Lighting a Scene in 3ds Max

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Our Render Wrangler, Iris shows you how you can easily light a scene using 3ds Max – take it away Iris!

Lighting Using the KISS Method: Keep it Simple Stupid

There are many, many, tutorials online about lighting and rendering a scene. All of them are great and often give you a decent result.

I am going to light a scene easy style. I’m not a professional lighter but this way I have always been able to get a decent result that will not take too much render time.

As I am fairly new to 3ds Max I am going to apply the KISS principal. Keep it simple stupid. No fuss just the light you need to get a nice realistic render and good sharp shadows.

The first thing we do is to find a good HDRI image. If you go to Google and search for HDRI there are loads of examples. Just pick one that suits your project. I have gone for an antique shop kind of look as I am doing a mad tea party scene.

When you have found a suitable HDRI go to the material editor. Hit M on your keyboard for the shortcut. This will open the material editor. It usually opens in the compact mode. As you can see I have a few materials in here already.

If you go to Modes and press Slate material editor it should open the extended material editor.

Here you can create more complex textures if you like but we are not going to do that in this tutorial.

In the Slate editor, left click on bitmap and drag it over to the field. I have mine in there already. Double click on the texture node and link the HDRI to this bitmap. When the HDRI has loaded, you need to connect it to the environment so that the lighting is picked up. To do this, go to the Rendering tab and find Environment. This will open a new screen. Simply drag the HDRI texture node to the environment map and make sure you check use map.

Before we render we have to set the HDRI to spherical environment in the slate editor.

If you now render your scene you should see the HDRI in the background. This will give you a basic global light.

I have rendered mine so that I can see the progress. What appears is just the light that is being picked up from the surroundings. I can see the warm red colours from the background and the yellows/orange tones come through really well. But in my opinion the scene is still very dark and I do not get to see any sharp shadows. There is a bit of occlusion and ambient shadow but not a whole lot.

So let’s add a light.

Adding a Light Using V-Ray

I will do a V-Ray light as I am working with Vmaterials on this project. I will create a standard Vraylight in the shape of a plane. Move and position is to a place you want your light to come from. Hit W to move and E to rotate. You can either scale the light with the R hot key or you can put in specific measurements in the general parameters tab.

Once you have positioned the light where you want it, it is time again for a test render.

The render came out not much different from the original. As you can see on the left the original is a bit darker than the left one. But it is not quite as light as I want it to. So let’s tweak this light some more. This is a matter of how big your scene is and it involves a lot of rendering. I would suggest that in the render view you select a small bit so that you won’t be rendering half a day trying to get the light right.

To make the light brighter, as thus your scene lighter and the shadows stronger I am going to change the Multiplier strength. This is defaulted at 1.0. I have set mine to 15 for the left render and to 20 for the second. With the multiplier on 20 I get the shadows I like to see. So I am going for that at this moment.

Global Illumination Settings

Now is a good point as well to have a look at the render settings especially the GI tab. GI stands for Global Illumination and is very useful in your renders. Open your render settings from the rendering drop down menu and select render settings or by pressing F10 on your keyboard.

Enable global illumination and set your primary and secondary engine. It defaults to Brute force, but although brute force give you a very decent result, it is particularly slow and ups your render times a lot. I change mine to Irradiance map and keep my secondary on light cache.

Adding an Omni Light

Still I am not completely happy with my lighting and I will add a omni light to the scene. This is somewhat like and ambient light that radiates in all directions.

So Let go and make that one. Go to create light, either in the drop down menu or on the right-hand side of the screen. Select standard and click on the omni light. Place it in your scene where you want it.

Now with the new light Some of my textures blow out a bit (as you can see in the first picture), so I have set my V-Ray light multiplier back to 15.

I am now happy with my lights and I do think it is time to render the full frame again.

Tweaking Your Render Settings

I am quite happy with this. I can see the reflections in the materials, I can see some soft and darker shadows, and as the scene is indoors and there will not be any sharp shadows caused by strong sunlight, I am going to leave this as it is. I could go on and tweak it for hours and hours and I will do this later probably, but for now it is good and it is time to have a look at our render settings.

Open your render settings from the rendering drop down menu and select render settings or by pressing F10 on your keyboard.

In your common tab, under Output size, set the resolution to which you want to render. I have mine on 800*600 as long as we are testing. After that I will probably set it to 1080P or 720P or something slightly larger.

Next we go to the V-Ray tab. It is important to set the Image sampler to Bucket. Now you can set how many subdivisions you want your light to calculate. I have set mine to 24 where the standard starts at 8. This will give you a much nicer result. This however will increase your render time a lot so make a good decision on whether the result is much better and worth your render time. It is worth doing for the refractions especially when you are working with glass materials.

Now it is time to do that final render. So here goes, in the common tab I am setting my resolution or output size to 1280*720 and I have adjusted my render view slightly.

There You Have It!

And there you go, a simple but efficient lighting set up. I hope that you can now make beautiful renders! And not worry too much about general lighting set-up.

Iris, Render Wrangler.



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