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I have to teach lighting artists twice

When I am teaching young artists how to create really spectacular lighting and materials, I have to move pretty fast. I have to move fast because I have to teach them all twice.

I have to teach them the proper way to create great lighting and materials and I also have to teach them all the terrible, hacky tricks used by everyone who doesn’t really know how to light or shade well. Tricks like three-point lighting, Ambient Occlusion shaders, Fresnel shaders, unlinking lights to remove shadows, turning shadows off, using shadow colour to colour or remove shadows, thinking that “specularity” means “light highlight” Thinking glass is 100% reflective and paper is not. These and many, many more massive misperceptions lead to really bad renders. Yet this is the standard in the industry today. This is one of the reasons it is so costly to create photo-real images. The onus is on the compositor, not the lighter or the shading artist, to create photo-real pictures.

So why do I have to teach them both? The answer is kind of sad. I have to teach them both because there are many senior artists working in the industry today who have always used these tricks. So they have come to believe that these tricks are the right way, in fact the ONLY way, to light and shade. My students, when they graduate, will inevitably find themselves under the mentorships and direction of these senior artists, and they can’t very well start lecturing their seniors and leads about a better way to light or a better way to shade. They will be thought of poorly if they walk into a studio, first job, and try to fix a seriously broken methodology. When they use the simple, beautiful lighting and shading methods they have learned from me they will sometimes be directed to stop doing that and do it the way everybody else does it; the way everybody else understands. It won’t be until they reach intermediate or senior positions that they will have the power to implement really good technique.

So to make sure they are prepared for any environment I have to teach them both. I look forward to the day I can spend all the time teaching them simple, beautiful techniques that “just work” instead of hacky, terrible tricks like those I have mentioned above.