Understanding the Basics of Lighting and Rendering in CINEMA 4D
Setting up great lighting is an important part of any production. Lighting plays a key role in rendering and making things look believable and realistic. While there are many things that play into the quality of a render like materials, textures and a lot more, lighting is something that must be set up just right to achieve the look you want. Because without lighting, well... your models can't be seen. In this article, we're going to walk you through some of CINEMA 4D's lighting tools and how to setup lighting that can work for a multitude of situations.
I have a model of a spray paint can setup in CINEMA 4D. I've applied some basic metal materials to it, but nothing too complex. I used many of the presets in the broadcast materials. This is a great model to learn some lighting techniques because it's not too complex where it will take long to render, and with the varying materials like the plastic tip, and metal can we can get some nice variation in the lighting and experiment with different looks depending on the setup. When it comes to lighting, it doesn't all come down to placing virtual lights within your scene. While that is obviously important, in order to get realistic lighting you need to know what rendering attributes to adjust to ensure you're getting realistic bounce lighting and shadows. Keep in mind though, often times you may need to adjust your materials as needed, especially once you start adding lights and seeing how it interacts with them.
Using Physical Sky
You can create a very quick setup utilizing CINEMA 4Ds physical sky. Of course, this lighting setup probably won't work very well unless it's an outdoor scene you're rendering, or something that you want to look as if it's outdoor.
The physical sky will give you great results in a short amount of time, and doesn't take a lot of setup. Depending on your scene you may need to drop in a floor. I'm not going to worry about setting up a background, so going over to Create>Environment>Floor will drop in a simple floor for us so it doesn't appear as if our spray paint can is just floating in mid air.
With the floor in place, you can run a test render directly in the viewport by selecting the Render View icon. You should see a basic render, with a blue floor. We don't have any lights currently setup in the scene, so the render is looking pretty bland, but as we start to adjust the render further you'll see the quality slowly increasing.
Let's now drop in the Physical Sky so go to Create>Physical Sky>Physical Sky. You should see that the scene slowly brightens up and a compass is placed directly in the middle. We'll go over why you'll want to adjust that later.
If you run another test render you should see immediately that the scene already looks much better. There is a nice soft light and a shadow now being cast. When you change the camera angle and run another render you'll see that there is actually a sky placed within our scene. Depending on what you're rendering this may come in handy, or it may not. It all depends on the type of scene you're creating.
Let's dive a bit deeper into how we can increase the quality of the render even further.
Open up your render settings and under Effect choose Global Illumination.
Within the Global Illumination tab you should see a list of various settings, we can go ahead and just enable one of the presets that CINEMA 4D has built in, since we are using the Physical Sky as our lighting method we can choose the Exterior - Physical Sky preset for the Global Illumination settings.
When we run another test render it will take just a few seconds longer as the Global Illumination must be calculated, but the quality of the render has been increased significantly just by enabling Global Illumination in the render settings.
Finally, if we go back into our Render Settings we can enable Ambient Occlusion, which will give us much deeper shadows and make the spray can pop.
In just a few minutes, we were able to create a decent render utilizing the lighting that we get from just dropping in a Physical Sky.
As I mentioned earlier, a small compass also is placed within the scene when we drop in the Physical Sky, this just allows us to change the direction of the sun, so if you select the Physical Sky and turn on rotation you can rotate the compass and the direction of the sun will be changed.
And this of course will be reflected when we render, so you're able to essentially change the time of day by rotating the compass.
Three Point Lighting
A very common method of rendering is utilizing the three point lighting workflow. Three point lighting is just that, three lights setup to illuminate your object from all different directions to ensure there aren't any deep shadows. This is a method often used with product visualizations because you want the viewer to be able to see clearly what it is you're presenting. Since we are rendering a spray paint can, this is a lighting setup that will come in handy for us.
The first thing you'll want to do is drop in another floor, so you can either navigate to Create>Environment>Floor or just select the floor icon in the toolbar at the top of the viewport.
Within the floor settings, set the Use Color attribute to On and change the Display Color to white, that way the floor is now white instead of that blueish color.
Next we'll need to drop in our first light source. Now, you could set up three point lighting in a few ways, and with a few different types of lights, but for our case we're going to use three spot lights. You can drop in a light be going to Create>Light>Spotlight or just select it from the drop down menu.
Now we want to position the light source, in my case I moved it up and to the left, so it's shining on the can from a slight angle. I also went into the light properties and turned down the intensity to around 66% and enabled Shadow Maps (Soft) in the Shadow attribute. I also adjusted the color very slightly to a more yellowish white, but it's very subtle.
The last thing we need to tweak on the light is the angle, so select the Details tab in the light properties and change the Outer Angle to 45 degrees.
You can duplicate this same spotlight, but this time move it to the other side so it's shining at the can from the right instead of the left.
As you probably guessed, we need to duplicate it one more time, since this is a three point lighting setup. So select the spotlight and duplicate it again, but this time position at the back of the can so it's illuminating the backside.
The last thing we need to do is adjust our Render Settings a bit. In the render settings enable Global Illumination, just like you did before. However, this time you want to change the Preset to Object Visualization - High. You also want to enable Ambient Occlusion as well.
Once you render you should see that you have some really nice results, with soft lighting that illuminates the can from all angles. You can see that in just a few minutes you're able to get decent results very quickly inside CINEMA 4D. If you want to dive deeper into more advanced lighting and rendering be sure to check out the CINEMA 4D lighting and rendering tutorials.