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Illuminating Scenes Using Lights in 3ds Max

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Learn about the various lighting options available to you and how you can use them to illuminate your 3D worlds and scenes in this chapter from Sams Teach Yourself 3ds Max in 24 Hours.
This chapter is from the book

You are able to see an object because light reflects from the object into your eyes, which send the data to your brain so it can process the data and form an image. You can’t see without light—honest! Just as in nature, illumination in 3ds Max happens through a complex interaction of lights and objects.

Light can come from a number of sources, the most obvious being the sun, our source of natural lighting, and from bulbs, which handle our real-world artificial lighting. It makes sense, then, that 3ds Max also provides a number of lighting options that allow you to replicate both natural and artificial lighting within scenes.

This hour, you are going to take a look at the various lighting options available to you and how you can use them to illuminate your 3D worlds and scenes.

3ds Max Lighting Introduction

Lights in the real world allow you to see things, and the lights in 3ds Max do exactly the same thing. In addition, you can assign qualities to the lighting tools available in 3ds Max to enable them to cast shadows, project images, and even manipulate the atmospheric lighting effects.

The basic lighting tools are located in the default creation area in 3ds Max—the Create tab of the Command Panel. The Lights category is the third icon from the left, which looks like a studio spotlight; this category is home to the lighting tools.

Two main subcategories of lights are available: standard lights and photometric lights. You can create lights just as you do any other objects, and you can also transform them by using the Move, Rotate, and Scale tools.

Before you jump in and start creating lights, it’s important that you know that 3ds Max automatically provides a default lighting setup when you start the program. Read on to learn more.

Default Lighting

3ds Max provides you with default lighting if you have not specified (created) any lights yourself. This allows you to view any objects you create without having to worry about lighting the scene first. The default lights disappear as soon as another light is created, and they magically reappear if all other lights in the scene are deleted.


Shadows are areas where light is obstructed by an object, causing a darker area than its surroundings. 3ds Max supports various types of shadow-casting options, and unlike in real life, you have the ability to make only some lights cast shadows and others not. Work through the following Try It Yourself to get a taste of this.

Ambient Light

Ambient light is general lighting that affects an entire scene; it is also called global ambient. It has no source or direction but affects everything in a scene uniformly. Because ambient light has an effect on everything, you can use it to your advantage to create a specific atmosphere or simply to adjust the overall color of a scene.

Figure 10.1 shows the Environment and Effects window, where you can manually adjust the ambient light for a scene.


FIGURE 10.1 The Environment and Effects window gives you access to the ambient light properties for each scene.

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