Introduction

Who am I?

Hi everyone! And welcome! My name is Christophe Brejon. I am a Lighting and Compositing Supervisor, with 13 years of experience in the Computer Graphics (CG) industry. After 8 years traveling the globe from one studio to another ( Animal Logic, Weta Digital, Illumination Mac guff, Framestore, Ilion ), I think this is the right time for me to share this knowledge.

What is this book about?

I started to write this book in February 2017 as a simple Google doc. Over the years it grew to 130 pages. I have shared it with some colleagues and so far the response has been quite positive. Logical next step to make my book available to the entire world is to put up a website which is free to read.

This book will not teach you Maya, Guerilla Render or any software. I am not interested in the technical side of things. There are dozens of websites which will help you to setup a material or fix your displacement shader. This is NOT the purpose of my website. During my writing, I have assumed that most readers are used to work with a modern render engine using Global Illumination and Physically-Based Rendering (PBR). If you are not, I strongly recommend you to read the PBR guide from Substance.

From the Substance PBR guide: “Key characteristics of PBR are energy conservation, fresnel, specular controlled by the BRDF and lighting calculcations are in linear. […] PBR removes the guesswork and provides a workflow for creating consistent artwork, […] assets will look accurate in all lighting conditions.”

I want to talk about timeless principles and how to apply them in Computer Graphics. Hopefully I will be able to go beyond the ultimate answer to everything: “It depends” and offer some personal insights.

Marc Bigeast, a teacher from Supinfocom, once told me: “As a general rule, one shall speak about what he knows.”

This is what I am trying to do with this book.

I am not interested in copying articles from Wikipedia. Therefore, some important notions like iridescence or photons are NOT covered in this website because there are amazing professionals out there who explain it way BETTER than me. When relevant, links to Wikipedia and other sources have been provided.

Why a book about Cinematography?

  • Because you can definitely teach Lighting! It is a skill that you can learn through theory and practice, conversely to what some people say. We will come back to this in Chapter 10.
  • To share a vocabulary: If someone asks you to do a “Counterchange” or a “Shatner light“, it becomes mandatory to understand these cultural references.

Pixel Cinematography: The use of words alone is inadequate to describe visual concepts.

I’ll do my best to use real examples to illustrate my thoughts.
  • Because no matter where I work: Australia, France or Canada, I generally see the same mistakes: bad sampling, layering issues, render times…
  • Because 90% of CG movies want the same “Pixar look with a PBR approach and path tracing, we can definitely come up with some rules.

Really? Some rules?

These rules are here to help you, NOT to limit your creativity. They have guided me successfully on different productions such as Planet 51, The secret life of pets or Lego Batman. I did not make up any of these rules: I stole them from my leads and supervisors. Traveling the world from one company to another has allowed me to take notes, compare workflows, and I have come up with this “universal” recipe.

This book ONLY concerns PBR cartoon movies. If you want to do cell-shading or stylized rendering, it will not help you as much. This a critical point: I will mainly focus about Hollywood cartoon movies with a budget of approximately 70 million dollars.

Sometimes Art Direction fights against PBR. But it does not have to be always the case! Therefore I will mostly talk about Art Direction that is path-tracing/PBR friendly. In PBR, remember that you can definitely bend these rules. But do NOT break them.

Finally, it is very important to note that each production and each company have their OWN needs, culture or budget. So you definitely want to adjust these rules depending on your art direction, schedule and render farm resources.

I love this quote from the Substance PBR guide: “It is important to know the principles and use the guidelines without being slaves to them.

Truth.

Acknowledgements

You can use the best shaders and algorithms but in the end, it always comes down to the people you are working with. They are the ones who make decisions, who lead their crew and help us make these beautiful pictures. This book would not have been possible without these AMAZING people:

  • Sandip Kalsy and Matthias Menz both work at Weta Digital. I have not worked directly with them but their amazing 3 hours masterclass on cinematography  and Steven Spielberg had a major influence on me.
  • Barbara Meyers was the Lighting Supervisor on Planet 51 at Ilion Animation Studio. She gave me my first job in the industry and taught me about the “Top Light”.
  • Alfonso Caparrini was my lead on “Planet 51” and is now working at Pixar Animation Studios. He was the first to teach me how to shape a character and to light a shot.
  • Thierry Noblet was my Lighting Supervisor on “The Secret Life of Pets” at Illumination Mac Guff. He introduced me to this amazing technique called “Sequence Lighting“.
  • Victor Pajot was my Lead on “Minions” and is now a Lighting Supervisor at Illumination Mac Guff. He has been very patient and supportive of me over the years.
  • Craig Welsh was my Lighting Supervisor on “Lego Batman” at Animal Logic. His dedication, generosity and love of cinematography made this movie a memorable experience. His blog is the best thing I have ever read on our industry.
  • Grant Freckelton was Production Designer on “Lego Batman” and he just blew me away with his genius vision.

Last but no least

I would also like to thank:

  • Thomas Mansencal for his help on Color Management. I would not have made it without him. Check his website, it is a must-read!
  • Nicolas Prothais is an animator at Disney. His knowledge and skills have been very helpful for the writing of this book.
  • Alex Fry for his help and availability. The Gotham Lens is the best Nuke node I have ever seen!
  • Benjamin Legros, Philippe Llerena and all the Mercenaries for creating the best Render Engine I have ever used: Guerilla Render.
  • Jonathan W. Rodegher for reading the book, correcting mistakes and helping me on chapters 5 and 10 about layering and compositing. His help has been essential.
  • Rémi Salmon, production designer on Playmobil the movie and Pascal Bertrand, CTO of On Animation. I learned a lot working with them.
  • Andrew Hepp, Damir Filipovic, Samuel Maniscalco and Paolo Giordana: my Animal buddies for their support!

Production Proof

The purpose of this book is simple: to highlight the BEST of each studio I have worked at. All the concepts we are going to see in the next chapters have been used and validated on many feature films. I have come with my own recipes, but remember that it is up to YOU to come with new ideas and your OWN visual language. I hope you will enjoy the journey we are about to start together! In a way, I am now passing the torch to you.

Copyright © New Line Cinema 2001

Cinematography experience

We do NOT talk that much about Cinematography on Animated Feature Films. That is probably my biggest frustration in the industry. On Planet 51, I used to say: “We talk more about air conditioning and specular highlight than lighting.” In most studios the lighting crew barely evokes the story when starting a sequence. Generally our main concern is to have a readable and pleasant image with nice colors and shaping on the characters. I wish it were different, but the industry is not there yet.

As Alberto Mielgo stated on his website: “However mainstream animation industry is boring. EXTREMELY boring. […] We work on solid boring pipelines to produce the same safe, family friendly films to sell Happy Meals and toys at Walmart.” Maybe some new producers in the industry will change things… Who knows?

There is only one project where I have worked with a true cinematographer. Actually they were two: Craig and Grant on Lego Batman. Therefore I will try to focus on my own experience, what I have seen with my own eyes rather than extrapolate on stuff I do not know or do not understand.

What is CG Cinematography?

A cinematographer is responsible for the look of a movie. In CG, he may be called  “Production Designer”, “Lighting Supervisor” or “Art Director” depending on the studio or production. He has four main tools available to make his work:

  • Lights (direction, intensity, hard/soft…)
  • Color (contrast, brightness, saturation, grading, artificial, natural, acid…)
  • Camera (steady, zoom, dolly, lenses, focal length, depth-of-field, long, medium or close-up shot, ratio…)
  • Film Stock (size, color, brightness of the noise, temperature…)

It is not rare to have two cinematographers on a movie: one for camera work (layout) and one for lighting (photography).

The cinematography language is based on context:

  • the moment (where/when, night/day, interior/exterior, weather…)
  • the characters (rich/poor, emotional/intellectual, emotional journey, story arc…)
  • the director’s intention (which message convey? Which emotion should feel the viewer?)

While we assume that Computer Graphics do have things in common with live-action and 2d, 3d is also a specific visual language. With its own rules and particularities.

How are we going to use all of these tools to tell a story in the best possible way? Hopefully this book will help you to achieve that. Thanks for reading!

I am showing many movie examples in this FREE guide. Hopefully the doctrine of fair use should allow me to use them.

  • Non profit educational purpose.
  • Borrowing small bits of material.
  • No harm done to the copyright owner’s ability to profit.
  • Reproduction of the work is for commentary and criticism.

For legal reasons, I have to put this notice in the front page of my book. I will be using some examples from Dave Walvoord’s talk at Siggraph 2019.

Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. Copyrights for third-party components of this work must be honored. For all other uses, contact the Owner/Author. Copyright is held by the owner/author(s). SIGGRAPH ’19 Courses, July 28 – August 01, 2019, Los Angeles, CA, USA ACM 978-1-4503-6307-5/19/07. 10.1145/3305366.3328063


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