This project was a collaboration with Madison Erwin. She crafted this amazing sequence from the audio from one of my favorite episodes of Modern Love. There were many challenging elements in this shot that were new to me, and the life in the animation really kept me going!
The biggest challenge for this sequence was achieving the look of the glass case and gem.
The initial glass model that was used in animation was a thin-walled dome shape. For one, it was difficult to get the shape of the dome to read properly, especially at the base where it met the podium. And for another, it begged the question of why this valuable gem would be "guarded" by a flimsy glass dome. After looking at a lot of reference images, I edited the geometry to be a more angular shape with thickness, and used the curvature node to create a shader that looked like glass panes with metallic edges. I also scaled down the podium so that it was similar in size to the glass case, which was more realistic for jewelry displays.
For the gem, I spent a lot of time on the transmission parameters of the shader, then enhanced the refractive AOVs with compositing in Nuke. This method alone caused a lot of noise, so I rendered two additional passes to help. One pass had the gem as a mesh light. This threw caustic-like light on the glass case, podium, and the character, which I loved, and since it was a separate AOV, I was able to dial in the effect to my liking. The other pass was of just the gem and the set, with a white reflective plane animated to rotate around the gem behind the camera. I added this pass using a plus operation, making the gem look brighter and more full. Moreover, because I was rendering only one frame of the glass case and podium for the first part of the shot, this pass helped add some "movement" to an otherwise static frame.
Lighting Dynamic Character Movement
The second big lesson from this project was one that I had learned at the beginning of my studies but forgotten: to analyze the shot as a whole before starting to light! As I worked on multiple shots where the characters were more or less in the same position, I had fallen into a routine of watching the animation a few times only to identify a couple main frames, and starting to work on those frames. When I rendered the full range on this for the first time after working that way, there were multiple moments where the character was actually moving through my lights!
As I re-worked the lighting rig to fix those mistakes, I learned to consider the scene as a whole and make sure that the placement of my dramatic lights would also make sense in the larger environment. And I learned not to focus too much on placing a light based on one frame, since the character could be in a completely different position in the next!
Here is a complete lighting breakdown of the sequence.