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Layered Lighting in PixelSquid

The subject of a PixelSquid object is isolated both as a flattened layer (called Subject [Flat]) and also as a folder (called Subject [Layers]).  Which subject layer you prefer to use depends on the needs of your project, but for maximum control over the image, the Subject [Layers] folder has some distinct advantages.  This folder contains individual layers for specific lighting types such as Shine, Reflection, Lighting, and Base.  Difficult tasks like environment-matching and can be achieved much more quickly and accurately with this kind of layered lighting setup.   

 

The Fundamentals of Light

The subject of an image is illuminated in a number of different ways.  Some of the lighting of an object’s surface is diffuse environmental light, some is reflected from nearby objects, while other highlights and hotspots are direct bounces of the sun or other light sources.  These different lighting types are broken into individual Lighting Contribution Layers and combine to create the image you see.

 

PixelSquid PSD File Layers: PixelSquid object > Advanced > Subject [Layers] >

  • Shine
    Shine refers to the highlights that bounce from the rounds and corners of smooth surfaces.  When matching a background scene, color correct the Shine layer to match the color of the light sources in the scene. Apply a noisy/cloudy layer map to the Shine layer to create a look of smudging, weathering, or grit.
  • Reflection
    Reflection refers to the reflections of objects rather than lights. When matching a background scene, color correct the Reflection layer to match the color of the objects in the scene and large-scale environmentals like floor/ground/walls/sky.  Apply a noisy/cloudy layer map to the Reflection layer to create a look of smudging, weathering, or grit.
  • Lighting
    Lighting refers to the overall light bias as it falls across the object - the soft lighting that gives an object a light side and a dark side.  When matching a background scene, color correct the Lighting layer to match the color of the objects in the scene and large-scale environmentals like floor/ground/walls/sky.
  • Base
    The Base is the bottom-most layer of the Hero Object. The Base is often quite dark - especially for shiny objects, since most of the illumination for a shiny object is comprised of Reflection, and Shine. Replacing the Base with solid black can also help a lot when matching low-light environments.

Layer-specific Adjustments

The key to making the most out of PixelSquid light layers is to target specific layers for specific adjustments. This makes physically accurate results readily attainable without a lot of work. This approach is especially helpful when compositing a subject into an existing scene.

Gamma Correction: The Curves Layer

Currently there is a Curves adjustment layer that sits at the top of the Subject [Layers] folder.  This adjusts the gamma of the underlying Lighting Contribution layers so that they composite correctly.  In most cases this can simply be ignored, so remember to create new adjustment layers when color correcting your image rather than modifying this Curve layer.

16-Bit Color Depth

The PixelSquid PSD is a 16-bit image.  This allows you to make dramatic adjustments to color and  contrast without the image banding or breaking.  Though rare, there are some post-processing filters that only work with 8-bit images, so should you need to apply any of these it is recommended that you first complete all other modifications before flattening a copy of the image and converting to 8-bit for filtering.



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