Bright sunshine, a soft romantic glow, the dark—although we don’t often think about it, light influences our perception in everyday situations. This element of our reality is incorporated into films to set the mood and make the unbelievable believable.
“My job is to help story tellers tell their stories,” said Avedis Ekmekjian, a lead lighter at Dreamworks Animation. “Lighting sets the mood, helps you feel the ups/downs and the presence of good/evil.”
As a lead lighter, Ekmekjian determines the type of lighting that helps the director achieve a desired effect. For live action shots, this involves setting up the lighting source and how the character appears in the shot plate. To create the effect in animated films, he works with an art director to fill in the lighting and shadows at different points in the story. He then hands these instructions to his team of lighters who fill in the shots in between.
Winning an Academy Award for visual effects on The Golden Compass has been one of Ekmekjian’s proudest professional moments. Currently, he’s wrapping up work on next year’s release (2011) of Kung Fu Panda 2. His other film credits include Shrek Forever After, Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space, Monsters vs Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, Night at the Museum and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties.
“Take advantage of early opportunities,” advised Ekmekjian. “My college internship was the entry way into this industry; it helped me realize that I wanted to focus on the 3D aspects of entertainment. I started out at Electronic Arts (EA) working on marketing stills for different game releases. But I was really drawn to the story-telling aspects of film. I went on to Rhythm & Hues and eventually landed my current position at Dreamworks.
“Internships and apprenticeship programs are a great way to break into this field. They also help with networking by building strong ties to fellow artists and management. It takes patience to build a name for yourself in this industry. For students fresh out of school, I recommend freelancing for awhile to learn the ins/outs of working for different companies and to establish a contact base for networking. Much of your success out here depends on who you know.”
- Lead Lighter