The Surgery

I’m working on a short film and I’m trying to make every scene as photorealistic as possible. The first scene is called The Surgery, in which a patient undergoes a lobotomy. I want the film to be dark and ominous, so that explains my compositing.


Any critique is welcome, especially on the photorealistic aspect of the scene and lighting advice. All I have now is just a cube enclosing everything and emitting some light. Thanks in advance!

Hey Profanity. I was wondering, are you going to increase the brightness of the surgical lamps? Other than that, it sounds like an interesting project. And your modelling is quite good even at this early stage.


I feel right now that the scene has an objectionably murky color-cast. (Now, that cast is consistent, so it could be tweaked by itself.)

I suspect that you are going to have to make the surgery-room set fairly bright in the actual film, which means that differences in brightness are going to create difficulties with the gamma-curve … but differences in color and contrast might achieve the same effect. You light the various areas more-or-less similarly but you work from (most likely) three areas along the color-wheel … the three areas being equally separated more-or-less like the Mercedes-Benz trident.

When you do this, an RGB-combined histogram is more or less bell-shaped, as are each of the three channels when viewed alone, but the combination of colors working for and against each other produces the desired feeling. As you lay out your production, you should work on a “master palette” for each major set. I have also read about the notion of having characters, upon entry to a scene, almost-subliminally causing a very slight rotation or shift to the then-prevailing color trident … the viewer, consciously or not, senses ‘hope’ or ‘despair’ and associates it with the arrival or departure of the character. (Usually, the shift actually occurs with a cut.)

The lighting is confusing. It is dark, but not ominous. I wish I had a suggestion to make it more ominous, but I don’t.

Awesome job though!

Thanks. The brightness of the lamps was what my friend pointed out too. I did try to increase the brightness to something ridiculous, but it doesn’t show in the render. Is there anyway to solve this?

My knowledge of lighting is pretty limited, so I’m not sure I understand all you said. Are you saying that the lighting is too uniform? By master palette, do you mean that I should have a set of colors to focus on, like this?
I don’t have any characters in my film (apart from the invisible narrator) because I am bad at human modelling, but I guess I can incorporate subtle color changes in some parts.

Just for your information, my scene is based on this: (at about 0:32)
I’m trying to make my scene more original, so I might change the modelling a bit. Anyway, you know what I’m aiming for.

I’m assuming you’re using Cycles. There could be any number of reasons why the brightness doesn’t show up. The cube that you’re using for a lamp–is it inside the room or outside it? If it’s outside, then the light from the cube won’t go through the walls of the room and therefore you’re not getting any light in there. The only light in the room is coming from the ambient occlusion setting you’ve got on. That’s probably why your lighting is so dim.

You said you’re going for photo-realism. In real life, light sources inside a room are what cause the light for the room, and that’s no different in Cycles, which follows realism as closely as possible. You might consider causing the lights on the lamp models inside the room to emit light. Set it bright enough to light up the room. Then, using a glare filter in the node editor, you can create a really great effect for the lamps.

That might help you, if that indeed is what the problem turns out to be. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know without more information. But it does look like you’re using ambient occlusion for the lighting. If you want to increase the ambient lighting in the room, increase the ambient occlusion.


Thanks a lot for the reply! It’s late in the night, so I don’t have the time to make a new render. I will make a new one tomorrow!

There isn’t really a room. I just have a wall in the background. I guess that may be why the lighting is a bit weird…not enough bounces. I will add the remaining three walls tomorrow.

Also, from my observations of the video I posted in my previous reply, I saw that a lot of the light comes from the machine in the center, along with some light from lamps on the surrounding walls. I will try to mimic that. It still bugs me that even if I set the brightness of the operation lights to several tens of thousands there still isn’t a significant difference.

Maybe I’ll consider using a three-point lighting system, and see how I can improve on that.

I did use a glare filter, but because the light from the operation lamps don’t stand out the glare isn’t obvious. I’ll read some documentation tomorrow to see if I can fix that.

No, I didn’t use ambient occlusion for lighting. I’ll do some quick tests tomorrow to see if it helps.

Edit: I made a quick 25-sample quick render. The fog glow is more obvious, but I think it’s a bit too dark.

Hey nice project.


Thanks for the reply! It’s really heart-warming to know that someone I don’t know took the time to critique my work.

I’ll work on the things you mentioned tomorrow (I have a test tomorrow, argh). This morning I picked up a book on photography and learnt a bit about colours and compositing. In the end, I decided to change the colours and brightness a bit. I put the lights in a different layer and gave them a slight blur, as well as a brightness increase. I also played around with the colour curve a bit, enhancing the lighter parts while dimming the darker parts.

I think the result is more ominous, but I’m not sure whether you guys feel the same too.


The surgical lamps are still not bright enough. These lamps are intensely bright in real life. They would add a real sense of alarm and unease if they were luridly bright, almost painful to look at. It would convey a real sense of discomfort to the audience on a subliminal level. These are just suggestions, as I’m not entirely sure if that’s the direction you’re trying to head in, but it definitely looks that way.

Keep it up. =)


Thanks for the reply! It’s really heart-warming to know that someone I don’t know took the time to critique my work.

No prob, ask and you shall be given :stuck_out_tongue:

This morning I picked up a book on photography and learnt a bit about colours and compositing. In the end, I decided to change the colours and brightness a bit.

Good choice! Your lighting is much much better, you did exactly what i had in mind. Working the contrast made it feel more omnious indeed, almost there.

Do as Jdaniels suggests, and make those surgical lamps really shine. (This is done in compositing fyi).
Check this video to see just how bright they can be: (EDIT: But remember to keep your own artistic sense, and that we must also be able to see the image :))

Remember: Find reference pictures, use reference pictures. Repeat :slight_smile:

Just a quick update:
I changed my compositing a little bit, and duplicated the glare with more glare. Is it bright enough?

One thing that would sell the brightness of the lights are camera flares and maybe some horizontal streaks.

How high is the emit value set to on the lamp material? Unless you’ve already rendered all the 3D frames and now you’re just in the compositing phase, you might want to consider increasing the power on the emit values. That will give the compositor more to work with.


My quick suggestion would be to own up to certain shortcomings and accept them as inevitable style (low poly count looks a little better and more intentional than subsurfing too much–by that account the machinery looks really nice, but the clock looks strange and too smooth). The compositing looks nice. I would say that rather than aim for overall realism, create a consistent style in the geometry and lighting, and use compositing to make things feel more realistic. The only thing that bothers me at this point is the clock and the wall. Something about the wall feels like it doesn’t match–maybe the reflections need to be even more diffuse? Maybe the tiles should be embossed slightly? I dunno.