Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design

Controlling 3ds Max Light Sources

  • Print
  • + Share This
Illumination in the digital world is a calculated affair, but the best lighting effects are achieved by artists who follow the lead of nature. Learn about the light sources available in 3ds max and how you can control them to bring the best results.
This chapter is from the book

In nature, light flows like a luminous tide, revealing and concealing form. Light radiates, reflects, refracts, reacts, and softly diffuses into air. Light is warm or cool, high or low, near or far, bright or dim, harsh or soft. These qualities make a scene happy, sad, harsh, soft, romantic, dull, mundane, or mysterious (Figure 11.1).

Figure 11.1Figure 11.1 Light conveys mystery and magic.

In the digital world, illumination is a calculated affair. Rendering algorithms, normal alignments, G-buffers, and Z-buffers determine the display of light and shadow. Where calculation fails, the eye of the artist must compensate.

The best lighting effects are achieved by artists who make themselves students of nature. Artists who study scene painting, drawing, photography, and cinematography develop sensitivity, awareness, and a practiced eye.

This chapter outlines the light sources available in 3ds max and how to control them.

Illuminating Scenes

In addition to making scenes more beautiful, working with light has practical applications. For instance, suppose you create a model of an office building for a prospective client. The client will want to see what it will look like under different lighting conditions. How will the building cast shadows? How will shadows be cast upon it? At what angle will light enter the windows at different times of the day and year?

The color and angle of a light place a scene in time and space. For morning or evening scenes, make the sun a warm color such as yellow, orange, or red. Then place the light source at a low angle (Figure 11.2). Cooler white lights placed at a high angle suggest the sun shining at midday. To make a midday scene more interesting, add clouds to the sky and project shadows from them (Figure 11.3). Fill lights above the ground should be blue or gray to match the sky. Fill lights below the ground should be green or brown to match the earth.

Figure 11.2Figure 11.2 Morning in the mountains: Angled light, long shadows.


Figure 11.3 Figure 11.3 Midday in the hills: Cloud shadows add interest.

For night scenes, use a cool blue-white tint to suggest the light of the moon and stars (Figure 11.4). If there is fog, streetlights create warm, hazy cones of illumination. If there is a large or brightly colored object in the scene, match a nearby light to that color to create the effect of light radiating off of its surface.

Figure 11.4Figure 11.4 Moonlight in the desert: Stars in the sky and water create a feeling of space.

Indoor lights also have color. Use warm, yellow colors for incandescent and halogen lights. Use a cold yellow-green color for fluorescent lighting. Be sure to create some fill lights to match the overall colors of the walls and carpets.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account