Some representative demo shots from The Polar Express. I did many more shots than are shown here, but I'm not including them for various reasons. Some shots are just too quick to discuss, and some are just more of the same train interiors with characters.
Shot 1: Interior Train as Boy enters
My first shot on the whole show at Imageworks. Although there were generic lights set for the interior of the train environment, I created all the beauty lights for the characters. Lots of comp balancing for the window panes, to see the frosty effect yet also the snowy exterior.
Shot 2: CU Beauty of the Boy's ticket, and Conductor punching the ticket
Spent a lot of time positioning special lights to get the reflective kicks off of the embossed ticket surface. Some lights were without shadows, to get an especially contrasty kick to layer into the comp. Lots of comp finessing for the Boy's hands, even down to finger nail regioning for brightness, etc. For the Conductor I added a reflection of the ticket into his glasses, and did a lot of contact shadow work connecting his hands to the objects. To see the ticket nibs (chads?...) better after they were punched, I used the alpha of the falling nibs/chads, and then inserted a single frame of a static high resolution ticket into the alpha. Motion blurred nibs/chads showed no detail at all, but high resolution sections of the ticket inserted into the alphas showed lots of apparent detail. (See also my demo of Disney's A Christmas Carol, where I did this same technique to get some detail in an exceedingly motion blurred "blast" element of Scrooge's chair.)
Shot 3/Shot 4: Boy pulls brake, Conductor yells
Again, generic lighting setup for the train, but special lights for all the characters. Spent a lot of time balancing the shadowing under the brim of the Conductor's hat.
Shot 5: Interior pull-out from Santa's bag of presents
A nice, big shot. Exterior lighting started with a generic warm-light setup, but the character lighting on the interior of the bag needed to be cooler. Special lighting setups for the elves and the Conductor. Crowd effects elements responded nicely to set lights. Lots of finesse comping for the tree lights, star timing to blink on, and overall crowd integration.
Shot 6: That Kid that looks like Dewey (from Malcolm in the Middle...) and those damned elves on the gift bag
A lot of finessing for the character lighting, and lots of comp finessing for contact shadows all around. For example, when the elf heaves the giant gift back into the bat, the shadow of the bag onto the gift box is comping, not lighting. It goes by quick, but it's one of those many small things that add up to a better shot.
Shot 7: Glowing Santa and the Boy
Santa had a lot of issues as to how he looked in each and every shot, so it took a lot of comp work to get the right amount of glow.
Shot 8: Santa picks the Boy
Another nice big shot, those are always nice. Again, lots of comp work to make Santa glow just right. Lots of comping to integrate the creepy elf army onto the snowy street. Most comping effort was spent on the face and the eyes of the Boy.