Lighting artist (Animation)

Also known as: Lighting technician

Entry level

Lighting artist (Animation)

What does a lighting artist do?

Lighting artists light the scenes in an animation. Just as in live-action production, there is a director of photography and gaffer who decide what lights to use and where to place them, so there is a lighting artist in a computer-generated (CG) animation. The difference with an animation is that the lights are created through software and the lighting artist has complete control of what the effects will be.

Lighting artists use light to enhance the atmosphere, tone, depth and mood of a scene. They input different light effects depending on the factors in a frame or scene, such as the weather or the time of day. They make it clear where the light sources are meant to be in a scene.

There’s a technical side to digital animation lighting, which is sometimes done by lighting artists or by lighting technical directors (TDs), depending on the type of studio. Lighting artists light images in such a way that they are easy for the computers to render. They work to create colour keys, which are guides that indicate a range of colour hues in a scene. They use the shader settings to create effects like reflections and the appearance of wet surfaces.

Lighting artists are employed by animation companies or studios, advertisement agencies or graphic or web design companies. Otherwise, they may work as freelancers.


What's a lighting artist good at?

  • Art: understanding of colour theory, perspective and design theory, have a strong sense of light and shadow
  • Understanding lighting: know the scientific principles behind lighting, have a strong knowledge of lighting techniques and materials
  • Problem-solving: overcome obstacles, use computer technology to find new ways to achieve a creative vision
  • Working to deadlines: work within given timeframes, be able to complete work under pressure and deliver on schedule
  • Knowledge of relevant programs: be adept at using compositing programs and digital paint software

Tools of the trade

These are some of the tools used by professionals

  • Image editing software: Adobe Photoshop
  • 3D lighting software: V-Ray, Arnold, Redshift and Renderman
  • 2D compositing software: After Effects, Blackmagic Fusion and Nuke

You can learn how to use light using free software such as Blender. Go to build your animation portfolio for a list of what’s available.

Who does a lighting artist work with?

Lighting artists work to the vision of the director. Sometimes they work with the art director to consider the effects of different styles of lighting. Lighting artists’ work is reviewed by the visual effects (VFX) supervisor. It’s then passed onto compositors.

How do I become a lighting artist?

Lighting artist job listings often specify the level of seniority of the role, from junior to mid to senior to lead. Of course, for your first job role as a lighting artist, it’s best to apply for junior positions. These require less experience in the role but may still ask for some. Typically, it’s useful to have a portfolio of your digital work visible online that you can use to demonstrate your ability to employers. Getting a degree in an animation subject can help you to learn skills and produce a portfolio, as well as give you other valuable experience, particularly in using CG animation software.

At school or college:
Take A-levels or Highers that combine art with science, if you can. It’s ideal to do A-levels or Highers in art and design and graphic design, along with computer science, maths or physics.

Or you might want to take any of the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:

  • Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
  • BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Computing

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • BTEC National Diploma in Graphics
  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries
  • OCR Technical Diploma in IT (Digital Software Practitioner)

Get an apprenticeship:

An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. See if you can find an apprenticeship as a junior 2D artist, junior 3D artist, VFX artist or assistant technical director. Even if you can’t find a role in animation, if you keep up your passion for the industry, you might be able to transfer your skills into animation at a later point. Check out What’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly. 

Build a portfolio:

Learn animation and video editing software and start creating work that you can show to admissions tutors or employers. Create your own short film or films. Building a portfolio is essential. Go to build your animation portfolio to learn how.

Get a degree:
There are a variety of degree courses that are helpful towards becoming a lighting artist. Animation or computer animation degrees are likely to be the most specifically applicable to the work. However, computer science, IT, maths, art, photography or graphic design can all inform the work you do as a lighting artist. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in animation. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the animation industry.

Take a short course:
Hone your skills in CG lighting effects by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills and see if there is one in animation.

Get to know people in the animation industry by attending events. Meet industry professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Search for jobs:
Research animation companies that you’d like to work for. Animation UK has a directory of animation companies. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for junior lighting artist roles. You can also send in a speculative CV and ask employers to keep it on file so they can consider you if any suitable jobs come up. Go to How to approach animation and VFX employers for details of how to do this. Search job websites for lighting artist roles and apply for positions.

You might also be interested in...

Being a lightening technical director (TD), visual effects (VFX) artist for a VFX company.

Further resources