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Tips for lighting a flamethrower action scene

Flamethrower lighting

Mark approaches lighting like a storyboard artist

The film Aliens pops into my mind when I hear the word flamethrower. When it comes to this drawing tutorial (opens in new tab) I'm going to show how to draw (opens in new tab) a scene from the same universe, where a trooper discovers an alien nest.

Instead of going into full-on detailing I want to focus on creating the overall mood and lighting scheme for the scene, almost like a storyboard frame from a film. Using the flames as my main light source instantly places the focus on the action itself, which helps me clearly separate the soldier and the eggs visually.

Indeed, I want to separate the two worlds as much as possible, so I use a complementary secondary light source:
 a cold desaturated blue light to work against the aggressive warm orange of the flamethrower's flame. This not only helps to frame the soldier from both sides with rim lights, making his silhouette much more readable, but generates the most contrast around my focal point.

01. Composing the scene

Flamethrower lighting

Light sources should direct the viewer to focal areas

I start the painting by blocking in my character and two main light sources present in the environment. I use the warm flames from the weapon as the origin of my main light and add another cold light from the opposite direction, which helps frame my character with rim lights and separate him from the background.

02. Character details

Flamethrower lighting

Detail can also be used to focus the gaze

Now I work more on the design of the character – bulking out his armour – and fix some minor compositional problems. I'm pleased that the two light sources have helped to easily separate the different space segments from each other and make my composition and story more readable.

03. Creating an atmosphere

Flamethrower lighting

Remember that light affects any smoke in a painting

I like to add atmospheric effects to make my environment scenes look more believable, but I also remember that light sources affect the haze and smoke that I'm painting. Using a custom brush to paint moving particles will introduce extra dynamism to any scene, such as dust or flying embers in this case.

04. Add some noise

Flamethrower lighting

Bringing colours together with a filter is a useful finishing touch

You can enhance the cinematic feeling of your artworks by adding some noise to the final image. In Photoshop click Filter>Noise>Add Noise... and drag the slider bar. This not only emulates the surface grain of older film negatives, but can also help to further unify your colours.

This article was originally published in ImagineFX magazine (opens in new tab) issue 132.

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Mark works on projects for film and game companies. His past clients include Lucasfilm, Time Warner, Weta Workshop, Eidos, Applibot and Fantasy Flight Games.