Scale lighting in brickfilms

I'm a firm believer in scale lighting for brick films, for instance street lights, or headlights on a car. It adds another level of realism (at least as realistic as a LEGO scene gets) and scale. Here's a few things I've learned the past few years.

1. Vary the color and intensity. If you look at a night scene carefully you'll see that the lighting varies greatly from source to source. Some are warmer, some are cooler, some are bright, some are dim. Some you can see the light source itself, sometimes just the light it's casting on surrounding surfaces. You need to do this as well. If you are backlighting windows, vary the color and distance from the window. Use a diffusion material behind the window if you don't have an interior. If you have different light sources on different buildings, color them by using different color lights or different colored transparent LEGO elements. I think when you take the time to carefully light, the results are totally worth it.

2. You need dimmers. Lighting is all about ratios. Key to fill, backlight to hair light, rim light to key. This applies to visible sources as well. Start by lighting your scene with your normal lights, then one by one add your scale sources and dim them accordingly. Sometimes you may need to adjust your normal lights, for instance with a scale source that's illuminating the subject (like headlights or a light on a building) You may need to tweak back and forth until you find a nice balance. I find I need an independent dimmer for most scale sources.

3.  Use the high power analog dimmers, they won't flicker. Because dimmed LED sources with some controllers use a method to dim that varies the amount of time the LED is lit, depending on your exposure you may see some flicker, sometimes really bad flicker. The new analog dimmers eliminate this problem.

4. Wire for the camera. Remember that your camera can only see one side of anything, this makes lighting for film much easier than say lighting for display. Your viewer doesn't have the option of viewing from any angle, so wire in a way that makes sense. Don't get caught up in wire concealment when you should be shooting.

5. Use a plugged in power source. Despite the fact that LEDs have a rather consistent output and sharp drop off when powered by batteries, it can still affect your lighting over time, especially in long shots. The last thing you want is to spend 5 hours animating a shot just to realize later that your lights have been slowly dimming over time. I used the USB power converter and an AC adapter. The lighting is bright, predictable and constant over time.


That's about all I have time for at the moment. If you have any questions just ask!

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  • You are a pro Tommy. Besides a dimmer I also used some dark transparant tiles often to create a neutral density effect and reduce light transmission. Works well. Especially the cabin lights in the big locomotive came out fantastic in that setup.

  • fantastic idea!

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