Dave’s Illuminating Maya Lighting Cheat Sheet

By Dave



Common Light Attributes

Color                                       Set the Color of the light

Intensity                                    How bright is the light

Illuminates by Default                If checked this light will illuminate all objects in the scene. If not checked the light will illuminate only those objects it is assigned to. You can assign a light to an object by using the Lights Menu in the RENDERING Menu Set. (Please See Selective Lights below.)







For our purposes and for most purposes in industry, if you wish to have shadows in your scene, turn on Use Depth Map Shadows to have Maya create texture map shadows that will render much faster than Ray Traced shadows.


Shadow Color                                                  Change the color of the scene’s shadows.


To Increase the Shadow’s Edge Softness          Decrease the Dmap Resolution and increase the Dmap Filter Size


To Adjust the Graininess of the Shadow            Use the Dmap Resolution slider






Selective Lights

As mentioned above, by default lights will illuminate all objects in the scene. If this attribute is turned off, lights must be assigned to the objects you want them to illuminate.


The best way to create light links is through a Relationship Editor. To access on for lights go RENDERINGàLightsàLight LinkingàLight-Centric…

On the left you will see a list of the lights in your scene, on the right you will see the list of objects in your scene.


To toggle which objects the light illuminates, click once with the LMB on the the object. Highlighted objects will be lit by the light, non-highlighted objects will not be lit by the light.


Point Lights

            They are a source of light that emanates equally in all directions from a single point.


Decay Rate

The light intensity can be set to drop off as the distance from the light source increases. There are several choices for the relationship between the distance and the drop off.





Ambient Light

Similar to a Point light, but the shadowing or shading of objects is far less dramatic. It behaves as if there was a certain degree of surrounding reflectivity. Because of this, shadows also appear to be softer and the whole scene is given a more natural feel.


Ambient Shade

This property controls how strong the shading will be on the objects effected by the ambient light. The lower the Ambient Shade, the stronger the “surrounding reflectivity” appearance. The higher the Ambient Shade, the more the light behaves like a Point Light.





Directional Light

Adds light across a scene evenly, lighting all objects at the same angle and with the same intensity. These work well for simulating massive light sources at far away distances like, the sun.





Spot Lights

Spot lights provide a cone of light that emanates from a source and is directed toward a point of interest, both of which have their own manipulators. The source can also be manipulated using the standard transform tools.


Cone Angle                  How wide will the spread of light be

Penumbra Angle           How wide will the “fuzzy edge haze” of the light extend



Light Effects

Barn Doors      Gives the spotlight a square or rectangular shape


Decay Regions

Causes the intensity of the light to drop off in three Regions. The start and end points of each region can be modified and the distance unit is in grid squares, the same as for transformations.

Lighting Setups


The proper arrangement of lights in your scene is crucial to giving a natural or more realistic look to your scene. Every scene should have at least two or three lights, depending on the kind of lights used in your scene. Below is a common three light setup.






 Key Light

The Key Light is the main light and the brightest light in your scene. It should focus on your model either directly or just off center. All available Maya lights can be used as key lights.


Fill Light

The Fill Light lights the model from behind and should be off center hitting the model at a slight angle. The purpose of this light is to help give the illusion that the surrounding area is reflecting light and to help prevent harsh shadows .


Point and Ambient Lights are good choices for Fill Lights. Spot Lights can be used for the right effect, but a large Penumbra angle may be needed. Directional Lights should not be used for fill lights.


The Secondary Light

The Secondary Light also helps create the illusion of area reflectivity in a scene and to help prevent harsh shadows. The Secondary Light is not as bright as the Key Light and is usually positioned farther away.


Ambient, Point, and Spot Lights can be used as Secondary Lights. If an Ambient Light is chosen for the Key Light, a Secondary Light may not be needed.


Note: A common error is to overlight a scene in an attempt to show off your model. Aim for lighting that creates a mood. This will help create a better overall presentation of your model and the scene in general.