Previs: Lighting Diagrams in Maya

When I was in college I worked in the theater lighting department and I was always in aww of incredibly detailed lighting plots or diagrams the lighting designer would create.  Initially the task of reading and executing the hangs was daunting, but over the years I got familiar with them and could create my own.

Years later when I started working as a gaffer and DP in the film industry I used the same 2D Vectorworks style lighting diagrams.  This technique works well for illustrating how many units are needed and where they are placed in 2 dimensions from an overhead view.  But their 2D nature requires a lot of interpretation when executing them in a 3D world.

Lamp Plot

This is typical 2D Lighting Plot

About 2-3 years ago I started to play with creating lighting diagrams in 3D.  I stated using Google SketchUp to block in the actors and sets and then I started placing lights, frames, etc. in the scene like I would in real life.  After changing to 3D for a couple large studios jobs, this was the only way I could visualize the lighting plan for myself.

Now I use Autodesk Maya for everything.  I have models of the most common lighting units as well as common grip equipment including a Fisher10 dolly, track, and various telecoping cranes.  But 3D diagrams have their limit too.  Unfortunately, there is no “ideal” position to view the set that clearly shows the entire design.


One of my latest 2013 3D Lighting Diagrams for a commercial

I needed a solution that would allow me to build my set, animate characters, previs the camera, add 3d lighting, AND generate a 2D vectoworks lighting diagram.  I looked around for a few weeks for a way to accomplish this but finally decided that I’d have to make it myself.  My solution was to add a 2D line graphic to each 3D model that would always stay on the ground and would orient itself based on the position of the 3D object.

I created 2D graphics for all of my lights and for some of the camera equipment.  The end result was an scale 3D layout of the set and a 2D orthographic from the top with simplified symbols that represent the 3D objects.  My solution isn’t perfect but it’s a good workflow for me to think through the logistics of entire shoots and then create 2D and 3D diagrams to communicate to my crew and the AD/art/etc.


This is the 2D view of the same 3D lighting diagram

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