LO 04: Three-Point Lighting

Back during my tragically worthless-in-hindsight graphic design degree one of the few skills that remained useful was the understanding of using light for art and rendering. What the medium is doesn’t matter; it can be photography, modelling, sculpting, animating or traditional art. In fact one of the first things you learn in art is how to use light because, well, without light art can’t exist.

One of the classic ways to do this is via three-point lighting. By using three you help an object ‘pop’ out of the background and help define it’s shape and detail (Wilson, 2013). Here’s an example:


Untitled. Three-point lighting animation. (Wilson, 2013).

There’s no point in rendering a gorgeous 3D model if the details are lost. The key light does the job okay but some of the detail is lost in the shadow; adding the fill light helps define the shape of the model. And the rim light makes the picture so much more dynamic!

So how did I apply this?


So let’s start with my model as I uploaded it to Sketchfab. With only one key light you can see how the dark shadows covers half of my model and makes the rest incredibly harsh. Not exactly the look you want for a nice beach house on the ocean.


Here’s my fill light. I wanted the lighting to look like natural sunlight in the late after noon, which has a bright orange light with warm purple shadows.

I wanted a warm purple to light up the shadows so it looked more like natural sunlight in the late afternoon, due to the sun’s colours changing to warm orange (Natural Light In Photography, n.d.)


Shadows tend to be harsh during this time of day, which helps define a three-dimensional object (Natural Light In Photography, n.d.), but there’s still one light source left; bounce light.



Untitled. Global Illumination. (10 Tips for better lighting in Cinema 4D, 2012).

A good way to get a bounce light is by using a global illumination light as demonstrated above. An environment will be filled with various sources of light as it bounces off objects in the scene, which allows the character to fit seemlessly in the world you’ve placed them in as well as show minute details.


Untitled. The Incredibles. (Richards, 2016).

Like this scene in the The Incredibles (2004) where Elastigirl is getting married; the light is reflecting off her dress because white is a great reflector of light.


In this case our main reflector is the ocean itself, so my glocal illumination was a soft blue. It helps soften the shadows a bit more and lets the bright oranges and purples blend nicely with the blue ocean base.


Adding some final tweaking in the Sketchfab settings and we’re done!


Wilson, J. (2013). Character Lighting Tutorial. Marmoset. Retrieved 2 September 2016, from http://www.marmoset.co/toolbag/learn/character-lighting

Natural Light In Photography. (n.d.). Retrieved September 05, 2016, from http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/natural-light-photography.htm

10 Tips for better lighting in Cinema 4D. (2015). helloluxx. Retrieved 6 September 2016, from http://helloluxx.com/tutorials/cinema4d-2/cinema4d-rendering/10-tips-for-better-lighting-in-cinema-4d/

Richards, E. (2016). Reverse Key Lighting. Evanerichards.com. Retrieved 7 September 2016, from http://evanerichards.com/2012/2463

The Incredibles. (2004). United States.



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