Animation as a Lighting Design Tool

November 28, 2011 / no comments


No one can dispute that AGi32, Photoshop, and Illustrator are a lighting designer’s best friends, but as we strive to give clients more reasons to demand lighting design, we should be looking at new ways to convey lighting design’s importance.

Many visualization techniques have been adopted from architectural conventions, but, as we all know, light and lighting present different and unique challenges to representation. Given that light is immaterial, dynamic, and ephemeral, designing with light means contending with aspects of time, intensity, and gradients. All these elements elude the static formats of drawings or diagrams. Especially when it comes to daylighting, giving a client a complete idea of lighting performance in a space is almost impossible without resorting to a stupefying series of image after image, calc after calc.

Until a few years ago, animation or video seemed too expensive and impractical for all but the most critical circumstances. Today, however, these are becoming integral tools of our trade. Tools and techniques are becoming available that previously only highly skilled animators and film editors had at their disposal, and they are easier to use than ever before. Software like QuickTime and Photoshop allows easy access to impressive tools for composing ideas into dynamic form. More sophisticated software like After Effects and 3ds Max allows limitless possibilities. Documentation of elements in the analog environment can also be helpful and illuminating. Most digital cameras and phones have video capabilities, making it easy to spontaneously capture anything.

There are a range of out-of-the-box animation tools readily accessible today. Shadow studies are one of the most effective means of beginning a discussion about daylighting strategies with a client. These simple studies can be performed in any number of programs like Google SketchUp, AGi32 , or Revit. Photoshop and QuickTime have functions which allow the user to string a series of still images together to form an animation. For example, they can be used to show design variants, transitions from daylighting to electric lighting schemes, different lighting scenes over the course of a day or night, or the effects of colored light on a space. Programs like 3ds Max, DIVA-for-Grasshopper, and After Effects or Premiere allow even more options.

Another reason we should be looking to new methods of representation is that clients are desirous of information about performance and appearance. As the time of day changes, the lighting and the performance change. Being able to visually convey these changes is extremely helpful to clients, and is a service that other consultants may not be able to provide. Animation may even help us to provide lighting design services in new ways and to fill new market needs.

The economics of animation and video can still be a challenge. It is difficult to set aside time on a project to learn and employ new methods, but while we always have to keep the bottom line in mind, animation can be a more efficient way to convey information. The video format may elucidate questions the client hasn’t formulated or uncover costly issues that might otherwise come up later. Like the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” perhaps, literally and figuratively, a video is worth a thousand pictures.

While it is true that new technologies always involve some level of time invested in learning them, I would argue that it seems well worth it, given the obvious needs in our industry, and these new techniques may eventually make getting your point across to the client more timely and efficient. Animation can help build a client’s confidence in a design, and it can reveal lighting’s capacity to alter the feeling of a space dynamically, in ways that the client may not have imagined.

Image and video credits: Kera Lagios / Lam Partners