Lighting & compositing

Reel Timestamps
00:04 - Whittled Down (solo short film) Shot #1, Directional Displace Gizmo
00:26 - Whittled Down (solo short film) Shot #2
00:36 - Whittled Down (solo short film) Shot #3
00:47 - Whittled Down (solo short film) Shot #4

Technologies Used: Maya and Arnold for lighting and rendering, Toon Boom Harmony for 2D animation, Nuke for compositing and color grading

What follows is a condensed summary of my lighting and compositing work on Whittled Down. For a more in-depth explanation of my work, check out the lighting and compositing sections of my full writeup.

Most of my compositing work comes from my thesis film Whittled Down, a mixed 2D/3D horror short about a wolf trapped in a cabin with a clock creature. I produced the film solo so I was responsible for every aspect of production, but the lighting and compositing portions of the process were especially interesting because of the work required to make the 2D character and the 3D environment complement each other.

In order to situate the 2D animated character in his environment, I created an invisible 3D model of him that could cast shadows on the rest of the scene. The main benefit of this technique was that the shadows cast by the 2D character were still being handled by the same rendering engine as everything else, so the look of his shadows matched the look of all other shadows in the scene. The 3D model was also a useful lighting reference for when I shaded the 2D character later in production.

The biggest challenge of pulling these shots together was getting the highlights and shadows I drew on the 2D animated character to flicker in the firelight. This flickering effect was critical because the character spent a lot of time in static poses, and the subtle movements of the highlights and shadows were necessary to keep him feeling dynamic.

Because I produced this film alone, I did not have the time or resources to draw this effect by hand--I had to figure out another way to achieve the effect. After exhausting all the simpler options, I developed my own tool for Nuke called the Directional Displace Gizmo. It allowed me to create color maps that I could use to displace the character's highlights and shadows, creating the movement I was looking for. There's a short demo of the tool at (00:15) in the lighting/compositing reel, but you can find more in-depth information about it on my tools page.