Three Tips To Improve Your Virtual Production Lighting

Written by Andy Schelb

Jay Holben stopped by our Vegas studio as part of the Vū + Brew Workshop Series. Jay is an experienced Director and Producer and has held almost every role you can have on-set in his 30+ year career. As part of Jay’s visit to Vū Vegas he shared Three Tips to Improve Your Virtual Production Lighting.

Tip 1

You need to be using external lighting in your production.

You have seen the BTS Videos. The Mandalorian sold this new technology as an infinite playground where the lighting comes from the walls. This works great in the show because their main character is a walking mirror ball, reflecting the world around him. This isn’t practical for every application though. Get creative with your lighting and don’t just rely on what you can achieve from the LED Panels. 

Jay cited a study from St. Andrews University demonstrating how important lighting is to the emotional connection between the actor and the audience. This study directly linked healthy skin tones to attractiveness.

Major differences among lighting when it comes to spectral distribution. Lights can all look the same to the eye and on set, but remember the camera doesn’t have the ability to adjust it just records what it sees with no compensation. 

Jay cited a March 2020 study conducted by the University of St. Andrews. This study Skin Color Cues to Human Health: Carotenoids, Aerobic Fitness, and Body Fat, talks about how skin color is indicative of the perceived health of a person.

“This is the first demonstration that objective measures of general health (fitness and body fat%) in normal adults are related to variation in skin color.” 

LED lighting scene setup.

This gives even more importance over controlling the color of lighting on our subjects. If your LED lights do not produce full-color it will be impossible to achieve the correct look.

Tip 2

Pair LED Lighting with Traditional Lights

It sounds like a no brainer but, these digital billboards were supposed to burn bright in the daylight. No one expected someone to bring a billboard inside and start using it as a filmmaking tool. You can’t shoot a full sunlight shot on the volume alone. It's too large and soft to create the dark shadows and contrast needed to sell the illusion.

Jay likes how Vū designed our ceiling panels. Each panel has a row of pixels removed to allow light to pass through. This unique design allows the filmmaker to light the set and subjects from above.

Tip 3

Experiment with overexposure.

A man and a woman playing guitars.

You are used to shooting and trying to get that “best shot ever,” but Virtual production lighting sometimes feels fake because we get it too perfect. That’s unreal! (See what we did there?) Jay likes to overexpose his work a bit. In the real world, light is uncontrolled. Light has shadows and contrast. Perfection is not the goal here.

The workshop concluded with a demonstration of how lighting affects the final in-camera result. Jay started by using only the light from the LED volume as his light sources. He then added in external lighting until he got the colors just right.

Special thanks to Jay Holben and Aputure for partnering with Vū on this workshop. And if you have any questions about how to light for Virtual Production or any upcoming projects that may be a good fit for ICVFX we’d love to be a resource for you. Let’s Talk.

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