goals. If your goal was to frighten and delight your audience and they are
frightened and delighted, then nobody has an argument with your meth
ods and style, whatever they may be. Be aware, however, that it is easy
to clutter and obscure the story with too much style, too many different
elements, or too many changes.
Less Is More
If we examine great works of art throughout history, whether it be a
marble sculpture, a painting masterpiece, a classic automobile, or a great
work of architecture, we see that these great works have one thing in
common: simplicity — simplicity of line and form, of design and func
tion. You have probably heard the expression “less is more.” In the
world of art, nothing could be more true.
I have heard CG lighting artists brag about using 72 lights to illumi
nate an exterior shot as though more light is better, as though an
immense amount of work and a huge number of lights somehow charac-
terizes the technical prowess of the artist. Let’s be clear about this: A
massive number of lights does not guarantee a superior result.
It’s not how big your array is, it’s how you use it.
While there will indeed be situations in which you will need to
employ a large number of lights for practical or technical reasons, you
will find over time, if you don’t know already, that the best lighting solu-
tion is usually the simplest and the most elegant. Too many light sources
are unnatural and unnecessary. The results are likely to be less than
Consistency between Shots
If you are the director, the piece is experimental, and you wish to create
a completely different look for each shot, that’s your prerogative.
Chances are that your audience will be confused and spend so much
time struggling to understand your wild changes and design choices that
the real story will be lost. That may be your intention. Probably not,
As storytellers ourselves, we usually don’t want our lighting to be
so intrusive that it detracts from the story. We want a smooth, flowing
design style that assists the story from behind, never quite getting in the
audience’s face. Lighting should usually be like the steel or wooden pil
ings deep in the ground beneath the skyscraper. They’re there for
support, to help keep the building level and straight. Without them, the
·····································Chapter 21: Style
building would fall down. But nobody who enters the building ever sees
them or thinks about them.
By maintaining some sort of style consistency between shots, the
audience is less likely to notice the lighting, which means they are more
likely to be thinking about the story. I call that a success. Not everybody
does, but I do.
Style can be a slippery topic to talk about. Debate often rages about what
is considered style and what is considered technique. An artist may con
sider that he has a wildly successful and distinctive style. His art may
speak to him, portraying the precise message he wished to portray. On
the other hand, others may consider the very same work to be trash,
perhaps self-indulgent and meaningless. That certainly does not neces
sarily validate either position.
This is the subjective nature of art and style. The only advice I can
offer is this: If you set out to achieve a particular look for a set of particu-
lar reasons, and you achieve that look, then you have been successful.
Whether or not others respond to the work in the way you would prefer
is not necessarily relevant. You have demonstrated that you can achieve
the look you desire when you desire it. It means that you know how to
get what you want out of the tools. That’s a success in anyone’s book.
All that is required is that you simply keep doing that over and over.
One day you will realize that you have developed a style all your own.
If you wish to understand style in greater detail, there is no better
way to learn than to study the work of great artists throughout history.
When you hear a particular piece of music, you may be able to identify
the composer. When you see a painting, you may know right away
whose masterpiece it is. These are the paths that lead to understanding
If, after this chapter, you don’t have any clue what style is, don’t let
it bother you too much. Neither do most people. It’s such a personal and
subjective thing that its definition can be argued from many different
perspectives. On the other hand, style may be completely unimportant
to you, in which case my congratulations for reading all the way to the
end of the chapter!
Part III: Creating Lighting ··································