Here's the first glimpse of a lighting test for The Ballad of Sinister. The project's style bible calls for a silhouette look, partially inspired by ancient storytelling traditions such as Wayang (Javanese shadow puppets), and partly in homage to Lotte Reiniger's Prince Achmed. I fooled with the idea of doing the entire film in pure high-contrast black-and-white, which certainly would fulfill the requirement for a stylized look. I even did some concept art to this end long before Jasper Morello made it famous. I ran several tests with toon-shading in Maya and Mental Ray looking for a method of flattening shapes into areas of tone. In the end, though, I decided the cut-out look would be too limiting, as there was so much I wanted to do with fluids and volume effects to get the misty Bavarian forest look necessary to evoke the fairytale tradition.
This test, then, is a compromise between a cg look and a cut-out look. I decided I would let 3d animation do what it does best (show volume), while simultaneously flattening forms into silhouette to suggest a twilight storytelling mood. I would do this by approaching the task the way a live-action director would; through careful framing of the action in front of the light source wherever possible. Since ninety percent of my shots are exterior shots, and most take place at night or twilight, this should work perfectly; just let the sky be the main light source. In the case of this test, the only light source in the scene is the IBL light of the gradient sky. All of the 3d forms are described by indirect illumination a la final gather in Mental Ray. This gives just enough texture description to the internal forms, while essentially still flattening them so the focus remains on the overall silhouette.