The Art of Lighting & Self-Education
Artyom Filippov shared his experience of attending the CGMA course The Art of Lighting and profound knowledge learned about self-development & self-education and working in the industry.
Hi! My name is Artyom Filippov. For the last 2.5 years, I have been working as a Lead Level Designer and a Lighting Artist. Right now, at work, we are making a mobile game focusing on high-quality graphics. Consequently, the requirements for the art team are high, that is why I am always keen to learn new things and level-up.
I realized that the more experience I accumulate, the less interesting educational content I can find. It’s getting harder to obtain new information from articles or videos. What’s curious, it relates both to free and paid content.
It inspired me to enter the CGMA course The Art of Lighting under the guidance of Omar Gatica. I supposed that it would be a reasonable next step, given that I had never studied with a mentor.
As it happens with many other CG artists, my journey into 3D is based on self-education only, from the beginning to the moment of obtaining a real job. As a result of such informal education, I got used to relying on intuition.
Previously, when I had been working as a Level Designer people asked me why I built a location in this or that way. I couldn’t give a clear answer just because I trusted intuition more than the rules.
Here’s another good example: when I deal with lighting, I usually pick colors and shadows intensity by eye. I take into consideration the location, time of the day, context, and adjust shadows following my own preferences.
One of the first lessons we were taught in The Art of Lighting was that by its nature, a shadow is a skylight intensity. Of course, reflected lights from the light sources and a moon influence shadows too, but the sky plays the most important role. If you want to make shadows brighter or darker, at the same time keeping the lighting physically correct, you should adjust skybox HDR intensity instead of tweaking sliders in the engine.
On the one hand, it is obvious, on the other hand, you will continue to rely on intuition and do things as you are used to. When you are a middle artist, it is quite fine. But sooner or later, this approach may lead to a creative deadlock.
Ways of Self-Development
I found two ways of self-development that work for me: analysis and formal education.
An analysis is a continual search for convincing explanations of your decisions. Also, it is an urge to study artworks of other artists and to define why these artworks are good or bad. The ability to analyze becomes crucial on the middle and senior levels when one of your responsibilities is to explain to your subordinates why they should do their task in this or that way.
For any person, it is a great piece of luck to find a team with a strong Lead Artist or Art Director. If you get reasonable feedback, you will develop your analytical skills and be able to look at your artwork from the context of analysis, not only intuition. That is why I always recommend people to become freelancers only after some months spent in the office.
Then, a question arises: “If you are already getting proper regular feedback at the studio, why do you need one more mentor from the outside?” Working together with your colleagues day by day, you get used to each other, and get locked inside a smooth workflow, which becomes too rigid over time. This is when the value of the opinion from the outside increases. You’ll have a chance to get entirely new feedback that differs from what you hear every day. It is important to treat your mentor as an expert, otherwise, your ego will block incoming information.
One more interesting moment is the subjectivity of taste. We are different, there always will be something that one Art Director likes but another doesn’t. That is why collaboration with a mentor helps to explore new horizons, find a new take on the old methods and artistic solutions.
All of that leads us to the second way of development – formal education. I don’t mean college or university, I’m talking about treating art as an academic discipline.
The Art of Lighting is designed for those who are new to the lighting in games, so initially, I had doubts that I would learn something new. But in fact, the chance to repeat basic lessons under the guidance of a good mentor turned out to be very useful. Lighting artists can repeat the basics to find something new and cover some gaps, just like 2D artists do.
I was surprised by the skill of our mentor to adapt to the level of each student. So, if your level is higher or lower, you will benefit and learn something new anyway. And that’s cool!
The Art of Lighting
Being a Lead Artist, I have understood that it is not difficult to teach someone technical aspects (be it Level Design or Lighting). They can easily be explained logically, there are no vague terms. Often, online tutorials are an ideal way to learn such things. Add here practical experience and you are on a roll!
A sense of taste, aesthetics, harmony and a visual library are a different story. In comparison with a technical side where knowledge can be easily transferred to a student, the creative side requires to invest personal effort and eagerness to self-education.
It is no coincidence that there is a word “art” in the term “Lighting Artist”. I like that the course focuses on art instead of playing with technical parameters and settings optimization. Teaching art is much harder, and it is great to be taught by a skilled mentor.
For sure, thorough technical knowledge is very important, but I believe that it is secondary. As a Lead Artist, I pay more attention to the artistic skills of the employee. As for the technical gaps, we will close them together later. What is more, technical difficulties and ways of implementation differ from project to project. That is why sometimes you’ll have to retrain even a quite experienced person.
One of the unexpected bonuses of communication with a mentor was his knowledge about the industry. Even if you are a professional, there will be questions you have nobody to ask. For example, you might not be sure if your approach to a certain problem is right, or there are some weaknesses in your pipeline and no one can advise you on how to fix them. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether the course is for professionals or juniors, you’ll have a chance to discuss any important questions.
You Reap What You Sow
In conclusion, I want to share one more lesson I have learned, small but extremely important. The more effort you put into the course, the more profit you’ll gain.
For instance, every week you get homework. You may do it half-heartedly or properly. Or you can push the limits of your potential. But how does it differ from “properly”?
When you do it properly, a mentor gives you the feedback you already expect. You see the weak points yourself, understand how you could avoid them or fix. In case of pushing your limits and think you can’t improve your artwork any further, you’ll get the advice on how to make it even better. That’s exactly what you need for a professional level-up.