Lighting and Rendering in Maya

After the designing and making of of my texture and applying it with shaders, the next task was to render it with lighting that would make it look presentable, so, Matt took us through several key terms and techniques when it came to this. Here are a few:

Light features

Light intensity is the strength of the light so basically how bright it will actually be. The more intensity it has the brighter the light will be and the less intensity means the light will be softer and dimmer making it harder to see. Light colour changes the colour of the light and can be used to make different moods and tones for certain environments, it could also be used to simulate a light source like neon lights. Light linking allows you to have certain areas lit by certain lights without other areas being affected by them. A cookie is basically a stencil that light is shone through to simulate an object being in front of the light, people use this to cast shadows on a wall from things that aren’t actually there, useful for the horror genre.

Direct light

Direct light is light that comes from the source like light coming from a bulb or through a window.

Indirect light

Indirect light (often referred to as bounced light)  is light that hits a surface and reflects off. Generally weaker as some of the light will be absorbed by the surface and the strength of the reflected light is dependent on the reflectiveness of the material it hits.

Point light

Point lights are used to emit light in all directions from where it is placed.


Spotlights are in a way one of the most powerful type of lights as you can edit most of their attributes.  The light is shaped in a cone and they allow you to angle the light and scale how much light is directed in one spot. You can also edit the fall off amount so the light can be softer or sharper, also you can edit how wide the cone can be as well.

Area light

Area lighting is light being emitted in one direction from a particular area. They are useful  to be used in situations such as light coming through one side of a room to be able to cast shadows from an exterior light source, Some people like to simulate sunlight by doing this shining in from only one side.

Ambient lighting  /  ‘cheating’

Ambient light is made to simulate bounced light withing a scene from all angles. You can do this quickly but it often makes the scene look flat so we do something called ‘Cheating’. Cheating is manually adding light to the scene to make it look more realistic.

Volume light

Volume lights aren’t the best choice of lighting to choose every time. But can be useful when allowing the viewer to see beams of light shining through the environment; seeing sunbeams streaming through an open window is an example of volumetric lighting.

Lighting and shadow techniques

Three point lighting is the use of three lights which consists of the key light, the fill light and the background light. The key light is the main light used on the model do define the main aspects. The fill light is used to brighten any shadows on the model that the key light misses. The back light is the lighting behind the model to sort of give the model more depth around them and more of an edge, personally, I used this in the rendering of Matt’s spaceship. Depth map shadows are great to use as they are very tweakable allowing you to change the colours of shadows and other features such as the size. Raytraced shadows produce better quality shadows but they tend to take a longer time to render and they allow shadows to have some transparency.


Rendering in Maya or 3DS Max is where you can select smaller parts of your model that you want to focus on to see how it looks and to compare it to other parts of the model but also can just render the full model, showing what it would look like when rendered in a game engine.


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