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Lighting Technical Director or Lighter

Animation | VFX
Personality type:
3D computer animation | Stop Motion


The lowdown

  • Ensuring there is consistency in lighting, colour balance and mood between the various elements of a shot or scene
  • Making sure the computer-generated imagery looks photorealistic to match the live action
  • Adding the lighting that creates atmosphere, and adds realism, tone and depth to a scene

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • have a strong sense of light and shadow demonstrated by artwork, photography, theatre, film or CG work
  • have knowledge of colour theory, including through art history knowledge
  • be able to follow design reference and have sympathy with wide range of styles
  • be able to light characters and environments, interior and exterior, different times of day, etc.
  • have an understanding of composition and the ability to enhance mood by lighting 
  • have a good working knowledge of computer animation packages, particularly maya
  • have a good working knowledge of 2D paint software and various industry-standard rendering programmes, such as Renderman and Mental Ray
  • have good working knowledge of palettes and CLUTs (Colour Look Up Tables)
  • be able to do UV mapping
  • have a good understanding of maths and physics
  • understand the principles of cinematography including depth of field, density, use of filters
  • have good problem-solving skills
  • be able to work with a minimum of supervision 
  • be able to function as team leader, if required
  • have good communication skills
  • have good team-working skills
  • be able to take direction and be willing to address constructive feedback
  • be able to deliver on schedule, working calmly and efficiently under pressure
  • show respect for the procedures and requirements of a particular studio, production or pipeline
  • have knowledge of the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures

What does a Lighting Technical Director or Lighter do?

Lighting TDs/Lighters make sure there is consistency in lighting, colour balance and mood between the various elements of a shot or scene. When appropriate, they ensure the computer-generated imagery looks photorealistic to match the live action plates.

Lighting TDs/Lighters add the lighting that creates atmosphere, increasing realism, tone and depth in a scene and clarifying location, weather and time of day. They balance individual elements to enable the compositors to produce a convincing image. They refer to the production designs and apply that visual style as faithfully as possible, taking care to maintain continuity.

They match technical skill with aesthetic judgement to create images that not only look good but are easy to render (i.e. output; translating computer data into images).

On some projects, they may be involved in the research and development of different effects for the Art Director or Lighting Supervisor. In a large company or on a larger project, they are often part of a team, but they need to be able to work with a minimum of supervision, understand the tools available and know how to use them to create the desired effects. On smaller productions, the role of Lighting TD/Lighter may be combined with that of Modeller or Texture Artist.

Lighting TDs/Lighters need to work closely with the rendering and compositing departments to understand what is required at the next stage and ensure their material is easy to use and delivered on time.

On smaller projects, lighting is a fundamental skill required by generalists who cover more than one role. On larger productions, there is likely to be a team of dedicated Lighting TDs/Lighters.

In many companies in the UK, particularly facility houses, Lighters are called Lighting TDs (Technical Directors) and can work their way up through the lighting department, starting from Junior TD. In feature animation, they are known as Lighters or Lighting Artists.

Will I need a qualification?

You will ideally have a combination of arts and maths qualifications if you want to become a Lighting TD/Lighter. You will probably need to have a degree in computer graphics or computer science, or one of a variety of different disciplines including art-related subjects, photography, computer animation, maths or physics.

If you are considering taking an animation, photo imaging or art and design/graphics course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the degree to which they prepare you for a creative career:

Animation courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

Graphic Design and Visual Communications courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

Photo imaging courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

Solid experience in at least one of the industry-standard 3D packages will be expected. These include Maya, 3D Studio Max and Lightwave, and familiarity with other programmes would be an advantage.

At a more junior level, it is possible that some relevant professional experience may replace an academic qualification providing a portfolio and/or showreel demonstrates the necessary talent and skills.

You don’t absolutely have to be a graduate, though. In some cases, you might achieve a junior level position in this field having gained enough relevant professional experience. In such a case, you would need a portfolio that demonstrated you had the necessary talent and skills.

What’s the best route in?

There are several levels of Lighting TD/Lighter from junior through to a Senior Technical Director or Supervisor. This job profile relates to a mid-level grade.

There is no traditional route you can take into the lighting department. However, it is unlikely that you will get a job in this department when you are just starting out.

If you have more artistic interests, you will probably tend towards 'look development' as a Lighting TDs/Lighters. If you have more technical skills, you may find shader-based work is more appealing. Sometimes a Shader Writer makes the move into lighting.

You could also move into this kind of work having been a Lighting Designer in the theatre, a photographers or a fine art painter, if you have technical understanding of computer processes.

You could also apply to be a VFX Trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives you hands-on experience in the industry and helps you build those all-important contacts that are essential when competing for a job:

More information about Trainee Finder

Where might the role take me?

You could progress within the department to become the Lighting Supervisor and experience at that level could, eventually, lead on to you becoming CG Supervisor or VFX Supervisor.

Interested? Find out more...


  • Animation Magazine - a US magazine about the business, technology and art of animation and VFX
  • Animation World Network - production news, interviews, jobs and a big archive 
  • Shooting People – community-driven site, founded by filmmakers, and providing opportunities, news and animation jobs 
  • Skwigly Animation Magazine - the longest running UK based animation magazine and community. Offers news, interviews, reviews, podcasts, videos and tutorials 
  • Toonhound – website about cartoons, animation, comic strips and puppets in the UK
  • Own-it - offers intellectual property (IP) advice, information and learning resources for the creative sector 
  • Animation Nation - Animation industry news and useful links
  • 3D World Magazine - international magazine for CG artists, covering the fields of animation, VFX, games, illustration and architecture
  • Computer Graphics World - magazine covering innovation in computer graphics technology across various industries
  • Cinefex - quarterly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects


  • Digital Lighting & Rendering by Jeremy Birn, George Maestri (Editor) (pub. New Riders Publishing)
  • Painting with Light by John Alton (pub. University of California Press)


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