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Q&A: Kevin Nally on Importance of Lighting and Masterclass

Kevin Nally chatted with GDC about his virtual Masterclass, A Practical Approach To Physical Lighting In Unreal Engine, which takes place on Thursday and Friday, June 16-17, from 9:00am to 1:00pm BST (4:00am to 8:00am ET).

Game Developer, Staff

May 12, 2022

4 Min Read

Players are coming to expect higher standards of realism in their games, and lighting plays a huge part in this. But how do you make sure your game is lighting the way? Environment Art instructor Kevin Nally shares more on his upcoming virtual GDC Masterclass, all about implementing physically accurate lighting in games.

Kevin Nally chatted with GDC about his virtual Masterclass, A Practical Approach To Physical Lighting In Unreal Engine, which takes place on Thursday and Friday, June 16-17, from 9:00am to 1:00pm BST (4:00am to 8:00am ET).

This Masterclass works to simplify the process and make it easy for attendees to use physically accurate lighting values in any Unreal Projects. Unreal Engine offers tools that support a physical lighting method, and Kevin will cover some simple tricks to make the process easier. The course will go over terminology, data resources, practical methods for measuring light in Unreal, and methods to check both lighting and textures are in ranges that support physically accurate lighting.

This class is ideal for Lighting Artists, Environment Artists and Technical Artists who want to expand their skill set into a new area and are looking for a hands-on class.

Below is an edited, condensed version of our interview.

GDC: Tell us a bit about your course and what attendees can expect to gain from the virtual Masterclass.

Kevin Nally, Environment Art instructor: My course focuses on applying physical values that we find in nature into our unreal lighting workflows and how to make the most of a highly accurate process. Physical lighting is a great framework to assist in achieving realistic visuals although at times can seem confusing or very technical at first glance. This course aims to distill the process into key techniques and principles so students can easily reproduce realistic results in their own work. It takes a practical focus and students will be provided with project files to work on alongside the class. Understanding the many different factors that play into the process and creating a lighting scenario alongside the instructor.

GDC: What are some recent examples of standout lighting in games, and how does your Masterclass help attendees achieve these effects?

Kevin: Many AAA realistic games make use of physical light values, although CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 is one that springs to mind. They used physical values in their early lighting workflow to help establish their framework that they could then dial into the needs of each part of their game.

GDC: What is the impact in a game when the lighting isn’t physically accurate?

Kevin: When lighting isn't aided by physical accuracy, well-polished environments & characters can lack a sense of believability. Lighting is one of the final and most powerful passes in a game as it conveys location, mood, and context for game events. Physical lighting ensures teams are using a common pool of values that grant believability and authority to their realistic visuals. Issues with lighting ultimately affect how we read the overall environment that players navigate and it's important to carry the work of all other departments as best as possible.

GDC: Are there times where it’s good to push the boundaries of realism with your lighting, and how can designers do this without going too far?

Kevin: Ultimately, Art Direction is king and realism should support this. Physical lighting provides a solid framework that a designer can then bend to each use case. Situations such as competitive FPS games or other scenarios that require extremely clear navigation mean that there may be a need to dial down some of your more intense values. Using solid values the framework can be dialed in to each use-case while also allowing the designer to be aware of how far they are deviating from reality. It can then be weighed up more empirically the priorities between navigation and physical accuracy. It's a tool like any other at a designer's disposal.

Be sure to head to GDC Masterclass for more information on Kevin's A Practical Approach To Physical Lighting In Unreal Engine course, which runs June 16-17. Please note this course is happening virtually, not in person.

GDC returns to San Francisco in March 2023, and the call for submissions opens this summer! For more information, be sure to visit our website.

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