Advice for students from a Junior lighting artist!

General / 21 May 2019

So yeah that happened. Many many thanks to Ross Baxter for inviting me on his student art podcast! It was a blast talking to you.

I tried really hard to not ramble alright lmao. And those "for sure", holy crap you gotta stop that Peter.  

After listening to the podcast, I think I could've gone more into details in some parts and maybe not ramble as much to make it more comprehensible, oh gosh. I'm gonna write down the extra bits that I think it's worth clarifying into this blog post.

Also, maybe take everything I say with a grain of salt, it's my opinion and it might not necessarily apply to everyone.


Intro (3:48)

That's pretty much it. I'm 21 years old and I work at Tuque Games in Montreal as a lighting artist on a rad Dungeons & Dragons game with Wizards of the Coast. 

What school should teach more (7:58)

I said that I wish I learned a bit more about the other kinds of position in the industry that aren't really mainstream. I just found out the other day that being grooming artist is actually a thing. While I still stand by what I said, ideally, that phase of exploration should only be taught early on in the curriculum of the program. I have to admit that during my last year of college, I knew exactly what I wanted to be. When that happened, everything else that wasn't helping me or contribute to my goal to become a lighting artist felt like a big waste of time. So yeah, don't shy away from exploring a different kind of artist but stick with something quickly to be godlike at it sooner. Be adventurous but specialise at some point.

Some info and tips about interviews (11:00)

I could add a few tips on this topic. As long as you haven't received the actual job offer contract, do not give them any reason not to hire you. Avoid mentioning anything that you're not good at unless they ask you. If they do though, be extremely honest and straightforward about it. Don't start rambling about why you're not good at texturing or why you didn't have time to learn Max for modelling. Answer all their questions and be confident. As I said, if you've gone through an art test, phone interview, emails and they bring you to their studio for an onsite interview, they already like you, finish that last 10% sprint of the marathon by being genuine as a person and get that job offer!

What do I think about the way things are being taught at school (19:00)

I don't really have anything else to add to this. Schools have to follow some rules and they have to mark their students. Unfortunately, that's just how it works and that is not representative to our industry, unlike most other careers. That being said, the marks that you get in school on your assignments will. not. matter. at. all. Leads and recruiters don't care about your grades. For students, it's all about your portfolio and what you're presenting. 

What made me put cats into my artwork? (21:42) 

It's a great way to add storytelling into any projects. So yeah, pro tip: add a character into your environment portfolio piece. Don't model a character if you can't. Find one online for free and use it for your scene (as a personal project only tho) and credit it in the bio. Even better! Find yourself a character artist friend and do a collab. Fun fact: I'm allergic to cat :( but they are so majestic and I love them. Shoutout to Jahanzaib Chugtai who gave me the initial idea to keep my cat model in all my artwork.

What got me into lighting (28:25)

Lighting is so underlooked in school. Like I said in the podcast, lighting is really important for your artwork. No matter what you're doing, VFX, animation, modelling, texturing or level design, lighting goes hand in hand with everything that you want to present a.k.a a portfolio piece! When recruiters look at portfolios, they generally know what looks good or not. You need to catch their attention. It's all about being able to present something. If you think about it, making a movie is basically spending millions to present 172800 images (2 hours long movie) of many many artists over years of work. You only need to show them you can present a few images for your portfolio so do it right and spend the time on the presentation. This also applies to games.

Online courses vs art school (34:50)

Definitely learn with online tutorials, paid or free, either way, is fine. If you can afford to go to art school, it'll be a great way to develop naturally your soft skills. Make sure you have your priority straight though. You want to go to art school to become the BEST artist ever so you can find a job as a reward. Getting a degree is really just a random bonus piece of paper that isn't going to matter at all. You have no idea how many conversations with students I've talked to that went something like this: "I kinda don't want to accept this opportunity so I can finish my university degree." Wha- you-reall- what? No. If I had to choose between a promising opportunity or graduating, I'd drop out of school without batting an eye. That's what I honestly believe.

On that note, I want to mention a few lighting artists that I really look up to (in no particular order). Go check out their work by clicking on their names! :) There's a lot more than just lighting artists out there that really inspired me but it's gonna take forever to name every one of them! 

Mike Marra / Adam Alexander / Harley Wilson / Guillaume Deschamps-Michel / Tim Simpson / Matthew Cooke / Andrew Prince / Carmen Schneidereit / Boon Cotter / Maria Yue / Lucien Gillonnier / Tilmann Milde / Anngelica Parent / Nezam Jinnah

Feng Zhu (35:50)

If you're aiming to become a concept artist and you haven't checked out all his videos, you're already behind the competition. Even as a lighting artist, I learned so much from him.

Should you put school assignments in your portfolio? (41:10)

In my opinion, I think you should never have a "learning" type of artwork in your actual portfolio. And I'm specifically talking about those first projects that you do to learn the software with youtube videos. For example, if you learned substance designer, you probably followed through the rusty metal panel shader with the blending thing. If you even think for a second that it's a good idea to put that shader in your portfolio- NO. Or maybe that one AK 47 gun tutorial- NO. That's exactly how to NOT stand out in this competitive industry. Unless you actually spent a lot of time transforming that assignment into something very personal and out of the learning context, try finding a personal source of inspiration for a personal project dedicated for your portfolio.


YAS. Stop reading this and go read his articles and go watch his videos

A lighter workflow (53:25)

You'd be surprised at how the lights themselves are placed in a film set, in a vfx movie and inside a game engine. Long story short, us lighting artists usually cheat the rules of "physical" lighting and place a bunch of lights in places where they shouldn't be to have more control of the scene (sometimes for realism sake, we do constrain ourselves with reality but rarely). For example, in movies, whenever you see an actor sat at a table that has a candle on it, the actor's face is most likely not lit from the fire candle but from an artificial light coming from under the table or somewhere subtle. Same goes for video games. Next time you play God of War or something, try to spend an extra few minutes looking at the source of the lights. Surprisingly, most of the time it doesn't make sense at all. In Destiny 2, a small tiny tiny emissive cube could be the main source of the lighting of a huge cave or tunnel. In the Last of Us, a lot of the interior scenes are lit with a bunch of area lights at every window and not from the sun itself. Point is, we're responsible to the (almost) final look to our product and we have to do everything we can to make it look good and not limit ourselves with logic. Anyway, I could ramble for a loooong time with this topic.

That's all! Thanks a lot for reading! If you have any questions or want me to clarify something, please let me know! 

Cheers! ;)