Lighting, Shadows & Rendering


We packed so much into the previous lesson this post is a continuation. Next on the agenda was types of lights within Maya.


  • Point Light – Emits light from all directions, like a light bulb.
  • Directional Light – Emits parallel rays of light in one direction across the entire scene, akin to sunlight.
  • Spot Light – Emits lights in a conical shape, much like an actual spot light or a lamp with a shade on it.
  • Area Light – Emits light in one direction from a specified area, such as through a window.
  • Polygon Light Emitters – Can be applied to polygons for a neon effect, useful for simulating actual neon lights such as store signs.
  • Ambient Lights – Have simply been told not to use them as they aren’t that useful, they tend to make lighting a little flat and they don’t emulate light in the real world very well.
  • Sky Dome – A better simulation of sunlight but in a confined area rather than the whole scene like a directional light.

The lecture also covered a few settings within lights.

  • Decay Rate – Simulates light fading off over distance. This also covered quadratic decay which attempts to simulate fade off in a more realistic fashion but generally requires your light source to be more intense.
  • Light Linking – Have your light only affect certain objects in the scene.
  • Depth Map Shadows – The most basic type of shadow which bakes the shadow into the scene almost like a texture map. Quicker to render and less memory intensive than Ray Traced shadows.
  • Ray Traced Shadows – This simulates shadows in real time, as an object moves the shadow will change too. This creates the best looking shadows but takes up more rendering time.
  • Cookie/Stencil – This allows you to add a light map to your light which specifies certain areas in which your light can project. Light map examples could be an image of blinds, canopy foliage etc.

Three Point Lighting

To allow us to get a good looking render of our spaceships we were instructed how to setup a three point lighting system. This consists of:

  • A Key Light – The main light that illuminates your character/object
  • Back Light – As it sounds, a light behind the object that helps to outline their sihouette.
  • Fill Light – A side light to help diminish heavy shadow in areas where the key light isn’t reaching.


My ship with some quick three point lighting.

Originally I tried this with quadratic and just couldn’t get enough light out of the spot lights to illuminate the scene so reverted back to having no decay. My key light was pure white, my back light had an orange glow and my fill light had a yellow tint. I was hoping to emulate the colours of lights that might be in an aircraft/spacecraft hangar.

I need to play around with lights some more as I didn’t quite get the effect I wanted. The whole ship is currently a phong shader too and I feel like some parts would look better with less shine .


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