#59: SHADOWS & LIGHT (Vue)
#58: ADVANCED DIRT MAPPING (Vue)
#57: SSS IN VUE 9, AND THE "SPECKLE" PROBLEM
#56: THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL OF ART
#55: FIXING POSER CLOTHING
#54: MAKING "FOREST WAR - GOBLIN SHAMAN"
#53: MAKING A STUDIO RENDER FOR VUE
(and other apps)
#49: NEBULA MKIII (Vue)
#48: RENDER SETTINGS FOR VUE (Vue)
#47: POSTWORK - MAKING A RENDER INTENSE (Any)
#46: MAKING RIVERS THAT FOLLOW TERRAIN HEIGHTS (Vue or Bryce)

LIGHTING FOR VUE (AND BRYCE)
Area Lighting tips Updated 27-02-009

  Lighting is crucial to an image, the entire world we see IS light. Changes in how a scene is lit can have massive impact on the mood....nor does it have to be lit with white or ordinary light, as this is the realm of digital wizardy ;).
  While this tutorial is written for Vue, note it also applies to Bryce and other apps, though of course, how each program handles certain functions is different.
  1) LIGHT RARELY CASTS HARD SHADOWS
Note that in real life, shadows are rarely ever harsh and solid. Instead, they are soft, and not absolutely dark. This is because real light bounces and scatters all over the place (as mimicked by "radiosity" renders). Light from the Sun is scattered through the atmopshere, so you have an enormous secondary source of light, along with the main one: the Sun. The Sun is also NOT a tiny non-existant point: it's a large disc, so even light coming straight from it overlaps an area.

  In Vue, to approximate more realistic lighting, select your Sun (or light) object, and alter it to 1 degree softness, which means the shadow edges will be soft and blurred. 1 degrees is fine for strong direct sunlight IMHO, or, if it's cloduy etc, try 2 or 3 degrees, more if it's a cloudy sunset etc. But if you want even softer shadows, like firelight, or some twilights, try 5 to 10 degrees.

  Next, edit the light's properties. Adjust it's shadows down to about 85%, so it doesn't cast solid dark shadows. Note the default is 100% (which sucks! lol)

  Now, compare an image with those settings...it's quite a lot better! However, as you can see, there is noise in the shadow, a problem with Vue (before version7), alas, sometimes you need to either render at very high or custom settings, or gaussian blur the noise out afterwards in a 2d app. The renders below show how much altering the render options can improve it, BUT it does slow render times! You don't always need to use custom, as I find "Superior" render setting works fine, most of the time.
LIGHT (no softness) AND SHADOWS (100%, default)
LIGHT (5 degree softness) AND SHADOWS (85%)
RENDER OPTIONS CHANGED (note no speckling of shadows and better looks)

MY HIGH QUALITY RENDER OPTIONS (loooong render times)


2) LIGHTS ARE ALTERABLE!
  Lights in Vue and other 3d programs are *not real*, they can do many things you can't do in real life (as well as some things they can). This is important to remember, because you can use a light to "paint" on a scene.

  Lights can be set to affect only a specific target, for example, you could add some light to bring out an object otherwise hidden in shadow, to make it stand out. Or, to colour it slightly to make it appear more lively (warmer, red, yellow or brown tones), or more ghoulish (greenish, blues etc). Note that where you place a light can also affect mood and tone, dramatically lighting from high or low can make a person's face sinister.

  You can also add "gels" to a light, to break them up, or do many effects. Light coming through a window may also hit blinds, and thus be broken up into bands...light cast by a fire is not solid and is varied over the objects it touches. Gels can also add colour.
WARM and GHOULISH LIGHTING
(warm light only affects left hand figure and background, ghoulish green light only affects right hand figure and background)
HIGH AND LOW SHADOWING FOR EFFECT
(lens flares show where lights are)
LIGHT GELS
Left = white light with dark bands
Right = Blue and white splotchy ("Freeeeedom!", lol)

3) YOU CAN USE GREY FOR "POWER" OF A LIGHT'S STRENGTH
  Interesting point of note in Vue: you can use grey shades of light colour, to affect the light's actual strength. For example, say you want a light that will illuminate a large area, but, if you make it powerful in the numeric field value, it will completely overwhelm what's near. Instead, set the light colour to a shade of grey! You can cover a large area, with less brilliance ;)
USING GREY LIGHTS
Two lights, both same strength, one on left has been set to grey, instead of white, so it illuminates a large area well, but more subdued.

4) LENS FLARES & GLOW
  When lights hit a lens, they tend to cause sparkling effects, we call them "Lens Flares". Lens flares can do more than just look cool in space or Sunset scenes ;)
They can be used to create stars, explosions and enhance fire and rocket engines.

  To make this pic below "Gunwing Nuclear Strike", I put a light in each of the plasma bolts, with the same lens flare copied and pasted to each, then rotated slightly in it's properties, so they don't all look too much the same. Now, if all those lights had been lighting up the scene, argh!!, would slow render down to a crawl, so edit the properties of such lights so they do not affect anything in the scene! ;)
A larger custom lens flare was applied to the nuclear explosion.

"Glow" in Vue is set by the objects material colour, and you can use it to do some nice effects, but it requires light to make it show up. The laser blasts below use a special material, which I applied both Glow and Luminosity, note that adding Luminosity to an object will light it up and thus make a Glow material work! I like glow for making "magical items" look eerie.

  Luminosity and Glow can be set to amounts larger than 100%, if you need a lot of light (enough to light a scene even), or have explosions etc. To get the laser's looking more "realistic", like most things you have to add variations to the material, as real life things do not look all perfectly the same, thus it's a mix of transparency and colours driven by a fractal function.
A LENS FLARE & GLOW APPLIED IN THIS PICTURE

5) AREA LIGHTS (OBJECTS AS LIGHTS)

  A nice ability in Vue (for some versions), is to convert an object ot an actual light source. Note this usually washes out textures of the object because of the bright light, but there is a way around this!

  If you duplicate the item you want to be an area light, for example, a sword blade for a magic sword, you can then set the duplicate to be "Hidden from render", thus it will light the scene up as the sword would, but NOT appear on the render, thus not washing out the textures etc ;)
Note though, that at times you may have to increase or decrease the size of this duplicated object to show up correctly, I've found out.

  When an object is converted to an area light, it's material is applied as a light gel, this may or may not be a good thing for you. If it's bad, just apply the basic Flat White default Vue material to it as a gel instead.

  Area lights are nice because they throw a soft, dispersed light, with shadows showing the light is more than a simple point. However, often you will find that to get a large area light to render without grainy noise showing up, you may need to render on high settings (see below on tips on this ).

  One of the tricks I've found with this technique, is to make a "magical" liquid glow (such as a magic potion). I duplicate the liquid object, in the bottle, convert that to an area light...gives a nice look ;)

Note that often, a lens flare is applied as default when you convert an item into an area light, this may not be what you want! Check for that.
Also, since they are, by their very nature, a "soft" light, area lights' shadows tend to be very noisy, requiring more rendering time to get rid of the "grain", or post work to blur it.

  Vue 6 Infinite also has "Light Panels" in the choices of lights you can pick. "Light Panels" are flat planes that act as lights, basically an alpha plane converted to an area light. Very nice for some scenes, but again...tend to be noisy, so, long render times ;)

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: (29-09-2012)

As of Vue 7, only way to do this trick of "duplicating an object and converting to area light", to get it working, is to make a new layer, set the layer to "hidden", put the area light object into that layer, then in Render settings set options to "Render only visible layers"

AREA LIGHTING DEMONSTRATION
Man on the left, I duplicated his sword blade. The original blade I added glow and luminosity to. The duplicate I converted to an area light, and turned on "Hide from render" so it wouldn't show. I don't know where the odd orange glow came from, maybe a bug, lol!
Also made magic potion glow by the same trick ;)
Below, you can see how an area light can provide realistic, or unusual, beautiuful lighting.
Comparing the difference between an area and a quadratic point light. You can see the area light produces a widespread, soft light, not a locally intense light compared to the quadratic point light.

AREA LIGHT TIP!


In Vue 7 I discovered the area lights were too grainy, while using better render quality helps, it doesn't solve the problem very well. There is however an easy way to fix it, it does increase render times, but not as badly as using very high custom render settings.

Edit the area ligh object, now, edit the "SOFTNESS QUALITY", put the quality slider to 100%, and push the traced shadows sliders from150 to 400, or more ( try adjusting in steps of 50, test rendering the scene with just flat white material applied to everything for quick render times, I find 400 is good quality).
The default is only 4/16 rays which is far too few, pushing it way up gives wonderful soft shadows with no grain!
I find minimum rays8, maximum 400 is good. For best results, 100% quality is needed!

INITIAL TEST WITH AREA LIGHT OBJECT (CYLINDER) WITH DEFAULT SETTINGS OF MIN. 4 AND MAXIMUM 16 RAYS
area light test
TEST WITH THE AREA LIGHT EDITED, CUSTOM SOFTNESS BOOSTED WAY UP
area light test 2 high custom softness
TEST RENDERS GOING UP IN STEPS OF +50 TRACED SHADOW RAYS
Note, at 400/400 rays, it takes about 14 times longer to render than the default of 4/16 rays(approx 14 minutes versus 1 minute)
At 4/400 rays, just increasing the Max # of rays form the defualt, it took the same time as 400/400 rays, fyi.

6) YOU CAN USE MORE THAN ONE LIGHT!

  Another overlooked point, is that you can use many lights in a scene, not just one...real life scenes, and ones from your imagination, often have numerous light sources. Problem is though, that slows render times down...can't have everything, lol!

  Sometimes one light is what you need, it's what's "real", but other times, many softer lights are good, or area lights, like a couple of Alpha Planes turned into area lights.

  Note that the techniques I've explained previously also slow render times down! Alas, that's the price to pay for a better picture. ;)

  Several soft lights or often better than one harsh one, unless that's the look you need. Sometimes a harsh light pointing at the camera, outlining your object, with a softer "fill" light hitting it from the front to let you see some detail, is nice.

MANY LIGHTS vs ONE LIGHT
Character on the left has one light, fellow on the right has 3 lights spread around him,
giving a more pleasing look (and the orange light bug is still there, lol)

7) HDR AND "SELF HDR"
  HDR lighting is a technique that uses a special photograph to light your scene, and also give it a background if you want.

  Normal photographs cannot capture the amount of light in a scene, they can only capture the colour, which isn't the same thing. The Sun may look "whitish yellow", but it's brightness cannot be put into a standard photograph as it's so enormous...that's where High Dynamic Range images come in. HDR images are 32 bit, where as most colour pictures are 8 or 16 bit, which don't have enough data to allow for the huge difference in light energy between a white shirt, and a white Sun!
For example, an 8 bit image can only show 256 varying colours of grey, from black to white, but the actual brightness of the Sun would be a white of say, 36,000! 32 Bit images can hold colours with huge ranges of colour and light energy (brightness).

  To use an HDR render, you need to go into the Atmosphere room, go to Image Based Lighting, and in there, load up an HDR image. Note you can load up ANY image there, but they won't light the scene well, or look good if they aren't HDR panoramas. Tip: you can load a panorama, and ramp the Expsoure way up, and that can give a render, if not as good as a true HDR.

  Using an HDR image, you can light a scene up very realistically, because the entire HDR is a light of varying strength and colour! Basically your lighting the scene with a real world scene. Thus, HDR renders can be extremely realistic. But, alas, they often leave a background you don't want..also, you cna'd have an HDR and a Spectral atmosphere at the same time :/ (as of Vue7, anyway)

  A trick you can do with HDR light is to render the scene with the HDR, and then using masks cut out the HDR background, and re-render with a preffered background, then composite afterwards in a 2D application like Photoshop, so you cut the unwanted background out.

  A a technique I invented (Woot! My one claim to fame! :p) is: "Self HDR". WIth Vue, you can make an HDR image of a sky or an entire scene inside Vue itself, if you wish...so, you can export an HDR of your scene, re-import it, and use it to light the scene! This actually works very well, but several warnings:

  1) Do NOT have any lens flares on when you render the HDR, for some reaosn, Vue 6 distorts lens flares when exporting to HDR or to panoramas. So turn lens flares off for lights. You can re-make them, if needed, in the scene, by placing lights at the correct angles, and then turning the light's influence on all objects OFF, so it doesn't muck up the actual lighting (unless you want it to)

  2) For Vue, export to UV Sphere, and make the image REALLY big, 3000 pixels at least, otherwise, it will look blurry.

  3) Not all versions of Vue can do this.

  Another trick you can do with HDR, is to make a "studio render" that is a beautiful render of one item, against a plain background. For example, a sword on a default ground, to show the item off.
  What to do is start up an HDR atmosphere scene, then go into the atmosphere room, image based lighting tab, and delete the HDR image! Then put exposure WAY up, to max if wish. What this does is give a pure white or grey surround, that will throw light onto the scene, giving a nice render of your item ;)
(Thanks to folk on Renderosity and Cornucopia3D for that trick!)
THIS IMAGE USES "SELF HDR"
STUDIO RENDER WITH A BLANK HDR
(woot! the orange light bug has gone away! lol)

8) FILL LIGHTS

  More lights, and more fancy rendering styles, can slow renders down...as well all know, that sucks! ;)
One nice way to light things, is to use a "fill" light, as mentioned above, a fill light, is a soft light used to add some light to an area, to "fill it in" but not to over illuminate it.

Such things come from typical studio photography and painting: there will usually be:

  • One "Main" light, providing the major light for the image.
  • A "back light", hitting what's behind the main object, to give definition as the item will then show up well against the background, For example, a dark cat against a dark wall may look bad, but if a soft light makes the wall lighter, the cat stands out.
  • A "rim light", this is one used highlight the edges of the subject, you can combine a backlight and rim light as a light source behind the subject can do both jobs.
  • A "Fill light" is fill in shadowy areas and not make it look too harsh, the fill light is often softly coloured (grey or brown for example) or subdued by putting a cover in front of it to diffuse the light out and make it soft.
FILL LIGHTS
A Light Panel lights the scene from above. A fill light on the character on the left helps "fill" him out.
And the damned orange bug is back again! Curses, foiled again! ;)

9) SCENE USING THESE TECHNIQUES

  To show you what they can all achieve, this scene is used as demonstration:

  • 1) Vertically over head quadratic spot lights, grey, 6 of them, one pointing down on each throne. Each has very high fall off and 5 degree soft. They give menacing lights to the villains, especially the one eating the barely visible woman's brains!
  • 2) Grey, 5 degree soft quadratic light, to fill the area where light should come in from window,and to add interest.
  • 3) Quadratic light, very low powered, grey, set to only affect hero and distressed women, so they can actually be seen and accent them dramatically
  • 4) Another light like #3, used to improve the woman and only affect her.
  • 5) A similar light to 3, added to let the watching mind flayer be seen, the spot lights didn't show him enough: only affects him.
  • 6) To light up the magic potion on the table, a duplicate of the liquid object inside is made, turned into an area light, hidden from the render.
  • 7) Well, you can't see #7! ;) the little glowing blue spheres are luminous and add a tiny amount of light near them.
  • 8) The liquid in the hero's magic potion was duplicated and made to be an area light just like #6.
  • 9) A quadratic light, grey set to illuminate the captain and his area.
  • 10) A quadratic spot light, high fall off, set to only affect the captain, is position so it highlights the skull on his staff, or it wouldn't be seen very well.

TECHNIQUES COMBINED IN "LUNCH ON THE BRIDGE"


I hope you find this of use! :)

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All original art, writing on this site, copyright of Steven James, "Silverblade the Enchanter" ©2012