3ds Max 2018 - MAXtoA Plugin - Part 2 - Arnold Lighting

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10 min

3ds Max 2018 - MAXtoA - Part 2 - Arnold Lighting

While the Arnold Renderer is compatible with many of 3ds Max’s features including Photometric Lights, this movie shows you the benefits of using Arnold Lights to illuminate a scene.


  • Recorded in: 3ds Max 2018
  • Files used: http://areadownloads.autodesk.com/wdm/3dsmax/HTM-LIT_maxtoa.zip
  • This tutorial is intended for use with 3ds Max version 2018 or higher.

Learning resources


00:00:06 --> 00:00:12
In the last movie, you learned how to use and set up the Arnold renderer with basic 3ds Max functionality.

00:00:13 --> 00:00:21
In the process, you learned that Arnold is compatible with 3ds Max's Physical Materials, Physical Cameras and Photometric Lights.

00:00:21 --> 00:00:27
If you have used Photometric Lights in the past and are comfortable with them, then you may continue to use them with Arnold.

00:00:28 --> 00:00:34
Still, you may also want to look at Arnold's own light type as you may find it more convenient to work with.

00:00:35 --> 00:00:43
Continue with the scene you worked on in the last movie. You can also use the scene named Dining-Set_lights.max if you need to catch up.

00:00:43 --> 00:00:50
This scene is currently lit by six photometric lights that were created and saved in a previous release of 3ds Max.

00:00:50 --> 00:00:55
Select these lights and delete them. You will light the scene using Arnold lights only.

00:00:56 --> 00:00:59
Arnold Lights are easy to use, and even easier to find.

00:00:59 --> 00:01:06
There's a category for Arnold Lights in the Create Lights panel, with only one entry to avoid confusion.

00:01:06 --> 00:01:12
Different light types for different scenarios can then be selected from a drop-down menu.

00:01:12 --> 00:01:18
The default is a Quad light but you also have options for other familiar types such as Point and Spot Lights.

00:01:18 --> 00:01:20
Let's stick with the Quad Light for now.

00:01:21 --> 00:01:24
In the top view, click the center of the scene to place a light.

00:01:25 --> 00:01:29
A Quad light is placed at floor level; you can move it up in a side view.

00:01:30 --> 00:01:35
The camera view shading gets overexposed, simply set the shading mode to Standard.

00:01:36 --> 00:01:40
Take a look at the new light in both the top view and in the Modify panel.

00:01:41 --> 00:01:47
By default, it is set to a 2x4 aspect ratio, much like a fluorescent box.

00:01:48 --> 00:01:51
A little lower, there are Intensity parameters you can adjust.

00:01:52 --> 00:01:56
Do a test render of the camera view first. You will find it's rather dark.

00:01:56 --> 00:02:02
You can boost the intensity of the light in a couple of ways, you can change the Intensity value itself,

00:02:03 --> 00:02:08
Or you can change the Exposure value, which essentially acts like an intensity multiplier.

00:02:09 --> 00:02:15
By increasing the Exposure by one notch, you in fact double the resulting intensity value.

00:02:16 --> 00:02:19
Set it to 14 and try another render.

00:02:23 --> 00:02:27
The scene should look better, although it's still far from perfect.

00:02:27 --> 00:02:36
It's missing some Gi effects and the shadow quality is below par. We'll investigate these issues momentarily.

00:02:36 --> 00:02:44
In doing so, we will be jumping back and forth between the Modify panel and the Render Settings dialog, so make sure you can see both.

00:02:44 --> 00:02:47
Make sure the Quad Light is still selected.

00:02:47 --> 00:02:56
Below the Intensity group in the Modify panel, you will notice a Rendering section, and in particular a Samples parameter value.

00:02:56 --> 00:03:03
The concept of Samples often comes back with Arnold and you see it in lights, materials, and global render settings.

00:03:04 --> 00:03:08
Typically, the higher the value and the more quality you end up with.

00:03:08 --> 00:03:16
As far as lights are concerned, more samples help reduce Noise artifacts in the shadow areas, as confirmed by the tooltip.

00:03:17 --> 00:03:21
Set the Samples value to 5 and try again.

00:03:28 --> 00:03:31
You should get a better result than earlier.

00:03:32 --> 00:03:36
It's a bit dark below the table as if not enough light is getting underneath.

00:03:37 --> 00:03:41
Take a look at the Render Settings dialog, in the Arnold Renderer tab.

00:03:41 --> 00:03:46
In the General section, there are many values you can adjust for better rendering results.

00:03:47 --> 00:03:53
You also have separate sampling controls for Diffuse, Reflections, Transparency values among others.

00:03:54 --> 00:03:59
You can also adjust Ray Depths values, which are essentially ray bounce factors.

00:03:59 --> 00:04:04
Increase the Ray Depth value to 4 and render again.

00:04:08 --> 00:04:11
The table and chairs legs should be easier to see.

00:04:12 --> 00:04:17
The shadows may also feel a bit soft. This is a direct result of the size of the light.

00:04:17 --> 00:04:23
In the Modify panel, bring the light size down to 1'x1' and try again.

00:04:27 --> 00:04:30
This should result in sharper shadows.

00:04:33 --> 00:04:38
Copy the light and set the copy to illuminate the scene from the left.

00:04:58 --> 00:05:03
You may consider bringing down the exposure value a notch to 13 and render again.

00:05:12 --> 00:05:17
Copy the light one more time to create a fill light from the right.

00:05:23 --> 00:05:28
Bring down the Exposure value another notch or two on that fill light.

00:05:41 --> 00:05:49
Take a look at your last render right underneath the table. You can zoom in on your rendered window using the mouse wheel.

00:05:49 --> 00:05:54
There's still a fair amount of noise down there, let's see what we can do to improve that.

00:05:54 --> 00:05:59
This can be improved by increasing the Diffuse Sampling of the rendering engine.

00:05:59 --> 00:06:06
As always, keep in mind that this usually comes at the price of making rendering calculations more time consuming.

00:06:06 --> 00:06:13
There are separate values to increase sampling quality for Diffuse, Reflections, Transparency, Sub-Surface-Scattering etc…

00:06:14 --> 00:06:22
You want to set values that work best with the project at hand, by increasing values that make a difference and decreasing those you don't need.

00:06:23 --> 00:06:32
If a scene does not use sub-surface-scattering for example, then there's no point increasing the quality at that level, you'd only be making rendering times longer.

00:06:33 --> 00:06:39
In this case, increasing the Diffuse Sampling value will help tune down the shadow noise.

00:06:39 --> 00:06:43
Note the number 36 that derives from the value currently set at 2.

00:06:44 --> 00:06:50
To avoid confusion and keep this tutorial from being too technical, I will not dwell on the math behind these values.

00:06:51 --> 00:06:57
Suffice to say that increasing the sampling improves the image quality, but adds to the render time.

00:06:57 --> 00:07:08
In this case, a default Diffuse sampling of 2 is resulting in a render that takes less than half a minute to compute on this machine, but yields significant noise in the shadows.

00:07:09 --> 00:07:12
A Diffuse sample value of 6, will show significant improvement in quality, but the rendering time has doubled.

00:07:29 --> 00:07:36
The Camera Anti-Aliasing (AA) Samples value is quite important as it acts as a multiplier for all other values.

00:07:37 --> 00:07:46
Notice what happens to the Diffuse resulting rays of 324 when you take up the Camera AA value one notch from 3 to 4.

00:07:46 --> 00:07:51
The resulting Diffuse rays have gone up from 324 to 576.

00:07:52 --> 00:07:58
Raising the Camera AA value to 6 increases the resulting Diffuse rays to 1296.

00:07:59 --> 00:08:04
All other sampling values are also multiplied when the Camera AA value is changed.

00:08:04 --> 00:08:10
Of course, this means that rendering time can increase exponentially,

00:08:11 --> 00:08:15
in this case, going over 3 minutes from under a minute a moment ago.

00:08:16 --> 00:08:24
So you can think of the Camera AA value as a global multiplier for image quality, whereas the other values are more specific.

00:08:25 --> 00:08:33
A good practice suggests to set the Diffuse, Specular, Transmission, SSS values to the proportions that a scene or project needs,

00:08:34 --> 00:08:43
then use the Camera AA global multiplier to switch from fast renders (small AA values) to final renders (high AA values).

00:08:44 --> 00:08:50
You can even set the Camera AA to a negative value for a very quick (but ugly) render.

00:08:54 --> 00:09:04
Finally, the Preview AA control is useful because as the name implies, it provides you with a quick feedback in the form of a progressive render.

00:09:04 --> 00:09:12
It is useful because you can easily see if you're on the right track or if you need to cancel the render and work further on the project.

00:09:18 --> 00:09:23
Once you are comfortable with what the scene should look like, you can always turn that option off.

00:09:24 --> 00:09:30
This will skip the progressive first-pass render and go straight to the full render as set by the other parameters.

00:09:31 --> 00:09:37
In the next movie, you take what you have learned so far and apply that knowledge to a more contextual scenario.

00:09:38 --> 00:09:41
You'll be using Arnold to render an interior scene.

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