Features and Columns · Movies

The Real Fake Lighting of Pixar’s ‘Soul’

Here’s a video essay on the development of Pixar’s ray tracing technology and its importance (and beauty) in their latest film.
Pixar Lighting Soul
By  · Published on February 10th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about how Pixar animated real-looking lighting in their latest film, Soul.

Automation has become a much larger aspect of animation over the last ten years. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Algorithms can take on busy, detail-specific busywork, freeing up animators to focus their attention elsewhere.

We’ve spoken before on this column about FizT (pronounced fizz-tee, short for “physics tool”), an animation software tool developed by Pixar that allows the studio to automate everything from shading to cloth dynamics. I first became aware of FizT and the idea of automated animation in the behind-the-scenes of the studio’s fourth film, Monsters, Inc. Learning that all three million of Sully’s hairs were simulated kind of blew my mind.

I felt a similar kind of awe while watching today’s video, which is all about Pixar’s latest film, Soul, and its use of ray-tracing technology, known in-house as the Global Illumination lighting system. Before 2013’s Monsters University, the studio animated lighting effects like reflections and shadows manually. As you can imagine, this was both labor-intensive and frustrating.

As the video essay below explains, ray tracing technology automatically accounts for visual physics every time an artist deploys a new light source. And while Pixar has been working with ray tracing for almost a decade, Soul is perhaps the best example of how beautiful and believable light has liberated artists with a new thematic language.

Watch “Pixar’s Soul: A Masterclass in Fake Light“:

Who made this?

This video essay was created by Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor Thomas Flight. He runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).