One of my favorite things about working in CG is using photography as a guide to bridge the gap from reality to digital lighting. In this post, we will explore two initially unrelated lighting ideas, one for photography, and the other for digital lighting in Maya. The final results share a very similar technique and outcome.
Typically, when working in photography, one of the major restraints is equipment (or cost). And when working in CG the restraint is often render time (or virtual cost). This is a simplification, but it can often dictate how many lights you use in a CG scene while in production or buy/rent for a photo shoot.
To begin, the first idea was to create a cost effective light ring to experiment with portrait photography. The goal for this project was to make a unique customizable look for a photography setup (and to keep the cost down!) The “light ring” idea had been bouncing around in my head for awhile, but all came to life when shopping at Target. What other place do dreams become a reality… I was actually looking for a way to better illuminate the dimly lit bathroom in my apartment to assist in shaving. I came across some inexpensive LED “tap lights” that were uniquely small and had a somewhat concentrated light source. At least, more so that what I typically have seen on the market. So, after a little scheming in the aisles of Target, I ended up leaving the store with a cart full of supplies.
To cut to the chase, here are some examples of the final results of the light ring in action. This is a standard 3 point lighting setup with a twist on the fill light (or ring light.) As you can see, the light ring puts a unique dot pattern in the reflection from the eyes.
The Light Ring Setup (Easy to make!)
Here is an overview of the photography setup for the Light Ring Portraits. This will show you the supplies needed and setup to make a customizable light ring. It was a lot of fun to experiment with and the total cost for the light ring came in just under $50.
- Energizer Light 2 Pack - $6.89 (x4)
- Batteries 24 Pack – $10.89
- Box Wreath Frame $2.99 (x2)
- Duct Tape $3.74
Total Cost: $48.17
(not bad for a photographic venture)
The photo above shows the final construction of the light ring. If you would like more information on the steps to construct the light ring, check out the photography setup on Jay Axe’s blog.
The image to the above shows the light ring in action. To achieve the look in the example photos, the light ring was placed directly in front of the subject. The camera was placed directly behind the light ring and the view was composed to look through the back of the ring. The challenging part was to get the best angle on the subjects face shooting through a ring that was about equal to the field of view. Once the setup was tuned properly, it was ready for multiple shots from the same vantage point.
The lighting is a 3 point setup. The key light (flash) is from the top right on a light stand. The fill is the light ring directly in front of the subject. And the rim is a floodlight to illuminate to the back of the subject’s head and to add some extra light to the background.
Check out a few of light pattern setups. You can illuminate as many/few light sources as you like to achieve a desired look. It’s as easy as tapping a button to get a variety of different dot patterns.
The Second Lighting Idea. (Digital Lighting in Vray)
When lighting in Maya using Vray, there are a limited amount of lighting tools. Typically, they work just fine, but sometimes you may need a little more customization. I came across a situation where I wanted to simulate the idea of having many lights cast reflections on a character. One way to achieve this is to make multiple individual Vray Lights to cast realistic raytraced reflections. The only problem with this technique is that it would be expensive in render time (virtual cost). The solution that came to mind was not too different than the light ring portrait photography setup. Instead of creating the individual lights, I used an image map to simulate the idea of having a light ring. This was placed as a texture or cucoloris on the light.
This technique allows for one Vray Light to create a ring light effect. This concept is not so different than the light ring portrait setup. The end goal is similar in that it presents a creative way to efficiently create a multiple light effect. The image above is the image map that was placed on the Vray Light. Think of it as a square light source that is blocked by the black areas and the only light that is able to pass through is the white dots. A swiss cheese light.
The rendering above shows the effect of the ring light illuminating and reflecting on the character. It is a similar 3 point light setup as the photography shoot. The difference here is the ring is placed above the character as shown in the real world basketball reference images below.
It always good to have have real world reference when working with CG lighting. These images show what sparked the idea to use the light ring technique.
Thanks for reading and I hope you found this concept interesting and helpful.
Posted by Jay Axe