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Lighting and Compositing for Animation - Glory Hayoung Jo

Lighting and Compositing for Animation - Glory Hayoung Jo

by hjo940 on 1 Jun 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Hey everyone! I am a lighting and compositing artist. I absolutely love bringing color and light to the characters, especially if they enhance the story! This is a compilation of challenges I participated in during this past year. It has been a blast!

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I spent the year 2020 taking on new lighting challenges. Academy of Animated Art had assets we could set up and light! It was perfect for an artist like me who wanted more time to practice my lighting and compositing skills. I had so much fun researching and thinking about the story I wanted to tell with my shots.

Here come some of my shots!

Sunset Over Sci-Fi City

One of the most challenging shots (but also the most fun) was lighting for this sci-fi city asset. What story did I want to tell? What time of the day was it? What mood did I want to portray? How will this information affect the lighting?

This sci-fi city is a rich and high-tech area. At first glance, you can notice the grand blue headquarters (ran by Daimonte Electric Power Company) towering over the rest of the city. These centers seem also unsettling, with the use of high contrast blues. The redness of the sun spill over the rest of the city. The poor outskirts (although some may look tall) are in shadows.

When the sun sets, you can notice all the pollution in the air. Rather, the pollution in the air affects how the sunset looks from below. The more pollution, the more red. I chose to go for the intense and saturated red sunset.

For the challenge, we were given these building assets. We would connect them to shaders and create the layout. In this case, I chose to use RenderMan. And then off to lighting we go!

I looked for references of different cities. The challenge was finding photos without heavy filters. Some photos just ended up as some inspiration.

One of my great resources was city drone shots. It helped me think of different ways to make the city more alive. My personal favorite was the one of New York City. I did spend a lot of time marveling over the city.

After getting the references and getting the story down, I went ahead with lighting the shot.

For the initial setup, I have a dome light and main suns. The tricky part about sunsets is that it has a wide range of colors. In order to make sure that the buildings were reflecting and catching these different colors, I had a light for each (red, yellow, green/blue). I also spent some time adding additional small lights across the city. For the dome light image, I also had to photoshop the clouds in the back, so that some of them wouldn't appear to pierce too much into the center buildings. And of course, I added a few more in the rest of the sky.

The next challenge was rendering. Since there were so many lights and the shot is mostly dark, there would be more noise and thus, more render time. I decided that the most far-back assets should be projected. The far background, ground, and midground paintings were rendered for one frame. For this part, I denoised and removed any fireflies. Next, I set them up for projections.

The card for the background buildings is placed farther back. I was hoping that when the camera zooms in, the building doesn't appear to zoom as much. 

The foreground buildings were all rendered out frame by frame. These buildings were composited on top.

The next step is to help make the city look alive. Although this is the time before it's completely dark, I'd still expect there to be lights turned on.

First, I added tiny headlights. Since it's so high up above the city, you can only see the slight movement of the headlights.

Second, I added noise flickering. The animated noise is attached to the spec pass to make it look like many lights were going by the buildings.

Next, I added the moving banners. I went over to After Effects to create propaganda banners. In Nuke, I added checkerboard patterns, glow, and gradients to make the banners look like neon signs.

I wanted to draw the viewer's attention to the central headquarters, so I added red lights. I animated the lights by using the sin expression.

After different layers of flares and color correcting ... tada! The final look!


The next challenge is Prisha, a grandmama leisurely making her flower necklaces. For this one, I wanted to make this a wow and intimate moment. You can see what she is looking forward to completing. Who is she making this for?

For this project, I used saturation in a different way. This one shows warmth. I drew inspiration from the colors of Moana and the rim lighting effect of How to Train Your Dragon 3. The skin references are of Indian and other dark-skinned grandmothers (and a grandfather).

The challenge was definitely trying to light with warm key light, but making sure to not lose the dark skin tone. I did have to use compositing to bring the darks back. I also had to be careful not to get too carried away with the saturation. Certain complementary colors next to each other (for instance the green and pinks/reds) draw the attention away. I decided to use VRay as my renderer.


Ashli is another beautiful and epic character we were able to light! For Black History Month, we went through how we can light dark-skinned characters (the techniques we use are different). First, we would add more specular to bring out the dark colors and their features. For on-site acting, actors applied makeup to add the specular glow. Similarily, we can add more specular to the shaders or more to the lights. Next, I used rim lights to bring out her silhouette. And since the dark-skinned character is in front of a light background, we can also see some visual shaping.

Since this was a heroic shot, I wanted to go for the blues and purples. I drew inspiration from some shots from Sombra cinematic sequences and the tv show, Insecure.

The tricky part is the subsurface. If you add too much, not only would her skin appear gummy, but it appears to be a purple glow. There is only some subtle subsurface. I also used VRay for the renderer.

Overall, it has been fun taking on different characters, settings, and stories. I had really fun tackling every challenge!

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