Welcome back to So You Think You Can Make 3DX, where each month we talk about the finer points of being a 3DX artist. Our video tutorial series exists to give you practical advice, allowing you to get started on the path of 3DX. In our columns we cover the more theoretical asides of the craft. This month we’re going to take a look at lighting. Namely: how does one light a scene for porn? It is a central question because it highlights one of the fundamental choices a pornographer has to make when creating a scene: are you telling an erotic story, or is it just about the sex?
An eye for style
Once upon a time, porn was a storytelling method that highlighted sex. Then it became just about sex. You might think it weird if you’ve grown up on the era of gonzo porn from 2000 and onward, but as late as the 90’s most porn had at least a razor-thin story to justify the action. But at some point people figured plot was dead weight, and story was tossed overboard. Why not cut straight to all the fucking?
With that mentality shift we saw an aesthetic shift. Lighting used for storytelling atmosphere was discarded in favor of lighting used for visibility. And today, that style might inform us as 3DX artists. But is porn lighting the way to go for us? We’re creating a whole new industry here. Can’t we do a whole lot more? Or rather, can’t we bring back narrative porn if we want to? Sure, but nevertheless it helps to take a look at live-action pornography of today.
The most basic setup
When creating lighting in our scenes, let’s start from the most obvious premise: we want the sex to be visible. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest one is a simple three-point light setup. We will teach you how to create this in our upcoming video tutorial, but the concept is simple. You take one frontal spot light, and add one light on either side of the action, each with its own temperature and intensity. For one studio that does this really well, check out Wicked Pictures.
Now the thing is, three-point lighting (or it’s slightly more elaborate four-point variant) isn’t always going to work for a 3DX scene. The reason for that has to do with the complexity of scenery that we have at our disposal. If you take a look at the Affect3D Store, particularly at our sci-fi and fantasy releases, you’re going to see a lot of environments and settings that would cost a live-action porn director a small fortune to build. Contrast this to most live-action porn, and you’ll see many recurring bedrooms, living rooms, and outdoor pool areas, often with white walls and white or lightly colored furniture. These things are easy to light and quick to shoot a scene in.
So for us it is easy to get access to fancy environments, but that doesn’t change the level of lighting they necessitate. If you want to do simple portrait rendering, or sex scenes in environments with the complexity of most gonzo porn (like I myself do a lot), then you can get away with less. And mind you, this is also a matter of preference. If you do prefer to go the route of more simplistic, action-focused porn, more power to you.
It’s easy to kill a scene
This might seem like an obvious point to make, but it’s worth emphasizing: build your scene around your lighting ability. It shouldn’t be the other way around. Use complicated scenes to practice and master your skills, but for actual productions that you intend to put out there make sure you create something that is presentable. It is much more preferable to create a simple thing that looks good than a complicated thing that looks bad. I make this point because I’ve fallen into this trap myself.
So what do I mean in a practical sense? Well, let’s start with this question: does every light source you see in a shot actually contribute to lighting the scene? Often not. Say you want to create a nightclub scene. The amount of light sources in such an environment will be numerous, from small emitters all around the room to big light wells around the dance floor or bar area. But now take a group of people into that environment, and record them having sex with the lighting as-is. Too dark? Indeed. It will be very tempting to whittle away at your own expectations, thinking that if this many light sources present are only allowing you to produce that result, you must’ve been wrong to expect more.
You weren’t, but you will need to add lighting of your own. And then the challenge is in not making it clash with the scenery. You will have to avoid complicated shadows being cast at walls, hinting at the presence of more light sources than are natural, breaking suspension of disbelief.
A little exercise
Let’s take a look at a recent video of Youtuber Casey Neistat, who shows us how he makes his studio lighting suggest daylight while it’s actually dark out. In fact, you can use this to test your own lighting acumen. His editing makes it look like he’s spontaneously moving his camera about. But every shot where he’s not in his traditional seated position facing the camera, also has a dedicated light source. Consider in particular the shots where he’s working underneath his desk, or at his workbench.
Also, how many smaller light sources are present in his studio? They’re all over the place. How much are they contributing to his visibility? None at all. But if you weren’t paying attention, he would’ve tricked you into thinking otherwise. That is how good lighting works. For a 3DX artist, the takeaway is this: small light nodes in the camera’s view populate the world. Big nodes off-camera allow the audience to see the subject of a scene. If you don’t mistake the two, you’re set to create environmental lighting that will make any scene look good.
Stay tuned for our video tutorials!
So we’ll have another episode of the A3D video tutorial series coming up for you this week, taking everything we’ve learned above and applying it in Daz Studio. We will demonstrate how to create a simple three-point light system, and how to manipulate light nodes to create different effects. Then next month, we’re going to go a bit more in-depth and discuss the utility of some other lighting options in Daz that you might not have in the real world. As 3DX artists, we do have more room to maneuver, after all. See you then!