Animation Tutorial – Lighting and Shadowing Scenes

In this animation tutorial I’m going to be talking about the importance of lighting and shadowing your scenes. It’s an easy way to increase the visual quality of your animation and it really doesn’t take much extra effort. It seems like the majority of people don’t bother with doing this but it’s something I usually recommend. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve used this technique on all of my YouTube animations. At the very least you’ll want to do the shadowing portion of this tutorial since I’d say it’s the most important out of the two.

I think you can create these effects with most of the animation programs available. You basically need to be able to blur layers and adjust the transparency of a color to do this. I know some animation programs have the effects built-in as plugins or modules as well so check your documentation. I should note that all of these effects will be on their own separate layers depending on what object they’re affecting. You’ll also need to know the perspective angles your scene is using. I’ll first start by showing you a basic room that I’ve created specifically for this demonstration.

animation lighting 1

It looks so plain and dull, which is definitely not what I want.


When you start lighting your scene you need to be aware of everything that could be a light source. This could be anything from the sun outdoors to a lamp or window indoors. Then you need to make a decision on the direction of the light. I usually do this by choosing a point the light is coming from and create lines spreading outward. This will make everything much easier and accurate to follow. For instance, I know for this scene the light(moon?) will be coming from the windows so here’s the line overlay I made for that.

animation lighting 2

You can already see where the light will end up shining. I’ll create a new layer on top of the windows layer and draw a white object following these lines. Be aware that the red lines indicate the angle of shadows the desk will be casting.

animation lighting 3

Apply the “glow/blur” effect to the layer and adjust the blur strength, color, and alpha setting until you reach the desired appearance.

animation lighting 4

It looks pretty good but it’s important to know that light is always brighter on the surface of objects compared to the light in the air. Because of this I’m going to create another layer and draw a new object, but this time only on the floor that the light is hitting. To do this accurately you must know the angles of perspective your background is using. I think I’ll add a small glow on the window itself as well. Apply the glow/blur effect again using the settings that look good to your eyes and you’re done.

animation lighting 4


I said this earlier but I think shadowing alone is the biggest contributor to enhancing the quality of a scene. I usually use this effect underneath objects, in corners of rooms, or in tandem with the lighting effect. Remember that an object will cast a shadow if a light is being shown onto it. I’ll create a new layer and draw a black colored object following the room layout now.

animation shadowing - 1

During complex scenes the shadowing sometimes resembles a Rorschach test (I’m seeing Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat right now). Proceed to do the same as you did before with the lighting effect. Adjust the blur, color, and alpha setting until it looks good to your eyes. You may need to use multiple layers depending on if the shadow is in front of or behind another object. Here’s the final image when we’re done.

animation shadow final


You can see this is a relatively simple way to drastically change the appearance and quality of your backgrounds. I’ve spent maybe 20-30 minutes and it’s been absolutely worth it. Make sure to check with your animation program to see what effects you can use but it should be a pretty standard feature. Sometimes you might not want light coming from all directions since it could be distracting. Use your best judgement when applying this technique to your animations. For any questions you can comment on this article or contact me directly via the contact page, thanks for reading and I hope you find it helpful.


Anthony Fazio is a writer, animator, music composer, and self-proclaimed anti-narcissist even though you'll see his name plastered all over everything here.