The Gnomon Workshop

Direct Illumination in Maya and mental ray

Lighting and Rendering Series: Volume 2 with Frederic Durand


With the high degree of photo-realism required in today’s feature films and commercials, traditional computer graphics lighting techniques often fall short of producing the desired result. While traditional CG light sources attempt to mimic real-world light sources’ behaviors, they are generally very simplistic versions that lack the dynamic and physical characteristics of real-world light. In this lecture, lighting artist Fredric Durand demonstrates a variety of methods to improve the overall appearance of direct illumination within Maya and mental ray. This involves not only changing the fundamental way CG light sources illuminate our scene, but also how they help to describe the materials in the scene. This series of lectures address the technical and physical aspects of replicating real world lighting, while also focusing on the artistic aspects of lighting. Initially, the fundamentals of CG light sources are discussed. The Maya spotlight and area light are completely dissected to expose extended direct illumination features and controls for each light source, including light falloff strategies, controlling light color, physical light setups, and light rigging for added control. Rendering using Unified Sampling and setting up a correct Linear Workflow in Maya are also discussed. Next, focus is shifted to specular highlights and the reflection of light sources where topics such as layering specular highlights and setting up reflector rigs are discussed. IES and Photometric light distribution utilities and custom color and light decay methodologies are discussed to provide even more realistic lighting conditions. Indirect illumination methods, including global illumination photons, caustic photons and final gather, are covered next to demonstrate the full potential of direct illumination with CG light sources. Lastly, Fredric demonstrates how to achieve realistic lens effects, specular bloom, glows, glares and atmospheric effects using a combination of 3D and 2D techniques while also highlighting the many limitations of a 3D only approach to these effects.

Duration: 440 minutes

Format: HD 1280x720

Frederic Durand

Lighting Artist

Working on animated films, feature films, and commercials for the past 20 years, Frederic Durand has had the opportunity to work at Sony Imageworks, Disney Animation, DreamWorks, Jim Henson’s Workshop, the Mill, MPC and Digital Domain. He is the co-founder of Noroc Studio. As a leading lighting artist, his approach is not only technical, but also artistic. He heavily emphasizes and integrates aspects of cinematography into his approach. Frederic graduated from the Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs (ENSAD) in Paris, France. Additionally, during his master’s program, he completed one year residency at The Copper Union in NYC.

  • Fred is one of the most technical and proficient lighters I've ever had the pleasure to work with, and his knowledge of mental ray is unparalleled. For the commercials on which Fred and I worked together, he proved himself to be an indispensable part of the team.

    - Nathaniel Morgan
    CG Generalist at Bad Robot