Maya 2011 Essential Training
Illustration by Maria Reñdon

Lights and lighting types in Maya


Maya 2011 Essential Training

with George Maestri

Start your free trial now, and begin learning software, business and creative skills—anytime, anywhere—with video instruction from recognized industry experts.

Start Your Free Trial Now

Video: Lights and lighting types in Maya

When rendering, one of the first things you need to understand is lighting. Maya has a number of different lighting types, and some of it depends on the renderer you are using, but let's just go over the main types of lights that apply to both mental ray and the Maya Software Renderer. Now, I am going to actually be rendering this in mental ray, because I have an object, the scooter, which actually has a mental ray material on it. So we are going to be rendering in mental ray, but it applies just as easily to the Maya Software Renderer.
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 3m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 34s
    2. Using the exercise files
    3. A note on screen resolution
      1m 50s
  2. 1h 0m
    1. Overview of the Maya interface
      7m 42s
    2. Working with files and Maya projects
      2m 27s
    3. Navigating viewports
      5m 56s
    4. Reviewing the Viewport menus
      6m 28s
    5. Configuring safe frames and grids
      3m 21s
    6. Selecting objects
      4m 33s
    7. Using the Move tool
      3m 48s
    8. Rotating and scaling
      4m 31s
    9. Manipulating pivots
      3m 59s
    10. Understanding the Channel Box
      5m 36s
    11. Working with the Attribute Editor
      2m 28s
    12. Using the Hotbox
      2m 59s
    13. Working with marking menus
      3m 6s
    14. Customizing the interface
      3m 36s
  3. 59m 25s
    1. Creating polygonal objects
      6m 28s
    2. Working with polygonal components
      4m 42s
    3. Selecting polygonal components
      5m 44s
    4. Working with Soft Select
      7m 3s
    5. Using the Extrude tool
      6m 47s
    6. Keeping faces together
      2m 42s
    7. Extruding along curves
      3m 27s
    8. Using the Polygon Bevel tool
      4m 14s
    9. Smooth and subdivision surfaces
      7m 6s
    10. Blocking out a character body
      11m 12s
  4. 36m 6s
    1. Working with edge loops
      3m 27s
    2. Inserting and offsetting edge loops
      3m 38s
    3. Symmetrical modeling techniques
      5m 53s
    4. Combining objects
      3m 50s
    5. Using the Polygon Bridge tool
      2m 7s
    6. Connecting components and splitting polygons
      2m 48s
    7. Poking and wedging faces
      2m 49s
    8. Working with polygon booleans
      3m 17s
    9. Modeling with nonlinear deformers
      4m 54s
    10. Modeling with lattices
      3m 23s
  5. 1h 18m
    1. Introducing NURBS modeling
      5m 3s
    2. NURBS primitives
      5m 54s
    3. Using the NURBS curve tools
      5m 7s
    4. Creating Bézier curves
      1m 59s
    5. Creating text
      3m 51s
    6. Manipulating NURBS curves
      4m 13s
    7. Refining NURBS curves
      4m 16s
    8. Offsetting NURBS curves
      2m 31s
    9. Editing NURBS surfaces
      7m 3s
    10. Refining NURBS surfaces
      7m 22s
    11. Using NURBS Revolve
      7m 31s
    12. Using NURBS Loft
      4m 11s
    13. Using NURBS Extrude
      6m 0s
    14. Using NURBS Planar
      4m 47s
    15. Stitching NURBS surfaces
      8m 52s
  6. 35m 53s
    1. Extracting NURBS curves from surfaces
      5m 57s
    2. Creating curves on a surface
      3m 53s
    3. Projecting curves on surfaces
      7m 2s
    4. Trimming NURBS surfaces
      3m 42s
    5. Using the NURBS Fillet tool
      5m 31s
    6. Sculpting NURBS and polygonal surfaces
      5m 52s
    7. Converting NURBS to polygons
      3m 56s
  7. 33m 22s
    1. Working with the Outliner
      4m 58s
    2. Grouping objects
      4m 2s
    3. Creating hierarchies
      4m 17s
    4. Duplicating objects
      4m 51s
    5. Understanding the Hypergraph
      3m 32s
    6. Working with Hypergraph connections
      2m 31s
    7. Hiding and showing objects
      2m 12s
    8. Creating layers
      4m 2s
    9. Working with selection masks
      2m 57s
  8. 40m 18s
    1. Overview of renderers
      3m 24s
    2. Understand the basics of materials
      6m 15s
    3. Creating and applying maps
      5m 13s
    4. Using bitmaps as texture
      2m 59s
    5. Working with the Hypershade window
      5m 12s
    6. Working with mental ray materials
      6m 57s
    7. Using displacement and bump mapping
      3m 14s
    8. Using the Ramp Shader
      2m 36s
    9. Using the 3D Paint tool
      4m 28s
  9. 30m 14s
    1. Texture-mapping NURBS surfaces
      5m 46s
    2. Projecting textures onto surfaces
      4m 0s
    3. Texture-mapping polygonal surfaces
      7m 0s
    4. Applying UV mapping
      8m 11s
    5. Using the UVW Editor
      5m 17s
  10. 41m 16s
    1. Creating joints
      10m 2s
    2. Deforming a mesh using the Skin tool
      5m 2s
    3. Creating IK handles
      6m 48s
    4. Creating blend shapes
      5m 39s
    5. Rigging nonlinear deformers
      2m 36s
    6. Finalizing the character
      4m 45s
    7. Rigging the character to the scooter
      6m 24s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Working with the Timeline
      4m 16s
    2. Creating and adjusting keys (keyframes)
      5m 4s
    3. Editing keys
      3m 13s
    4. Modifying keys in the Graph Editor
      5m 47s
    5. Modifying keys in the Dope Sheet
      2m 51s
    6. Creating breakdown keys
      2m 28s
    7. Animating objects along paths
      5m 54s
    8. Animation playback using Playblast
      3m 10s
    9. Animating with constraints
      6m 16s
    10. Creating animation cycles
      8m 25s
    11. Using set-driven keys
      6m 13s
    12. Adding sound to animations
      2m 24s
    13. Finishing the animation
      9m 45s
  12. 1h 2m
    1. Lights and lighting types in Maya
      7m 29s
    2. Adding depth-map shadows
      4m 13s
    3. Using Raytrace shadows
      3m 28s
    4. Understanding the basics of cameras
      7m 14s
    5. Adding depth of field
      6m 31s
    6. Adding Bokeh using mental ray
      4m 33s
    7. Using motion blur in Maya Software Renderer
      4m 10s
    8. Using motion blur in mental ray
      3m 5s
    9. Raytracing reflections and refractions
      4m 41s
    10. Interactive rendering with IPR
      3m 33s
    11. Lighting a scene
      8m 29s
    12. Batch rendering
      4m 53s
  13. 25s
    1. Goodbye

please wait ...
Watch the Online Video Course Maya 2011 Essential Training
9h 8m Beginner Jun 01, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In Maya 2011 Essential Training, George Maestri demonstrates the tools and feature set in Maya, as well as the skills necessary to model, texture, animate, and render projects with this deep and robust piece of 3D animation software from Autodesk. This course takes an in-depth tour of Maya's interface, including navigating and manipulating objects in 3D and customizing the workspace. The course also covers object creation and modeling basics, shading and texturing, surface mapping techniques, character rigging, and lastly, rendering and final output. Exercise files accompany the course.

Topics include:
  • Getting familiar with the Maya interface
  • Organizing scenes
  • Creating hierarchies
  • NURBs modeling for solid objects
  • Adding color to models
  • Applying bitmap textures
  • Working with mental ray materials
  • Polygonal modeling for characters and organic objects
  • Deforming with the Skin tool
  • Setting up lights and cameras
  • Creating realistic effects such as depth of field
  • Working with the Timeline
  • Creating animation cycles
  • Batch rendering
  • Rendering with the mental ray engine
3D + Animation
George Maestri

Lights and lighting types in Maya

When rendering, one of the first things you need to understand is lighting. Maya has a number of different lighting types, and some of it depends on the renderer you are using, but let's just go over the main types of lights that apply to both mental ray and the Maya Software Renderer. Now, I am going to actually be rendering this in mental ray, because I have an object, the scooter, which actually has a mental ray material on it. So we are going to be rendering in mental ray, but it applies just as easily to the Maya Software Renderer.

We have a bunch of different types of lights. If we go under Create > Lights, you will notice there is a whole slew of them. Also, under the Rendering shelf, we have icons for each one of these. So we have Ambient Light, Directional, Point, Spot, Area, and Volume Light. Now, let's go to the most common ones first and then we will go to the ones that are a little bit more esoteric. Probably the most common ones are Spot Light and Point Light. Let's show you the difference between those. Point Light is basically the bare 100-watt light bulb in the room.

It's just a light that emits from all directions. And if we want to kind of see the effect of this, all we have to do is make sure our Render is on High Quality Rendering, and let's turn on Use All Lights, and so you can kind of see how this works. So you can see how this particular light illuminates here, here, and here. Now, if we want to do a quick render, we can certainly do that. Just hit the Render tab here and you can kind of see the quality of light that this provides.

It really is just a light that shines in all directions. So there is not a lot of control over it. The next most important light is the Spot Light. I am going to go ahead and delete that Point Light and just create a Spot Light. Now, if you notice, the Spot Light itself, well, it works kind of like a flashlight, kind of like a spotlight. You can see it has this cone here. I think if I turn off that grid, you can see it a little bit better. So you can kind of see how this works.

Now, if you want you can move it, you can rotate it, and you can position it really anywhere you want. Now, an easier way to manipulate Spot Lights is by using what's called the Manipulator, which is right here. When I turn on that Manipulator tool, what it does is it gives me a target. It gives me this, which allows me to point the light in any direction. So when I move this target and set it down, it says the light is going to be pointed there. And so now I can kind of adjust my light a little bit more easily.

And I can turn that off if I want by going back to the Move or the Rotate tool and I'll be able to adjust this accordingly. So if we want we can do a quick render of what this looks like. One of the things about Spot Light is that by default it has a hard edge. Now, there are a number of things you can adjust with Spot Lights if you just go into the Attribute Editor by hitting Ctrl+A. Now, this is the case pretty much with any light, but let me show you some of the parameters that you can change.

Now, the first thing you can change is, well, the type of light. It doesn't have to be a Spot Light. It can be Point Light or any other type of light. You can change the color of the light here, just really to any color you want. It's really whatever color fancies you. We can change the intensity. So we can turn the light up or down, in terms of intensity. And then we can also change what the light affects. So we can change whether the light affects diffuse or specular. So in other words, is it going to illuminate the whole thing and highlights? We can also add in things such as decay.

So if I want, I can have the light decay as it falls off. So right here I have got No Decay and so the light is constant no matter what. But if I turn on decay, I can turn it onto Linear, so it falls off evenly. Quadratic, which is real world. So that's inverse square law. So it falls off with the square of the distance. That's actually the way that real lights work. And Cubic, which is actually more intense. It falls off with the cube of the distance.

So if I selected Quadratic, you would see that, oh my goodness, the light doesn't work. Well, that's because my Intensity is not nearly enough for this light at Linear falloff. So what I can do is I can type in a much larger number, say like 100 or maybe even 1000, and you can start to see how this light works. So now you can kind of see how the Intensity works and you need a lot more Intensity when you have Quadratic falloff. But the upside of that is that you get much more realistic rendering.

So you have a light that falls off with distance, so one light doesn't illuminate the whole scene. You get a much more realistic lighting effect. Now, the next thing is what's called the Penumbra Angle, which is basically that soft edge on the light. So if I want to, I can make that edge very, very soft. Now, in addition to this, we have Light Effects and things like Shadows, which we will get into, so you can add fog to a light. You can add shadows, that sort of stuff. And there are mental ray parameters for the lights and that gets into things like Global Illumination and Caustics and that sort of stuff like that, which is more advanced rendering techniques.

So once I have this, you can say I have got a Penumbra. I have got some falloff, and you can get a much more realistic lighting effect. Now, there are other types of lights, and let's just go ahead and play with some of these. So, for example, in addition to Point Light, we have one that's called Directional Light. Now, Directional Light does not have falloff. Basically what it is, it's like the sun. It just comes from one direction, and it comes consistently. So it's not like the Spot Light. It's directional, but there is no falloff.

So for this, I have to bring this back down to say about 1 or so in order to make this work, and then when I render this, you can see it gets the same lighting as the Spot Light but without the cone. So it's almost like just a light that comes from a very specific direction. The next one is called Area Light. Now, what that is is that's a light that emits from an area. So it's more like an overhead, like a soft box or something like that. And the last one is called Ambient Light. And what that is is that's just the Ambient Light in the room.

So if, for example, you don't want your shadows to be completely black or you want a little bit of glow in the room, just put a Ambient Light in the room with a very, very low Intensity, so somewhere around 0.1 or 0.2, and that will just give a nice kind of base level. So it never gets darker than a certain level. So an Ambient Light, in conjunction with other lighting, just kind of brightens the room. It kind of makes it look like there is light scattering throughout the room. So those are some of the basics of lights in Maya.

Now, remember, with every light, you can control color and intensity, and also with other types of lLights, such as Spot Lights and Point Lights, you can control how the light falls off with distance, and then with Spot Lights you also get control of the cone of the light, as well as the Penumbra Angle.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Maya 2011 Essential Training .

Expand all | Collapse all
please wait ...
Q: The Chapter 2 exercise file dog_reference.mb appears blank when opened in Maya. I can't see the dog image. What do I do?
A: Make sure you are working with the most current version of the exercise files for this course from the site. Try downloading the files again. If the image still doesn't appear, make sure the project folder is set to the matching (Chap02) folder in the exercise files.
Also check to make sure you have "hardware texturing" enabled under the viewport's Shading menu.
Share a link to this course

What are exercise files?

Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course. Save time by downloading the author's files instead of setting up your own files, and learn by following along with the instructor.

Can I take this course without the exercise files?

Yes! If you decide you would like the exercise files later, you can upgrade to a premium account any time.

Become a member Download sample files See plans and pricing

Please wait... please wait ...
Upgrade to get access to exercise files.

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Learn by watching, listening, and doing, Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along Premium memberships include access to all exercise files in the library.

Exercise files

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

For additional information on downloading and using exercise files, watch our instructional video or read the instructions in the FAQ .

This course includes free exercise files, so you can practice while you watch the course. To access all the exercise files in our library, become a Premium Member.

Join now Already a member? Log in

* Estimated file size

Are you sure you want to mark all the videos in this course as unwatched?

This will not affect your course history, your reports, or your certificates of completion for this course.

Mark all as unwatched Cancel


You have completed Maya 2011 Essential Training.

Return to your organization's learning portal to continue training, or close this page.

Become a member to add this course to a playlist

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses—and create as many playlists as you like.

Get started

Already a member ?

Exercise files

Learn by watching, listening, and doing! Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along. Exercise files are available with all Premium memberships. Learn more

Get started

Already a Premium member?

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Ask a question

Thanks for contacting us.
You’ll hear from our Customer Service team within 24 hours.

Please enter the text shown below:

The classic layout automatically defaults to the latest Flash Player.

To choose a different player, hold the cursor over your name at the top right of any page and choose Site preferences from the dropdown menu.

Continue to classic layout Stay on new layout
Exercise files

Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.

Mark videos as unwatched

Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.

Control your viewing experience

Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.

Interactive transcripts

Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.

Learn more, save more. Upgrade today!

Get our Annual Premium Membership at our best savings yet.

Upgrade to our Annual Premium Membership today and get even more value from your subscription:

“In a way, I feel like you are rooting for me. Like you are really invested in my experience, and want me to get as much out of these courses as possible this is the best place to start on your journey to learning new material.”— Nadine H.

Thanks for signing up.

We’ll send you a confirmation email shortly.

Sign up and receive emails about and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

Keep up with news, tips, and latest courses with emails from

Sign up and receive emails about and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

submit Lightbox submit clicked
Terms and conditions of use

We've updated our terms and conditions (now called terms of service).Go
Review and accept our updated terms of service.