VFX Lighting Artist

The role, salary, software, and skills of a 3D lighting artist

Image: Netflix

What does a 3D lighting artist do?

3D Lighting artists, also known as lighting TDs, place virtual lights in 3D scenes and adjust them to correspond with a live-action plate or CG environment of a film, TV series, or game. They are responsible for combining all required upstream CG elements, such as digital environments and sets, animation, and FX caches, and rendering them to ensure they look and perform correctly (both technically and aesthetically).

VFX lighting artist job description

A VFX lighter has a similar purpose to a live-action lighter on a film set: adding authenticity, maintaining continuity, and setting an appropriate ambiance (color tone and hue, depth, mood) for each scene. This includes matching external elements like the weather and time of day. VFX lighters also use various shader settings to create visual effects like reflections and the appearance of wet surfaces.

Lighting artists work closely with look development artists to evaluate assets in a shot context, and with compositors to ensure continuity across sequences.

Role and responsibilities of a lighting artist in visual effects may include:

  • Rendering shots (either digitally integrated VFX or full CG) including non-lighting passes as required by other departments
  • Compile all upstream elements such as environments, animation, simulation, and FX caches and work with compositors to final shots
  • Create or implement light rigs from either on set reference or concept art
  • Navigate and use previous setups for sequences, to develop or match key shots
  • Management of volumetric light setups, including shadowing and cucoloris development
  • Working with shadows to create depth and realism
  • Adding glowing elements to create a magical or futuristic feel
  • Creating efficient rendering setups in order to optimize render farm usage
  • Scrutinizing the colors and directions of all light sources in the real-world scene and replicating them in CG
  • Wrangling assets or elements of a shot from another department to ensure shots are completed to schedule
  • Light and render assets using CG hair and scattering skin materials.

Skills required to become a lighting artist

Along with a unique set of technical skills, a VFX lighting artist must have an eye for detail and be able to create visually stunning scenes. Because the lighting department is responsible for compiling all 3D assets and elements, they must also have an excellent understanding of the VFX pipeline and a general idea about how other departments work so as to be able to detect any issues within their shots.

Recruiters may look for the following skills when hiring a VFX lighting artist:

  • In-depth knowledge of software applications used specifically for lighting 

  • Strong knowledge in physical-based rendering - shading, and lighting
  • Technical knowledge of path tracing

  • Extensive experience using 3D software
  • Strong artistic eye and understanding of color, lighting, and image analysis
  • On set data capturing experience (HDRIs)
  • Experience with handling and assembling complex scenes efficiently


Chrome balls and Macbeth color chart. These are filmed on set to assist lighting artists in post-production when creating HDRIs.

What software and tools do VFX lighting artists use?

Lighting artists must know their way around 3D and rendering software. Some typical programs used by lighters include:

  • Maya
  • Nuke
  • Clarisse
  • Katana
  • Arnold
  • Vray
  • Renderman
  • Mantra
  • Programming languages OpScript and Python are also useful

How much does a lighting artist make?

The average salary for a VFX lighting artist ranges between $63,000 and $105,000 (USD). [Source: GlassDoor]


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