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Know the Basics: Maya Part 8: Arnold Lighting

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Date Added: 16th January 2017
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In part eight of the Know the Basics: Maya 2017 series, Paul Hatton explores the lights that are available with Maya's default renderer, Arnold...


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Previous tutorials

Know the Basics: Maya Part 1: Interface
Know the Basics: Maya Part 2: Viewports and Navigation
Know the Basics: Maya Part 3: Modelling
Know the Basics: Maya Part 4: Organisation
Know the Basics: Maya Part 5: Animating
Know the Basics: Maya Part 6: Motion Graphics
Know the Basics: Maya Part 7: Shaders & Textures

As of 2017, Maya ships by default with a renderer called Arnold. Now I know that we've not got to the rendering section of the series of tutorials but in essence the renderer that we want to use will affect the lights that we will want to create. So because we're going to be using Arnold we also want to make sure that the lights we use are compatible with it. We'll therefore explore the lights that ship with Arnold. The benefit of these lights is that they are all physically accurate. That means that they act in a mathematically accurate manner; the same way that they do in the real world. Before we start go to 'Windows' -> Rendering Editors' -> 'Render Settings' and select the Arnold.

Step 1: Default Lighting

Once you've created your model there is still a lot of work required to get it to the point where we can render it into something beautiful! Out of the box a Maya scene doesn't have any light sources which means that we need to create them. While modelling though if we would like to see something other than a flat unshaded model then we can use Maya's default lighting with Shaded display. The shortcut for this is '5'.

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Use default lighting when create your model.

Step 2: Create a light source

To create an Arnold light source you'll want to head over to the 'Arnold' menu at the top of the interface followed by 'Lights'. This gives you a list of options including Area, Skydome, Mesh and Photometric. Please note that you are also given the option of 4 Maya lights but we won't be exploring those at this point in time. Choose 'Area Light' for now.

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The Arnold lights can be found within the Arnold menu set.

Step 3: Changing a light's attributes

With our light created we'll no doubt want to adjust its properties which we can do by heading to the 'Attribute Editor'. The editor contains a whole host of different attributes including the colour and the intensity. You can adjust these attributes to customise your lights to exactly what you need for your scene. Understanding what type of light types are available will help you get the most out of your scene. Let's explore them now.

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Adjust your light's attributes to get the look you want.

Step 4: Types of light source

There are a variety of light sources which all come into their own under different circumstances. One of the main things to consider is what your application is. For example, is the light a bulb, or a sun or emanating from an object? The answers to these questions will determine what type of light you need to use. Let's look at each Arnold light type individually.

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Knowing where you want your light to emanate from will determine which light type you need to use.

Step 5: Area Light

An area light is basically a light which is represented by a shape, a rectangle by default. It's as simple as that. The larger you make the light the more that light will affect your scene. This will produce soft shadows and as a result can take longer to render. These types of lights are great for representing light coming in through windows or even just to evenly illuminate your scene. One of these either side of a product would also provide a good starting point for a studio setup.

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The area light also has support for disc and cylinder.

Step 6: Skydome Light

This type of light is perfect for environment or Image based lighting. By default it'll create a white spherical light which will illuminate the whole scene. This may be what you want but the power of this type of light is being able to load into it an external file. You'll want something like a .hdr file which contains a large dynamic range of lighting information. HDR's usually represent a hemisphere of sky with the sun included in it. It'll be the brightest pixels in the HDR file which will create the shadows. This file can be loaded in the checker board attached to the 'Color' property.

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This light type is perfect for creating image based lighting.

Step 7: Mesh Light

The name of this light should be all you need for this one! At times you will want a mesh you've modelled to form the light body. This is great if you've modelled a light fitting for example and you need the light to emanate from the exact mesh you've modelled. Simply select the object prior to creating the light and it'll be converted automatically. Please note that the mesh light properties can be found in the 'Arnold' rollout of the objects attributes.

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This light enables you to turn a mesh into a light source.

Step 8: Photometric light

This light type utilises real world data to form the light contribution. The light profiles are contained within IES files which are available from a variety of different lighting manufacturers, usually for free of charge. With the light created in the attributes there is a property called 'Photometry File' which is where you load the IES file in. The color and intensity can then be adjusted as well.

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Use a photometric light to create light from real-world data.

Step 9: Light Filters

Light Filters are shaders which can be applied onto a light to affect their output. There are four different types including barndoor, gobo, light clocker and light decay. To add a filter to a light first make sure the light is selected and then in the attribute editor scroll down to 'Arnold'. Under 'Light Filters' click add and then choose your desired filter. Each filter has a set of properties which enable the filter to be customised.

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Use light filters to further customise what your light output is like.

Step 10: Conclusion

As discussed each light has its own set of properties which can be adjusted to get the right look and feel. It's important though to pick the right type of light as your starting point and then go from there. Lighting is a hugely complex element of 3D visualisation. Get it right and you'll blow your viewers away but get it wrong and it can be just plain distracting. I would also recommend using lighting as a director's tool so that you lead your viewer's eyes to the places you want them to go.

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Exploring light theory will enable you to really get to grips with how lighting works and how you can use it to your advantage.

Top tip: Arnold RenderView

When using Arnold materials and lights you are best off using Arnold RenderView. This is Arnold's interactive rendering option which updates right in front of you. This makes setting up lighting an absolute breeze as you get excellent instant feedback.

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Use Arnold RenderView for instant feedback on your lights.

Related links

For more from Paul Hatton, check out C A Design Services
Download Maya 2017
Check out Maya 2017 on Twitter
Grab a copy of Beginner's Guide to Character Creation in Maya
Know the Basics: Maya Part 1: Interface
Know the Basics: Maya Part 2: Viewports and Navigation
Know the Basics: Maya Part 3: Modelling
Know the Basics: Maya Part 4: Organisation
Know the Basics: Maya Part 5: Animating
Know the Basics: Maya Part 6: Motion Graphics
Know the Basics: Maya Part 7: Shaders & Textures

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