Lightening Fundamentals for 3D Animation

fundamentals of 3d lighting

3D VFX, lighting and rendering are the three final stages of the 3D animation production phase. Lighting has a big impact and is one of the important steps. Similar to lighting in photography or films, 3D animation uses light.

Everything appears uninteresting and unappealing without good lighting yet the lighting artist may substantially highlight different elements of the objects. 

What is 3D lighting?

The technique of replicating the behaviour of light in a three-dimensional virtual environment, such as a computer-generated scene or animation, is referred to as 3D lighting. In order to give digital objects, people, and landscapes a sense of depth, realism, and virtual appeal, it includes carefully positioning and structuring virtual light sources. 

Why is 3D lighting important?

In order to give digital objects, people, and landscapes a sense of depth, realism, and visual appeal, it includes carefully positioning and structuring virtual light sources.

the importance of 3d lighting

Lighting plays a variety of important functions in 3D graphics and animation.

1. Realism

Realistic lighting helps to reproduce actual lighting conditions, which improves the plausibility of the virtual picture.

2. Depth and Dimension

3D lighting gives the scene’s objects and characters more depth and dimension by creating shadows and highlights.

3. Mood and atmosphere

Different lighting configurations may provoke a range of emotions and establish the mood and atmosphere of a situation. 

4. Emphasis & Focal Points

Good lighting guides the story and heightens visual interest by drawing the viewer’s focus to particular parts of the scene.

5. Materials and textures

Lighting and textures interact to highlight the qualities of materials. A shiny surface will reflect light differently than a matte one, for example.

6. Time of day

Daylighting allows you to determine the time of day in a 3D scene. By changing the colour and intensity of the light sources, one may create sceneries in daylight, dusk, or at night.

How is 3D lighting used?

Every part of an animated picture uses 3D lighting. Video production, digital art, and gaming all make use of it. 

However, how is a scene lit? You’ll need to gather reference materials, evaluate the situation, improve the starting scenario, and use the right lighting. 

Since this is a thorough process, you’ll need to think of inventive ways to speed up your productivity. 

3D animation software

Utilizing different light sources from 3D animation software, you may illuminate a simple 3D animation. These computer programs have a wide variety of lighting, such as base lights, accent lights, filters, and blockers, to improve the mood and build realism into a scene gradually. 

Using a different 3D animation software and renderer results in different digital lighting.

Reference images

the usage of lighting for 3d animation

Every digital artist has a preferred method for setting up a scene’s lighting, but in general, finding references is the first step. To acquire a sense of the appropriate lights they will utilize to create a realistic setting, artists study reference images. 

Without reference pictures, it will be difficult to make a scene seem plausible, and since the lighting will likely be incorrect, the final picture can wind up looking cartoonish.

There is a question revolving around; Should you really depend on reference images? It depends on the complexity of your project, if you think you need help and guidance, you can take help or inspiration from the reference images. 

Don’t be hesitant to experiment regarding the lighting program. To understand the scene you are animating, use the reference pictures as a guide, but use your imagination to come up with a unique shot.

Types of 3D lighting 

Common types of 3D lighting are as follows: 

  1. Point Light
  2. Directional Light
  3. Spotlight
  4. Area Light
  5. Global illumination
  6. Indirect Lighting
  7. Rim Light (backlight)
  8. Subsurface Scattering

1. Point Light

A single light source called a point light emits light equally in all directions from a single location in space. It resembles a dangling light bulb in the setting. Small light sources like candles, light bulbs, and other glowing items are frequently illuminated with point lights.

2. Directional Light

The sun, for example, is eternally far away from us, but directional lighting mimics its light. They release rays of light that are parallel and all moving in the same direction. The creation of realistic sunlight effects in outdoor scenes frequently makes use of directional lighting.

3. Spotlight 

A focused light source that casts light into a cone-shaped region is what makes up a spotlight. It has adjustable properties including position, direction, and angle. The employment of spotlights allows for the imitation of effects such as flashlights, stage spotlights, and focused light coming through windows.

4. Area Light

An extended light source that generates light from a surface as opposed to a single point is known as an area light. It produces gentle shadows that resemble those of natural lighting and can be rectangular or any other shape. In photographic studios, area lights are frequently used to mimic the light from windows, doors, or softboxes.

5. Global illumination 

The term “global illumination” refers to methods that mimic the intricate relationships that light experiences when it bounces and reflects numerous times within a scene. This contains features that help create a more realistic appearance, such as color leakage, gentle shadows, and indirect lighting.

6. Indirect Lighting

The illumination that arises from light reflecting off surfaces before reaching an object is known as indirect lighting. By taking into account the light interactions between the items in the scene, it produces soft, nuanced, and natural-looking lighting conditions.

7. Rim Light (backlight)

To create a soft highlight along an object’s margins, rim lighting entails positioning a light behind the object. With the addition of separation between the object and its background, this effect improves the depth and silhouette of the object.

8. Subsurface Scattering

Subsurface scattering mimics how light would behave if it were to penetrate a semi-translucent substance, interact with it, and disperse in various ways. The creation of realistic illumination for materials like skin, wax, or leaves frequently uses this effect.

4 Important Tips for 3D Lighting

1. Understand light properties

Understand lighting characteristics including intensity, colour, and falloff to provide realistic lighting. Colour, falloff, and intensity all have an impact on the light’s brightness, mood, and distance decay. By mastering these elements, you can make sure that the lighting you use fits the scenario naturally and logically.

2. Use of Three-Point Lighting

Combining key, fill, and backlight is known as three-point lighting. The major source of illumination is the key light, which also serves to soften shadows and add distinction. Your items or people will stand out and appear more realistic thanks to the depth, dimension, and emphasis that this arrangement gives them.

3. Study Real-World Lighting

It is really important to see how light behaves in the real environment. Pay attention to how surfaces reflect light, how sunshine creates shadows, and how artificial lighting produces distinct hues. Your 3D scenes will have more realistic lighting as a result of this information.

4. Experiment and Iterate 

Don’t accept the first lighting design you come up with. To get the right lighting for your scenario, try out various lighting kinds, intensities, and angles. Based on comments and your own opinion, iterate and improve your lighting. Small changes can have a big impact on how something turns out.


In general, 3D lighting is an essential component of computer-generated imagery since it considerably enhances the visual impact and quality of animations, video games, architectural visualizations, and other types of digital content.

You can use point lights, directional lights, spotlights, and area lights as virtual light sources while working with 3D lighting. To create the required visual effects, these lights can be changed in terms of intensity, colour, angle, and distance. Additionally, methods like ambient occlusion and global illumination (GI) are frequently employed to mimic the intricate ways in which light bounces and scatters in the real environment.


How do you light a 3D animation?

You can use a variety of light sources in 3D animation software to light a simple 3D animation. These computer programs have a wide variety of lighting, such as base lights, accent lights, filters, and blockers, to improve the mood and build realism into a scene gradually.

What is the lighting in 3D models?

There are similarities between 3D modeling lighting and lighting used in photography or film. In order to highlight a particular area of the stage or to depict the natural elements of the scene, such as the time of day, the artist creates a combination of light sources.

How does light affect a 3D figure? 

Rays effectively define how items seem in the final image by reflecting off forms and interacting with their materials. Lights reveal the three dimensions of everything in a three-dimensional scene. Different materials are more responsive to different illumination conditions.

What is the complete lighting? 

The most popular lighting in animation techniques is undoubtedly three-point lighting. This approach employs three light sources, the key light, the fill light, and the rim light, as the name would imply. The most powerful of the three and the main source of light is the key light.


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