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Lighten Up with LightWave 3D 8

From Peachpit Publishing, VFXWorld has an excerpt from its newest book, Lighten Up with Lightwave 3D 8.

Need to learn LightWave 3D fast? Try our Visual QuickStart Guide! It's the fastest, easiest, most affordable way to get up and running quickly with the high-end 3D modeling program. In this brief excerpt, you'll learn why proper lighting is key to creating realistic animation and how to turn on the lights in your own LightWave 3D projects.

Creating a beautifully rendered shot in LightWave often depends on properly lighting the scene. Hyper-accurate modeling or near-lifelike animation won't matter much if the final rendered image is flat and unrealistic. This kind of eyesore can totally ruin a well-designed shot. A light not only illuminates space, it also adds shadows and more importantly, depth. While hard lights produce sharp, crisp shadows, soft lights produce much warmer, smoother shadows. Using a combination of these lights with the right placement and color can properly set the mood of the image, call attention to or away from something, show distance and even illustrate the passing of time.

Lights and Lighting Effects

Experienced users consistently refer to LightWave as a "virtual set." This is never truer than when we're discussing the complexities of lighting a scene. The designers of LightWave have tried to make each different light look and act just asit would in the real world. This attention to detail makes the lights very easy to use and understand.

LightWave has five different types of lights to choose from:

Distant: A global light that emits at an angle, but affects all the objects in a scene, regardless of position. This light source acts much like sunlight.

Point: Emits light in all directions (omnidirectional) from the designated point, much like an ordinary light bulb.

Spotlight: A highly directional conical light source that can produce nice, smooth shadows at the edges. This works much like the stage light (of the same name) or a flashlight.

Linear: A sizable line that emits light from everywhere but the ends, producing soft shadows, much like a fluorescent light.

Area: A sizable card that emits light from both the front and back, but not from the edges. This works like a large, diffused fluorescent ceiling light.

By using a combination of these lights, you'll be able to re-create anything from a natural outdoor setting to an artificially lit room.

Adding Lights

Layout will automatically add a single light (a Distant light, by default) and a LightWave camera into any new scene you create. With this type of light, all the objects in the scene are lit with the same intensity, regardless of how close they are to the source. So it doesn't really matter where you place the light in the scene. However, by rotating it you'll change the angle of the rays cast and thus the shading and placement of shadows on the surfaces.

Figure 1 (top left), figure 2 (right) and figure 3 (bottom left).

To Add a Distant Light:

1. Open or create a scene similar to Figure 1 with a few basic shapes (primitives) and a floor or wall to cast shadows onto.

2. Select the Items tab to display new options in the toolbar. Figure 2.

3. Choose Distant Light from the Lights pull-down menu.

4. When the Light Name dialog appears, click OK to accept the default name.

5. Click the Modify tab to display new options in the toolbar.

6. Click Move in the toolbar or press [t] to activate the Move tool and drag the light to the upper-left quadrant of the screen. Notice that the lighting effect on the objects in the scene doesn't change.

7. Click Rotate in the toolbar or press [y] to activate the Rotate tool and drag to adjust the light's casting angle. Notice its effect on the surfaces in the scene. Figure 3.

8. Render the current frame [F9].

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