Junior TD. In feature animation, they are known as Lighters or Lighting Artists.

Lighting TDs/Lighters add the lighting that creates atmosphere, adding realism, tone and depth to a scene; visually balancing individual elements to enable the compositors to produce a convincing image. They need to use technical skill and aesthetic judgement in order to create images that not only look good but are easy to render (output; translating computer data into images).

Lighting is a fundamental skill required by generalists who cover more than one role when working on smaller projects. On larger productions, there is likely to be a team of dedicated Lighting TDs/Lighters.

What is the job?
Lighting TDs/Lighters make sure there is consistency in lighting, colour balance and mood between the various elements of a shot or scene. When appropriate, they ensure the CG looks photo-realistic to match the live action plates. Not only do Lighting TDs/Lighters emphasise drama or narrative, they also establish and clarify location, weather, time of day, etc.

It is likely that there will be an established design theme for a sequence or a project which Lighting TDs/Lighters need to respect. They refer to the relevant production designs and apply that visual style as faithfully as possible, taking care to maintain continuity.

On some projects, a Lighting TD/Lighter may be involved in the research and development of different effects for the Art Director or Lighting Supervisor. In a large company or on a larger project, Lighting TDs/Lighters are often part of a team, but they need to be able to work with a minimum of supervision, understand the tools available and know how to utilise them to create the desired effects. On smaller productions, the role of Lighting TD/Lighter may be combined with that of Modeller or Texture Artist.

Lighting TDs/Lighters need to work closely with the Rendering and Compositing Departments to understand and appreciate what is required at the next stage and ensure their material is easy to use and delivered on time.

Typical career routes
There are several levels of Lighting TD/Lighter from junior through to a Senior Technical Director or Supervisor. This job profile relates to a mid-level grade. There is no traditional route into the Lighting department but it is unlikely there will be suitable jobs for new entrants.

Lighting TDs/Lighters with artistic interests may tend towards 'look development' while those with more technical skills may find shader -based work is more appealing. Sometimes a Shader Writer makes the move into Lighting. Lighting Designers from the theatre, Photographers or Fine Art Painters, all with technical understanding of computer processes, can become good lighters.

The senior position within the department is the Lighting Supervisor and experience at this level could, eventually, lead on to CG Supervisor or VFX Supervisor.

Essential knowledge and skills
  • strong sense of light and shadow demonstrated by artwork, photography, theatre, film or CG work;
  • knowledge of colour theory (Art History can be useful);
  • ability to follow design reference and sympathy with wide range of styles;
  • ability to light characters and environments, interior & exterior, different times of day, etc ;
  • an understanding of composition and the ability to enhance mood by lighting;
  • good working knowledge of computer animation packages, particularly Maya.
  • good working knowledge of 2D Paint software and various industry-standard rendering programmes, such as Renderman, Mental Ray and Brazil;
  • good working knowledge of palettes and CLUTs (Colour Look Up Tables);
  • ability to do UV mapping;
  • good understanding of maths and physics;
  • understanding of the principles of cinematography including depth of field, density, use of filters;
  • ability to problem solve;
  • ability to communicate with colleagues and work as part of a team;
  • ability to take direction and willingness to address comments and make changes;
  • ability to work with a minimum of supervision and capacity to function as team leader, if required;
  • ability to deliver on schedule, working under pressure if required;
  • respect for the procedures and requirements of a particular studio, production or pipeline:
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures
Training and qualifications
Ideally, Lighting TDs/Lighters will combine art and maths qualifications. In fact, they are most likely to have gained a degree in Computer Graphics, Computer Science, or one of a variety of different disciplines including Art-related subjects, Photography, Computer Animation, Maths or Physics.

Once established, their work and track record will be of more value than a degree. Solid experience in at least one of the 3D packages currently in use by the industry will be expected. These include Maya, Houdini, XSI, 3D Studio Max and Lightwave and familiarity with other programmes would be an advantage.

At a more junior level, it is possible that some relevant professional experience may replace an academic qualification providing a portfolio and/or showreel demonstrates the necessary talent and skills.

Useful Links
Animation World Network (AWN) (news & jobs) - www.awn.com
3d World Magazine - 3D World Magazine
High End 3D (news & jobs) - www.highend3d.com
Computer Graphics World Magazine Computer Graphics World

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Publications
Digital Lighting & Rendering by Jeremy Birn, George Maestri (Editor). New Riders Publishing.
Painting with Light by John Alton. Pub. University of California Press

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Glossary

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Adobe Acrobat DocumentLighting TD / Lighter
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