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TUTORIAL • March 1998

Seeing the Light

You've taken modeling and animation in LightWave 5.5 to all new heights, but recreating accurate lighting and radiosity presents a variety of challenges. See how LightWave can work in tandem with Lightscape 3.1 to make realistic lighting.

by Dan Ablan

Download the Lightwave 5.5 object and scene files: 0398room.zip (PC, 51k) or 0398room.sea (Mac, 52k). Specific instructions about how to use files are also available.

FIGURE 1. A very simple room rendered in LightWave without radiosity effects.

An ornate wooden door accented with gold inlay and hand-carved oak panels opens slowly as you enter. In front of you is a large foyer detailed with Italian marble and accompanied by a grand staircase. Beyond the foyer, you see a long hallway leading to a gourmet chef's dream kitchen, alongside it stretches a warm and pleasant recreation room with 12 ft. ceilings and French windows. Sounds inviting, doesn't it? Especially when you've modeled and animated this splendid scene using LightWave 5.5.

The previous description is part of a script provided by your client, an architectural firm designing a house for a wealthy real estate developer, and there's enough money in the budget to hire your talents to create a virtual home before the real one is built. Your client is familiar with today's technology and knows that the house can be presented with or without skylights and that each room can be viewed with north light or with track lighting or recessed lighting. Also, the animation needs to be as realistic and accurate as possible.

Building the model in LightWave 5.5 is no problem for you. Animating the scene in LightWave's Layout is also not a problem. But recreating accurate lighting and radiosity is more of a challenge-or at least it was. With the help of Lightscape Technologies' visualization software, Lightscape 3.1, your problems are solved. Lightscape is one of the very few 3D programs on the market that calculates radiosity. To use the simplest explanation, radiosity is bounced light. For example, you've created a room and added a few canister lights in the ceiling. When rendered, you have a very nice looking image. However, the wood floor you added would, in reality, absorb some of the light and reflect it back, adding additional color to the walls and ceiling, resulting in more realism. Figure 1 shows a simple room without radiosity, rendered in LightWave.

FIGURE 2. The same simple room with radiosity calculated.

FIGURE 3. The Lightscape plug-in included with LightWave converts Lightscape scenes to LightWave.

Now, take a look at Figure 2. Here, the same model, same surfaces, and identical lighting are used. However, this image has radiosity calculations applied. Can you see the color of the floor on the walls and ceiling? Both scenes have raytracing applied, but as you can see from the images, in the scenes without radiosity effects, the raytraced reflections and shadows aren't as noticeable. If you can imagine these lighting principles on a much larger scale with sunlight and more detail in the room and models, you will see how powerful the images can be.

Until recently, users of LightWave could not truly benefit from Lightscape's radiosity rendering engine. Designers and architects who work with (AutoCAD computer-aided design software produced by Autodesk Inc.) models could directly import and render their designs. LightWave animators generating architectural visualization were unable to import their models easily into Lightscape. If and when 3D models were imported into Lightscape, the animation capabilities were limited in comparison to LightWave's. In addition, if elements such as people, cars, or trees needed to be animated, completing the task solely in Lightscape was not a viable option.

With the release of Lightscape 3.1, Lightscape Technologies has introduced a plug-in that integrates the two programs. Now, animators can effortlessly load their LightWave scene files directly into Lightscape. Once loaded, Lightscape calculates the radiosity in the scene. Then, this scene can be reloaded into LightWave for final animation and rendering. Figure 3 shows the LightWave plug-in that transforms a Lightscape scene into a LightWave scene.

How it works

To use Lightscape and LightWave to generate radiosity images, you must start by using the most current versions of each package-Lightscape 3.1 and LightWave 5.5. From there, you must add the ltlws.p plug-in file, which, once loaded, activates the plug-in automatically and allows LightWave to read a Lightscape scene.

The Lightscape Importer for LightWave is a scene converter that lets users open Lightscape files the same way LightWave scene files are opened. To load a Lightscape file, choose Load Scene from the File drop down menu in LightWave. Type in the *.ls (Lightscape Solution file) in the Name field (or browse to the particular file), and press Enter. The Import Lightscape Scene dialog is displayed, where you can direct how the Lightscape scene is converted. Each surface loaded from a Lightscape file retains surface properties based on the radiosity solution calculated. Figure 4 shows the plug-in that is automatically applied to Lightscape surfaces in LightWave.

FIGURE 4. The Lightscape-to- LightWave plug-in adds a scene loader plug-in and a surfacing plug-in.

The Results

Lightscape is a fantastic program to make beautiful images. By the same token, LightWave is an outstanding program to make beautiful models and animations. Through the use of LightWave's modeling tools, Lightscape's radiosity engine, and LightWave's animation capabilities, you have the power to create reality.

Lightscape and LightWave are programs that, when used together, can significantly enhance your animations. Although many examples from Lightscape are architectural, you can use these programs for animated characters. Imagine if you had built a simple set for a dancing character. You can still load the simple set scene into Lightscape to calculate the radiosity solutions, allowing more realism in your LightWave scenes.

With companies such as NewTek and Lightscape Technologies working together, you will have even more control and creative freedom over your images and animations. This control will help you achieve the success you deserve in the competitive and demanding world of 3D graphics.

Dan Ablan is president of AGA Digital Studios Inc. in Arlington Heights, IL, which produces 3D animation for broadcast and corporate video. Contact Dan via e-mail at [email protected].

AutoCAD R14
Autodesk Inc.

Lightscape 3.1
Lightscape Technologies
fax: 408-342-1910

LightWave 5.5
NewTek Inc.