American Cinematographer – Penny Dreadful

Rhodes, P. (July 2015) Tortured Souls. American Cinematographer

I looked at Penny Dreadful for some knowledge on creating horror and mood with lighting. This would have been more relevant if we had of focused the comedy on the contrast between a scary opening turning into a monster carrying out a mundane task but it was still interesting reading about the thought process and approach the team on Penny Dreadful had for creating the lighting.

“The characters find themselves in some very dark environments…The backgrounds just drift away into darkness. While we were grading episodes one and two of season two, Chris [W. King] and John [Logan], our producers, said over and over again to us and to the colorist, Chris Wallace, to ‘Go dark, cave it in, go as dark as you dare.’ – to tell the story visually that we want to tell. ‘Don’t feel restricted – that’s the main thing John wants. He wants the show to feel foreboding, for the audience to squint and find the characters in the darkness.”


Digital Tutors Lighting and Rendering Tutorials

These are my notes from some Digital Tutors tutorials I did a while back but hadn’t put a lot into practice until this project.

Introduction to Lighting in Maya (2014) Available at:

This was a simple introduction to lighting that went into the different types of lights (helpful especially for spot lights) and shadows.

Studio Lighting Techniques in Maya (2012) Available at:

This was mostly useful for helping me see how real world scale affects lighting. I made Snappy about 180cm in our scene and scaled everything relative to him.

Introduction to Mental Ray in Maya 2014 (2013) Available at:

This introduced a lot of new concepts to me like some of the physics of light, rendering with global illumination and final gather, gamma correction and using a linear workflow and working with displacement maps exported from another program into Maya.

How to Train Your Dragon Texture Inspiration

My team and I were saying that we liked Kerry’s giraffe textures so I decided to ask her for some advice. I had something scaly in mind at this stage and she directed me towards looking at How to Train Your Dragon characters – especially the gronckle and thunderdrum dragons:

I especially like the shifts in hue and value across the gronckle’s skin and then across the raised scales (the purple and yellow one). I also really like the teeth of the thunderdrum (blue one) and their subtle texturing.The light catching the little raised areas on the thunderdrum’s skin is appealing too. Kerry also suggested that I try incorporating photo-texture into my custom textures which I had almost forgotten was an option!

Jia Hao Creature Inspiration

I saw this artist, Jia Hao, featured on CG Society and liked the look of the materials and textures – I like the cracked and rough feel and the mixture of harder and softer elements.

Images from:

Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy

As well as having compositional problems, Alec also suggested that we needed to make the timing snappier and that we should have a look at Edgar Wright for some inspiration for creating comedy. I found this video from the ‘Every Frame a Painting’ (Tony Zhou’s) YouTube channel: Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy and it contains lots of points that we could consider.

  • Find humour in places that other people don’t look e.g. a character moving from point a to point b.
  • How can you creatively foreshadow an important/disastrous event that will happen later?
  • How can you creatively show how one character feels about another/reacts to another?
  • How can you take simple mundane scenes and find new ways to do them? Consider how a laugh can come from the staging alone. Things popping into and out of frame unexpectedly can create a laugh. A laugh can be created from zooming, a crane up and panning – all camera moves that can reveal something unexpected about the character’s situation or create comedic drama.
  • “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s not in the frame.” – Martin Scorsese

These are 8 things that filmmakers should try out to create visual comedy:

  1. Things entering the frame in funny ways.
  2. People leaving the frame in funny ways.
  3. There and back again – a character moving to direct your eyes to a situation and then returning to the original state.
  4. Matching scene transitions.
  5. The perfectly timed sound effect.
  6. Action sychronised to the music
  7. Super dramatic lighting cues.
  8. Fence gags
  9. bonus: Imaginary gun fights

Material and Texture Research for Monsters – Fur and Feathers

I wasn’t sure that Mudbox would be suitable for the look we wanted on our monsters so we also looked at other options for shading and texturing them. We had discussed the possibility of feathers, fur, hairy arms, dragon-like scales and rough dry elephant skin. Mark Mullan had also suggested to us that it would look cool if dust fell from the creature with every step (like a dirt monster with glowing eyes).

Katie found this plug-in for creating lovely dynamic feathers in Maya:

jcFeather dynamic test

However we then saw on the creator’s website that it doesn’t support Mental Ray:

I saw this tutorial on Digital Tutors but then I heard that Xgen has changed a lot in Maya 2016 so the tutorial might be outdated.

Creating a Pegasus Using XGen in Maya

I had started to look more into what XGen is as I had no idea. This video was informative but I haven’t tried it myself in Maya yet:

Creating XGen hair – Part 1: Basic hair (2014)

This was similarly helpful:

I saw this ‘Book of Yasin‘ thread on the ZBrushCentral forum that has some beautiful rendered results. For example:

Images from:

This image was created by sculpting different types of feathers in ZBrush which were then distributed on the model using Xgen in Maya and rendered using Arnold. This sounded like a possible workflow that we could use.

I came across this plugin, ‘Shave and Haircut’, quite a few times also:

It was used during the creation of the fur on this creature, MoZoOo by Cloud Studios: