Animation Mentor to Offer Online "Lighting Your Shot" Workshop

October 28, 2012 8:34 am

Tags: 3D, Animation, Animation Mentor, CG, Education, Filmmaking, Lighting, VFX, Workshops

"Lighting, much like dialogue and Foley, adds a critical element to the storytelling experience. Effective lighting sets the mood for a particular scene … and can quickly evoke a change of feeling or emotion. Now, with our six-week Lighting Your Shot workshop, you can add a new level and depth to your projects to stand out."


Animation Mentor, the online animation school, has announced that they are offering a 6-week workshop on "Lighting Your Shot," which will feature hands-on instruction by industry professionals. Animation Mentor is a leading online, virtual-learning company that has become a major force in developing and placing talented animators in every aspect of the VFX and Computer Graphics industry. Their small class size and innovative e-learning techniques have helped students from all over the world go from beginner to highly skilled animators through their 18-month Character Animation program. Recently, they've started to develop shorter workshop-style classes that have become increasingly popular.

"Lighting Your Shot" is the latest workshop from Animation Mentor. It's a 6-week workshop that focuses on teaching "non-lighters" (primarily animators) the basics of lighting all the way to advanced rendering and composition. It's being taught by industry professionals and will be a mix of recorded lectures and demonstrations, plus 6 live Q&A's with the instructors. It also includes a 3-year student license for Maya 2013.

The 6-week session topics of the "Lighting Your Shot" workshop are:

  1. Overview of Maya Lighting and Rendering User Interface
  2. The Five Principles of Lighting
  3. Devising a Lighting Shot Plan
  4. Advanced Lighting Topics in Maya
  5. The Rendering Process Using Mental Ray
  6. Final Renders, Compositing and Finishing Touches

Each learning session will also have a non-graded assignment and students have access to class discussion groups and additional course materials. Registration is open and the workshop begins on January 2, 2013 and continues through February 11, 2013. Tuition is all-inclusive and is priced at a very reasonable $499.

Ben Fischler is the curriculum director for the "Lighting Your Shot" workshop. I had a chance to interview him about how the workshop developed, the goals he has for the workshop and get a few more details on what will be taught during the 6-week workshop.

By way of introduction, Ben is Animation Mentor's Visual Effects Supervisor. He partners with other departments to develop coursework, secure mentors, and promote the program. Ben brings with him over 15 years in the animation and visual effects field, most recently as Visual Effects Supervisor at LAIKA, and prior to that in Lighting and Compositing at DreamWorks Animation SKG. His partial list of film credits includes Madagascar, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Over the Hedge, Shrek 2, and Shrek the Third.

Ben Fischler, curriculum director at Animation Mentor

"The Lighting Your Shot Workshop is for "non-lighters," meaning animators in particular. It's really designed to be approachable, not overly technical, and really about learning how to use lighting in a practical sense, and how important lighting is to the art of visual storytelling."
-Ben Fischler, Animation Mentor

Ricky Grove: How did the idea for the "Lighting Your Shot" workshop come about? How did the idea develop into the program outline we see being offered?

Ben Fischler: Over the years we've seen Animation Mentor students express interest in the larger filmmaking process, with some choosing to light their own shots. Our feeling is that for animators to succeed they have to be totally focused on great animation, but for those who want to dig deeper into some of the other filmmaking and storytelling arts, this is a means of pursuing those interests. For some it may fill in the "Oh, THAT'S how it works!" blanks and for other it may actually give them the skills and the push to begin lighting their work. I pitched the idea to Bobby and we decided it was perfect for the Workshop format.

Ricky Grove: Can you describe a bit how the Animation Mentor format works in a 6 week workshop?

Ben Fischler: The Workshop format is different than our standard Animation Mentor Class format. Workshops can vary, depending on the subject and content. With "Lighting Your Shot," we're using a mix of prerecorded lectures and Live Q&A lectures, along with a new Dailies format. Students are not graded, but will have assignments to work with as they choose. Our Mentor will be selecting student shots to critique using our eCritique tool which will be presented each week in Dailies.

Ricky Grove: You mention 'we've got a bunch of great artists from all over the industry and we've brought them together for you' in the workshop promo video; how many people will actually participate in the course? Will separate parts of the workshop be taught by different people (along with Q&A)?

Ben Fischler: For the first Workshop, we've got one Instructor who comes to us from DreamWorks Animation and Sony Imageworks, and one Mentor who's also currently at DreamWorks Animation. Depending on how large the Workshops are, we have a stable of really top professional Mentors who we may add as needed. We do have weekly Live Q&As as well, which are a really great live forum for the students to dive deeper into particular questions.

Ricky Grove: I really like the phrase "full cinematic approach," which is used in describing the goals of the workshop. Can you elaborate on what that means?

Ben Fischler: If the lighting on a film succeeds, then the audience never consciously thinks about it, they're just transported into the moment on screen. This is something we put into context for the animators in the workshop; that lighting and performance (acting, animation) must work together and complement each other for a moment on screen to really shine. We're really encouraging our students to both master the art and craft of animation, but also think of themselves as filmmakers, and understanding the relationship between performance and lighting is a key part of that.

Ricky Grove: Maya is the application chosen for this workshop (and for Animation Mentor in general); can you carry over the ideas/techniques taught in this workshop to other 3D packages, like Cinema 4D?

Ben Fischler: Absolutely. We chose Maya because it's a great general application, and one which Animation Mentor students are already quite familiar with. We use mental ray in the workshop because it's integrated into Maya and all of our students can use it right out of the box. Mental ray is also used with SoftImage and Max to name a few, so all of those techniques carry over quite easily. Cinema 4D is a great package, and the ideas would certainly carry over, though the buttons and knobs will change. Perhaps, more importantly, we really try to emphasize that the software is a tool, and just as you can animate in one 3D application or another, same goes for lighting. It's the artist, not the tools... although good tools certainly help!

Ricky Grove: What exactly is a 'Lighting Shot Plan' and how does it fit into the workshop?

Ben Fischler: The Lighting Shot Plan is basically how we go from image conception to execution. In the same way that an animator will almost never just jump into a shot without first doing some planning and research (studying other shots, shooting reference material, thumbnail sketches) the same goes for lighting. We really encourage students to think about the intent and mood of the shot and then gather materials to help inform their goal. We also go into some production related planning ideas, on how to keep your scenes in good working order to help make the process a bit easier.

Ricky Grove: Lastly, what do you want the student/attendee of the 'Lighting Your Shot" workshop to come away with when they've finished the course.

Ben Fischler: My goal is for the students to feel comfortable starting to work lighting into how they conceive of their own shots, and perhaps, more importantly, help them develop their eye for lighting and the role it plays in filmmaking in general... and of course, to have a blast in the process!

You can find out more about the "Lighting Your Shot" workshop and other Animation Mentor online classes at their main website and on their Facebook page.


My thanks to Ben for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing his ideas with me while handling a busy schedule. And special thanks to Animation Mentor for their continued good will in sharing their company ideas and projects. It's been a great pleasure to see Animation Mentor grow.

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Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.




October 29, 2012

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