Lighting Overview

Non Software Specific: Overview

This is an Old Out Of Date Page

This is an old page

Hi everyone, I’m teaching Mental Ray for Maya when it comes to lighting and Rendering.  The reasons for the Mental Ray choice is

1. It comes with Maya, no need for plugins
2. It’s a good renderer, particularly well known as being one of the best raytracing renderers
3. There’s plenty of tutorials and learning materials for MR, unlike other renderers.
4. A good lighter can light well in any renderer.  Many people are surprised that Cane-Toad was rendered in Maya Software, well considered one of the worst renders.  We will not be rendering in Maya Software.

VRay is another popular renderer and is a plugin for maya, it is a great renderer for realism, particularly well used in architectural renders.  At this point in time I cannot give tech support on VRay, however I can always give broad advice on what should be tweaked.  Use VRay at your own risk!!

Lighting Basics
Lighting has a steep learning curve.  It shouldn’t be difficult but Maya is hacked together with a bunch of stuff and legacy (pre HDRI days) that makes it tricky.  Sometimes the “nodes/shaders/attributes/switches” you need are found in the strangest of places.

Start here, nice and simple

CG101: Lighting

I’ve been watching a lot of MR tutorials, these are the picks so far.

Mental Ray

From here we jump into the deep end.  I suggest while learning lighting keep everything simple.  Switch your shaders to default lambert grey, so you can tell what your lights are doing.  Always test basics and change one attribute at a time to see what the changes are.  Constantly bank your images and compare your current renders to past images. Workflow is key and keep all your setting low (especially render size while testing)

Mental Ray basics

1. On default load Mental Ray (MR) needs to be loaded as a plugin, do this under

Windows>Settings/Preferences>Plugin Manager
Then find MayaToMRBundle and check it on for both “loaded” and “autoload”.  We want mental ray to be loaded at all times.

2. Always use raytracing for shadows. Mental Ray is all about the “Ray”.
3. Use area lights a lot, they give off a nice broad soft shadow look, you can speed up renders by using a directional for tests.
4. Learn how light bounces around off and around objects, this is called indirect light.  Default Lighting looks bad because it doesn’t have indirect light.  There’s 3 ways to achieve indirect lighting….  Ambient Occlusion,  Final Gather and Global Illumination.
Ambient Occlusion renders very fast, Final Gather slower and Global Illumination is heavy.  Global Illumination is not really necessary for most renders.
5. Keep in mind real world lights have a high curve falloff, (except for the sun which is so far away the falloff is undetectable).  Try to use real world settings as scale matters for lights when used correctly.  Lights often need to be bumped up to very large values when using proper light falloff.  Like 20,000 intensity.  Lighting over the last few years has moved towards following reality more closely.

Ambient occlusion

Here’s a good article about Ambient Occlusion and how it’s often used incorrectly.

AO in MR Digital Tutors
How to do AO in MR in Maya (11:23)
(Adding soft indirect shadows using Ambient Occlusion)

Reflective AO (5:11 not important)

Environment AO (3:45 not important)

Must watch! Using HDR Images for 3D Lighting in Maya with Jon Tojek
Using HDRI lights, for outdoor lighting and turntables.  This tutorial is a must watch for setting up linear workflow, which means grading your images with full 32 bit color range, a knowledge of nuke is preferable if you’re comping in 32 bit color.  This is an advanced tutorial but I want everyone to watch it, because it covers an area that’s quite important.  Anyways it’s all explained here…

Must Watch!! Mental Ray Workflows in Maya: Final Gather
It’s very important to understand what final gather is in mental ray, this series of videos explains.
[toggle title=”Contents of Mental Ray Workflows in Maya: Final Gather“]

7. Baking Final Gather to speed up renders (12 mins)

8. Optimise for animation, and getting rid of grain (11 min)

9. Bright dot problem, unnatural bright areas? Final Gather filter option to fix (5 min)

10. Controlling the distance of final gather bounce light with falloff (4 min)

11. Rendering Transparency/Refractivity with Final Gather (7 mins)

12. Secondary color bounce rays (8 mins)

13.  Enabling per object final gather (7mins)

14. Flickering problems per object?  Bump up values per object here  (7 mins)

15. Lighting a scene (assigning materials) (12 mins)

16. Lighting A scene with FG Good tute worth a watch, lights a scene from scratch

Dramatic Studio Lighting
This is great to watch especially as it explains real world lights and why scene size is so important with real world light settings.

Rendering with HDR Light Studio and Maya

This tutorial uses HDRI light studio but it’s still worth watching

For car turntables this one is great, though if you are moving the car less lights and bluring the lights seems to work well, otherwise you see the harsh reflections once the objects are moving.  This tute is made for a still image.  If you have a car you can download the files and get a good looking render quite quickly.

I will continue to updating this page.  Please note, it is also very important to learn about shaders when it comes to rendering.  A sthey go hand in hand.

Global Illumination.  I’ve not watched this video yet.

Presenting your models with nice lighting
Creative Development: Creating Light Rigs in Maya with Ed Whetstone (2hrs 40)

I’m yet to watch this but should be a good intro to lighting, looks like he goes pretty slow and covers the basics.





Crash Course in Vray

VRay stuff!

Beginners Course in Vray

VRay Shading Pipeline

VRay Series by Andrew Weidenhammer

Uni Settings Guide

Optimising VRay



Arnold Rendering with Jon Tojek


Linear Lighting Workflow

3dsMax overview but might be worth looking at


Using cards in lighting

A big time saver is using cards with pre rendered or matte painted textures. A great example of this is shown in this making of video at 1min 45 sec

Combining normal and bump maps in MR



Movies In Color

Here’s two highly recommended books on Lighting (non software specific)

Illuminated Pixels

The Art of Digital Lighting and Rendering



Here’s a nice breakdown of the student short exit which shows the 2d 3d style of textures and lighting that achieves a good cartoony look.

This is a style similar to the Older film “Meet Buck”



Linear Workflow script in Vray


Andrew Silke

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