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colours, atmosphere and lighting

by Nadine (Horus)

As a lot of people have problems getting the right lighting and colours in their levels or have difficulties to set up a mood and atmosphere I wrote this little tutorial about a way to light your level. It is based on lighting techniques used in the orignal Tomb Raider games (mainly TR4 and TR5).

1 - Creating atmosphere and mood with colours

At first, lets take a look how we can use colours to create different moods and atmospheres in our levels.

Cold & Wintry Scenes: This is quite straighforward, use bright grey and colours with low saturation. You can try to add grey fog for a misty atmosphere, which works great with an overcast sky. To achieve a clear and cold atmosphere you need a cold and very bright blue sky (right screenshot).

Cool/Chilly: Use different shades of blue. In a warm environment (right screenshot) turquoise will work too. Adding faint fog in a matching colour will add greatly to the atmosphere.

Creepy/Spooky: A creepy level does not necessarily have to be very dark. Take a look at the two screenshots below: both seem quite desaturated. In the right one you can see hints of pink, blue and green, though the colours are very dull. In the third screenshot there is a combination of green ground fog and a matching green fog bulb, it creates an almost poisonous feel.

Damp/Dusty: These two will only work properly with fog. For a damp atmosphere (left) use a lot of thick blue-grey fog. On the right screenshot, it looks like the air is full of dust. To achieve this effect, use dark brown lights and fog. Flame emitters will be a great addition in such situations.

Warm/Hot: Orange and red will do the job. On the left screenshot, you can see the levelbuilder used orange light coming from a setting sun to light the scene. On the right, there's moderately thick red fog, glowing lava and flame emitters... you can almost see Lara sweating in there, can't you? ;)

2 - Night Scenes and Dark Places

No player will enjoy pitch-black levels and rooms. So how do we create rooms and areas that seem to be dark but in fact aren't?

Night scenes: Moonlight and starlight is usually neutral in colour. However, lighting your night level with blue will give it a more intersting look (left screenshot). For a better effect you can add yellow or orange lights and windows etc to create some contrast.

Dark areas: Have a look at the screenshot on the left. There's sunlight coming into the cave at the back. The part of the cave in the front however is lighted with a touch of green. You can see the same effect in the picture on the right: sunlight comes into the room, the ceiling right above the entrance is lighted with a bluish green.
To be perfectly honest, there is no proper reason why these darker areas should be green or blue, but compared to areas lighted by slightly yellowish/orange sunlight dark areas appear to be green or blue. So, to make it look a bit more interesting and striking it is a good idea to strenghen the impression of blue or green in dark areas. You can observe this effect a lot in art too, have a look at this painting for example.

3 - Colour Schemes

Have you ever thought about what colours are most dominant in your levels? A consitent colour scheme can greatly improve the look of a level. There a two easy way to do this.

A: Colours in your texture set: choose a base colour (lets say the colour of the brickwork) and a nice colour for decorations that matches the base colour. Screen on the left: light brown base colour and blue banisters, trims and doors plus some accents in a darker brown. Screen on the right: brown temple walls and green trims (the water and the fog in the lake is green too btw).

B: Ambient and light colours: I already mentioned this in the first lighting tutorial. It is a very good idea to combine cool colours like blue and green with warm colour like yellow and orange.
First screen: brown and gold combined with a pale blue.
Second screen: Orange light, turquoise fog and reddish brown rock.
Third screen: blue ambience light and orange light bulbs.
Fourth screen: green ambience light and golden light.

I hope this helped you in some way to improve or refine your lighting abilities. Happy Building!

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