Lighting Test: Warm and Horror Lighting Scenarios

Bryan Adams allowed us to repost his old lighting test notes that describe his process of setting up lighting for a scene in two themes, warm and horror. The original post can be found on his ArtStation blog along with a study on skies.


This is an old lighting test I did ages ago. I recently came across all my old notes that were created just in case the company needed to know what my thought process was at the time. Sure, it is an old post, but it's always good to look back and see how far you've come.


My goal was to light the scene with 2 themes:

  • Homely, Warm, Lively
  • Death, Impending Doom, Cold

Right away I started to gather reference. I didn't want to limit myself to one game or style and I also had several questions I needed to answer before starting:

  • Is the lighting realistic or stylized? - Realistic
  • Floating lights or fixtures? - Floating
  • What are the restrictions? - None
  • Light Count per scene? - No limit but make sure it's above 60FPS+
  • Lightoverdraw Complexity? - NA
  • Can IES be used? - Yes
  • Baked or Dynamic? - Dynamic
  • Target Lighting Call time? - NA, just make it runs at 60FPS+
  • Light Decals (false lighting)? - Yes
  • Custom HDR? (if yes, size limitation for both resolution and file size?) - Yes, 2k
  • Lower Hemisphere or none? - Any
  • Reflection Captures? - Yes

Warm Theme

Fake Bounce

In order for the lighting to make a decent impact and really emphasize the warmth and strength of the light, I introduced a non-shadowcasting bounce light. This was placed under the map and tweaked accordingly, and even though this method is primitive compared to our current standing with RTX, it still works wonders and allows you more control.

Planet Material

I first started off with fixing up the old planet materials to add a nice terminator (the line that separates day and night). I made the planet emit light based on a material pixel world offset and a fresnel and attached that into the emissive pin. With the pixel offset, I can use a Vector 3 to control the location of the light if I want to. I could add a "-1" in there with a boolean switch to invert the position if needed.

Skylight as the Base Influence

With the skylight, I used a Panoramic captured on a balcony during a snowy day as the exposure didn't have any hotspots and worked well for the overall communion area. I did, however, tweak the color value in the skylight settings to match the ambient color I wanted to achieve. I used this as a starting point with some demo lighting. As all of this was dynamic with only a few shadow casting lights, I wanted to get the ambient and shadow colors feeling nice before I start to finalize the overall lighting.

Horror Theme

Quick Background Edit

Simply lighting the scene wasn't enough - I had to change the vista, but because I was running out of time for this piece (I was given 2 weeks) I had to do a quick brush over. To be honest, I wasn't happy with this vista at all and if I had a chance I would definitely go back and spend way more time on it. However, I got too invested in the warm scene and the light functions for the door in the horror-themed map.

Flashing Light Setup

The light bar and the light itself uses the same material - it is a very basic setup that can be used as both a light function and emissive material itself. The parameters allow you to change the color, color multi, and strength (Flicker).

Skylight as the Base Influence

I wanted to make the sky blue in this scene in order to add to the feeling of coldness within the shadows.

This area is a great example of the directional and skylight working together to influence the story and overall feeling I was trying to achieve in the scene.

In isolated pockets such as rooms, I went with a blue on white approach to the lighting to add more severity and colder theme to the areas. Within these areas, there are a few more additional environmental storytelling pieces which are emphasized by the lighting in here.


Frame Rate Target: 120

Optimization: I paid a lot of attention to the individual lights and the shadows they cast. All bounce lights, wall lights, and certain ambient lights don't cast shadows because nothing interacts with them or they are used just to slightly boost the lighting values in some areas. Mainly, the directional and Door lights are dynamic, the same goes for the Horror-Themed scene with additional rotating lights.

Overall Self-Critique

Things I have done besides general lighting:

  • Fixed the planet.
  • Added a custom fresnel to the planet which can be controlled by the artist using the RGB position channel to cheaply light the scene up with the fake sun.
  • Created a New Spacescape.
  • Created rotating lights (for the horror-themed scene when playing).
  • Random Flickering lights.
  • Fake Bounce light for the directional light (Most proud of it, it's something so small but it adds a bit of that artistic flair and realism I'm going for).
  • Edited the Glass Material.
  • Added Decals.

I have taken some lighting restrictions into consideration by not overpopulating the scenes with lights.

There are some things I would work on more:

  • The planet (Horror theme). If I had more time I would create a detailed destroyed planet.
  • Solar Flares. I would mix them better with the surrounding environment.
  • The planet (Warm theme). I would create a falsified atmosphere to add some depth to the clouds.

Bryan Adams, Lighting & Vista Artist

July 2019

Join discussion

Comments 0

    You might also like

    We need your consent

    We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more