MODO 501 Essential Training
Illustration by Petra Stefankova

Lighting a 3D scene


MODO 501 Essential Training

with Dan Ablan

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Video: Lighting a 3D scene

Setting up lights in modo is not as complex as you might think. A lot of times people don't even set up any lights; they just leave that one default directional light on and just call it a day. But what I want to show you in this video is how easy it is to set up a lighting scene for any kind of product shot that you might be doing. So the way I'm going to do this is use one of the assets on Luxology's site. So if you go online and go to, you can log in with your account, and you'll find all of these tremendous assets that you can use.
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  1. 2m 21s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 26s
  2. 42m 37s
    1. Understanding the interface
      4m 30s
    2. Understanding the workplane
      5m 7s
    3. Understanding Action Centers
      4m 12s
    4. Working with the modeling tools
      5m 10s
    5. Understanding surfaces
      7m 12s
    6. Selecting elements
      7m 33s
    7. Understanding the elements of a 3D model
      4m 3s
    8. Understanding symmetry
      4m 50s
  3. 1h 2m
    1. Building a model
      8m 56s
    2. Editing geometry
      10m 39s
    3. Controlling geometry
      10m 31s
    4. Bending geometry
      6m 42s
    5. Adding detail with edges
      5m 37s
    6. Editing polygons
      10m 27s
    7. Extending polygons
      9m 34s
  4. 42m 53s
    1. Understanding subdivisions
      3m 49s
    2. Understanding Pixar-based subdivisions
      2m 48s
    3. Creating a basic model
      7m 51s
    4. Beveling with subdivisions
      6m 6s
    5. Adding detail to models
      8m 54s
    6. Deforming and shaping objects
      7m 48s
    7. Cloning
      5m 37s
  5. 49m 32s
    1. Creating with Radial Sweep
      4m 44s
    2. Working with text
      8m 40s
    3. Understanding replicators
      7m 22s
    4. Instancing objects
      7m 0s
    5. Working with Curve Clone
      4m 36s
    6. Working with Curve Extrude
      2m 25s
    7. Modeling with Array
      8m 50s
    8. Understanding Mesh Paint
      5m 55s
  6. 1h 4m
    1. Introducing the Shader Tree
      4m 32s
    2. Exploring layer-based shading
      4m 29s
    3. Creating surfaces for polygons
      7m 41s
    4. Editing surfaces
      7m 4s
    5. Applying procedural textures
      7m 38s
    6. Applying image-mapped textures
      6m 2s
    7. Working with transparent images
      5m 48s
    8. Adding bump maps for realism
      8m 49s
    9. Enhancing surfaces with specularity and glossiness maps
      3m 25s
    10. Creating a reflective surface
      3m 27s
    11. Working in glass
      5m 28s
  7. 39m 9s
    1. Building 3D scenes
      2m 49s
    2. Working with different light types
      8m 26s
    3. Lighting a 3D scene
      12m 51s
    4. Reflecting light
      5m 23s
    5. Lighting environments for realism
      4m 18s
    6. Blending light sources
      5m 22s
  8. 21m 1s
    1. Understanding the MODO 501 camera
      5m 39s
    2. Setting up a camera
      5m 42s
    3. Placing multiple cameras
      7m 11s
    4. Animating cameras
      2m 29s
  9. 29m 58s
    1. Understanding the timeline
      7m 16s
    2. Adding and controlling keyframes
      3m 22s
    3. Fine-tuning keyframes in the Graph Editor
      6m 17s
    4. Animating nontraditional elements
      4m 31s
    5. Animating colors
      4m 39s
    6. Animating displacement maps
      3m 53s
  10. 13m 57s
    1. Working with Hair Guides
      3m 18s
    2. Creating human hair
      4m 7s
    3. Creating the hair's surface
      1m 30s
    4. Generating animal hair
      1m 48s
    5. Building enhanced hair textures
      3m 14s
  11. 26m 21s
    1. Working with the painting tools
      6m 14s
    2. Painting on multiple layers
      9m 37s
    3. Sculpting models
      5m 45s
    4. Tweaking and finishing with the sculpting tools
      4m 45s
  12. 25m 56s
    1. Working with the Schematic interface
      1m 20s
    2. Understanding channels
      4m 9s
    3. Building a channel-based animation
      5m 51s
    4. Creating a schematic network
      6m 26s
    5. Setting up inverse kinematics
      4m 29s
    6. Adding the finishing touches on schematic rigs
      3m 41s
  13. 26m 47s
    1. Understanding resolutions and rendering
      12m 43s
    2. Setting up a render project
      4m 51s
    3. Rendering to movie files vs. image sequences
      9m 13s
  14. 3m 23s
    1. Exporting an object
      1m 2s
    2. Exporting a full scene for backup
      2m 21s
  15. 2m 2s
    1. Next steps
      2m 2s

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Watch the Online Video Course MODO 501 Essential Training
7h 32m Beginner Sep 16, 2011

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In this course, author Dan Ablan walks through the process of understanding the MODO workflow while learning to create 3D models and animations. The course teaches fundamental tasks, such as modeling polygons and applying materials with the Shader Tree, while exploring scene building in depth through advanced lighting, camera, and animation techniques. The course also covers MODO's schematic tools and shows how to render animations for various playback media.

Topics include:
  • Understanding surfaces and symmetry
  • Editing polygons
  • Shaping, deforming, and cloning objects
  • Working with text
  • Instancing objects
  • Applying procedural and image-mapped textures
  • Adding bump maps
  • Creating reflections
  • Working with different light types
  • Blending light sources
  • Setting up and animating cameras
  • Adding and controlling keyframes
  • Creating hair textures
  • Working with the painting and sculpting tools
  • Setting up inverse kinematics
  • Exporting a full scene
3D + Animation
Dan Ablan

Lighting a 3D scene

Setting up lights in modo is not as complex as you might think. A lot of times people don't even set up any lights; they just leave that one default directional light on and just call it a day. But what I want to show you in this video is how easy it is to set up a lighting scene for any kind of product shot that you might be doing. So the way I'm going to do this is use one of the assets on Luxology's site. So if you go online and go to, you can log in with your account, and you'll find all of these tremendous assets that you can use.

You can also create your own and upload and share with other users. From the Meshes, I've actually gone in and just taken a look at a few of these, and some of the models I like, if we go to Most Downloaded, are these books from Brent Chamberlain. He does some amazing stuff. So you can go up and get that yourself and try it out, or any of these other great models that are up there for you to try out. Once downloaded, you install it into your Library/Content, and then Assets, and what you'll find when you go to your Layout tab is that wherever you put it, you'll find that little icon right there, because the .LXL file holds this data.

So here is how we're going to use this. First, from the exercise files, I'm going to select Open and choose the Sweep scene. And what this is is just a flat plane that has been shifted out with the edges and brought up, and this will be our backdrop for our scene, just to cast some shadows and create an environment. From there, I'm going to take the books and drop them in. You can use anything you want; you can use some of these existing bottles that come with modo, whatever you like. When you look up here into the Items list, those books actually went into the Sweep, and when this happens, that means they're grouped together.

It doesn't really matter for this; I can still move them around. But if that happens, you can just click and drag that out. If you group them together, they will move together as group-- parent-child relationship. Now, I want to set up my camera. One of the most important things when setting up any kind of scene is making sure your camera has a good view of it. Now, typically what I find people do is they zoom all the way in and they go like this and leave it like that, or they have an angle, and that's fine in most cases. But let's take a look at this from a Perspective view. And let's press O on our keyboard, and hit Show Cameras and Show Lights so we could see those.

Look how close the camera is to the scene. If you were really shooting this, you really wouldn't be that close with the camera. It tends to give it a fake look. So here is what I like to do. I like to make sure the camera is selected, and I want to make sure that if that item is selected like that, I press the Y command and I'm going to just move that out like this, way out here. You might want to customize this look a little bit. Let's jump to the Model tab, and again we'll press O and turn the cameras on.

The reason I do it twice is because this is a different layout than the Layout tab was; it's a different setup. So I need to tell modo that this has different properties, such as turning the camera on. So there's my camera looking at the scene. When I press the Y command, I get this little plus right here. That is our focus. You can do an auto-focus with the camera. So as long as the camera is selected in the Items list here, and then you scroll down to the Properties-- we'll close up the Transform--and then if you go down to Camera Effects, you can put on Depth of Field.

That's really important because you need that focus in order for this to work properly. So from the Camera view, you can do a number of different things: your Target Distance, your Focal Length, Angle of View, and so on. I'm going to make sure that this is all the way here and that way our focus is set. What we're also going to do is come back up to this top-left corner here, and I'm going to hold the Ctrl key and swipe down, and what that's going to do is duplicate my view.

In this way, I can make this Top view a Camera view, and so now I see exactly what my camera sees. In the bottom, I can actually control it like, this. And don't forget that if I grab the Zoom up here, I'm actually going to be changing my view right here like that. It's not really what I want to do. What I want to do is actually move the camera up, and then I want to zoom it in some more. So from the Camera Properties, the Focal Length is set to 50 mm. I'm going to zoom that in like this.

This icon up here will actually move my camera in, like I'm walking in with it; instead, I want to actually push the button on the Camera and zoom in. What happens if you look down here in the Perspective view is you get this very long type of lens, almost like a zoom lens. So we're like at a 200-mm lens. What that's going to do is two things: It's going to give us some nice Depth of Field in the back and help blur the back and although there is not much back there, it will still help create some depth. It will also flatten out this object. I'm going to actually move this over, and then I'm just going to rotate it a bit, and we'll just rotate it down.

Then I'll hit the spacebar to come out of that tool. So there is our setup of our books. Now we need to light it. Typically, in most studios, you're going to do more of a side lighting; you could do a three-point lighting setup. All you want to do is work with one light at a time, and in this case, I'm going to take our default Directional Light which is right here, and we're going to make sure that this is set the way we want. We're going to use this light in our scene. So I'm going to press the Y command, and I'm going to move it down. And don't forget that the position doesn't matter on this, but I still like to move it, because if I choose to change that light later on, to something like an area light or a spot light, it will be in the position I need.

So it's kind of important. I can't see the shadows, and to me, shadows are really important, so I'm going to turn on the RayGL up in the Camera view, and that gives me kind of a quick render view so I can see what my shadows look like. The other thing I want to do is talk about the ambient light in the scene. So let's jump over to the Shader Tree, click Render, and then we'll go down to Settings, and then Global Illumination. Here is the Ambient Intensity. Normally, this is set to 0.05. Make this 0, and then we're going to put on Indirect Illumination, and what that's going to do is use the environment as a fill light rather than just this Ambient Intensity.

What that means is if I turn off Directional Light, this product is now being lit from the environment. What does the environment look like? Well, let's select that, also in the Shader Tree. Open up the Material. The Environment has a default of this light-gray-to-dark-gray background. It might be a little too bright. We want to control this a little bit better. So I'm going to turn it to Constant. If I hold the Shift key and I bring this down, you can see how that changes. So now the environment really isn't doing anything.

If I turn off the Directional Light, there is no light hitting the objects at all. So that's good. Now we have complete control over the scene. One thing I can do with this lighting is add a gradient. So if we go down to Processing, I can choose Gradient. What I can do is edit this gradient and change the color parameters. This will then add this material to my environment. So I press the A key to fit all of these keys in view, and what this will do is add this gradient to the actual environment of my scene.

What that's doing then is helping put this ambient light in, just like that. See this color? That's coming from that gradient that we just set. If I select this--and I'm going to go to blue-- you can see it adds a little blue to the scene, or a little green, and so on. It's just a way to add color in the environment a little bit differently than simply adding color to the actual backdrop. Just a little trick you can use. In this case, we'll go back the environment, and I'm just going to make it very soft blue, kind of like this. And the last thing is we'll take this Directional Light and we're going to change the Spread Angle to about 20 degrees.

That helps soften that shadow. The other thing that's important with lights is the color. Now, often when I'm photographing, I'll shoot as a white balance with a Kelvin temperature, and you can set that right here if you like. 5,200 is usually pretty good, something like that, and that warms it up a bit. So if you're familiar with video and photography, use those principles; if not, just set a color. Remember, this is a visual element, so you can just do something that looks good. Don't worry about the numbers so much.

Press F9 real quick and do a render and see how this looks. So it starts to look a little bit more realistic, because we've got a very nice backdrop that's evenly lit, we have the environment lighting, the Global Illumination, and we've got the nice soft shadow coming from the Directional Light. Let's add a little more light to separate this from the background. I'm going to come up to the Items tab, I'm going to select Add Item, and I'm going to choose an Area Light. And this Area Light really can add a nice effect in the back there.

Let's take a close look at what this looks like. As I move this around and hold the Alt and the Option key, you can see that little orange arrow coming out. That's which way the light is facing. We're going to rotate this around and we're going to rotate it down, and this in many sense, will be more of a hair light that's going to hit the back of these. The reason I like the Area Light is just that it's very soft, and you can see how it highlights the tops of these books. It's kind of hitting the ground a little bit too much, so I can do two things.

If I bring the Radiance down for this light, that brings the intensity of it down, and that could work because I still get enough light on the top of the book. I might want to work with this Falloff a little bit, and we can also dissolve it a little bit too--just so that we have enough light across the top, and it's not lighting the ground too much. The other option is to go to the Shader Tree, and we never set a material for the ground. If you open up the Render, notice there is no material for the Ground surface. So I'm going to go to Polygons, we're going to select the Sweep, double-click it, and we'll press M and call this Sweep.

In the Shader Tree--let's just click to deselect here--open up the Sweep Material > Material Reference, and then I'm going to click on the color, and we're going to make this more of a soft gray, and just tint it a little bit, just so it's little warmer. Then I'll press F9 again, and we'll take a look at the scene. So now we don't have quite the bright white ground; we have just sort of a warm gray. We've got the Area Light in the back warming up the top of the books, and we've got our main key light over here.

The last thing we can do is put a fill light in. So we have a back light, a key light, and now we're going to add a fill light. So we'll go down to Lights and we can add another Area Light, and you can try different types of lights. It could be a Point Light or a Spot; it doesn't always matter so much with the product shots. It's often about getting the right look and getting the right shadows. I'm just going to move this off to the side. If you can't see a light sometimes, turn off the other lights, and that way you will be able to see exactly what's going on.

Now, this light I want to put way back here, just so it hits the side of the books like this. The biggest thing with this light is that we change the color of it. So I'm going to roll down here to this area light, and we're going to name this also Fill. The top area light that we created, that is the backlight. And sometimes it's a little bit harder to rename these, so just right-click on it, and then for the Fill Light color, we just want to create a sense of environment.

And even though we're going to use Global Illumination, I'm just going to tint this to just kind of a pale blue just a little bit. The reason I do that is because it just gives more of a sense of something else out there. It's not just a one spot light or one directional light hitting your surface. But it's not real strong, like a white light that's very noticeable. So put the Directional on, put the Back light on, and then I'll press F9 to render the frame, and now we've got a very clean even set that's evenly lit and looks like a very nice product shot.

This is really very basic. You can get extremely creative with all the lighting in modo. I suggest you try this out. Work with one light at a time, pay close attention to the shadows, and build up from there; just the way you build up in the Shader Tree, build your lighting. Do one light, set it to how you like, add another light in, add the Global Illumination in for Fill, and you'll have a very nice scene to work with.

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