Epic Games very graciously unleashed a bucket load of high quality content from their failed IP, Paragon. I created some experiments in cinematic composition and lighting, using said content - here's how.
What the bloody hell am I doing this for?
Recently, I uploaded Paragon: Stylised Lighting to my Art and Design page. I created those images as quick experiments with light and composition, using the free Paragon Assets released by Epic Games.
Because this was primarily intended as a learning/practicing exercise and there’s a chance I’d forget it all, I figured I should delve into a little more detail regarding my approach.
Not about all the images, just one… don’t judge my laziness, it’s the weekend!
If the development process behind Riktor doesn’t interest you in the slightest (well gee, that hurts – thanks a ton) and you’d prefer to just look at big pretty things, please visit the dedicated portfolio page.
My reference point for this set consisted of two very specific images: Doom 2016’s Revenant artwork and the Batman V Superman: Dawn of bullshit scene, where Doomsday stands before a wall of fire.
Atleast, I think that’s Doomsday. It’s either that, or one of yesterday’s sneezes has come back to haunt me. But I digress.
My absolute love for low-key lighting put to one side, these look undeniably badass.
The contrast, the heat and relative lack of complimentary colours creates a sense of boiling aggression and overwhelming dramatic tension.
I know, since I’m no longer in College I don’t have to find bullshit ways of saying it just looks cool, but old habits die hard.
Those are the elements I wanted to encapsulate with these, albeit more inline with the slick, sci-fi aesthetic of the Paragon assets.
Fundamental Lighting Setup
Every image in the series has its own lighting setup, designed around the shape of the character and mood I wanted to create.
That being said, they do share the same fundamental approach:
- Key light – Strong, warm, projecting directly down onto the character so the colour intensity gradually dissipates into shadow. Positioned alongside some subtle particle effects to give an idea of hellfire raining from above.
- Back light – Strong, white, angled to accentuate the character’s silhouette. Made volumetric to provide context, generally used sparingly as not to dilute the intensity of the oranges.
- Fill light – Practically non-existent, but for a very weak, light blue point light at the front of the character for a subtle sense of environmental diversity.
- Atmospherics – I’m a sucker for volumetric lights and shadows. I felt these, alongside an exponential height fog would give a sense of environment without detracting from the characters. Sparks, flames and smoke used in just a few places helped to elaborate on this and hint at some environmental variety, courtesy of the Infinity Blade assets pack.
Here’s how all that looks in action:
Yep, pretty crap when you look at it like that. Like I say, these are just the base components.
With that in place, I went through the various Paragon character models made available by Epic. From these, I selected six which I felt gave me enough variety to work with.
I’m going to focus on Riktor specifically, because he was my first (awz) and was probably the most straight forward.
Pose and composition
This dude is big – like someone went a bit bananas with their first Lego set.
Actually looks like one of the dudes who works the tills in Morrisons, Leek.
Anyway. Because this lighting setup is quite intense, I worked with poses in a more neutrally lit environment.
I wanted to get the camera angle and framing right before worrying about light and shadow.
I experimented with a few different angles, initially featuring the majority of his body in shot. They looked cool enough, but all those finer details made for a really boring, murkly silhouette which didn’t capitalise on the character’s strengths.
Fundamentally, I didn’t feel there was enough geometric variety in these to make the image interesting, using this particular lighting setup:
Once I moved in closer, the shape became much more nicely defined.
I also felt that those smooth surfaces and streamlined edges would work perfectly with the right approach to backlighting, having sharp highlights slowly bleed onto the front of the character.
I settled on a facial pose which conveyed a sense of intent, without being too expressive of any particular emotion.
Similarly, I went for a camera angle which showcased the character’s physical grandiosity, with plenty of surface area for the lights to work with.
I’m not going to go through every single iteration and lighting setup I went with, because I don’t want to bore what little of an audience I actually have into a massive coma.
Plus, it’s quite chilly and my fingers are cold.
Instead, I’ve broken the process down into a series of images which best represent each key-point in the process, along with a little bit of rationale:
Once the lighting was sorted, I moved onto particle effects which would tie the character to the surrounding environment.
With the lights and particles sorted, I went onto fiddle with the post-processing effects.
Essentially, these are tweaks that affect the image on the whole (such as contrast, colour balance, etc) rather than individual components.
My goal with these was to emphasise the idea of the character being within a volume of light, rather than lights just illuminating various surfaces. With that in mind, it was important to address how light works in areas surrounding object surfaces, rather than the surfaces, themselves.
Upon reflection, I may have gone slightly overboard with the bloom effects in the end. I can’t quite make up my mind.
It does capture the idea of this being a dense, hot, smoggy environment and there’s no detraction from the actual character, but the actual character details I think benefit from being depicted with greater sharpness.
But whatever, I’m satisfied that this nailed my objectives.
What about the others, y'lazy git??
If time allows or more than two people ask, I’d happily write up a similar overview for the other images in the series, they being as follows:
The lighting setup changed a fair amount between these images, some being a little trickier than others to get just the right effect.
For now, I hope this was of some use to anyone with a remote interest in lighting or working with Unreal Engine 4.
If it wasn’t… well, pay for an education.