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Soft Lights

by S68
who, in the real word answers to the name of Stefano Selleri


Ok, folks, times for a 2nd tutorial. Paradox showed a vase
+ lamp scene with very cool soft light and shadows.
There was a intense exchange of messages and posts
between the two of us, Stonzy and darkelfv which lead to
many interesting results.

My solution, presented here, is based on the classical

Dupliverted spot light but there are some tweaks which
might be of interest for the community.

The tutorial will be divided into two section: Soft light Indoor and Soft light Outdoor.

For directional light Indoor a single spot might be enough. In reality it isn't because light
never comes from a single point in space but from an object of finite dimension. Hence
you need an area casting light. Besides Radiosity, which is cool but slow, you can use a
series of spots correctly placed and oriented.

I'm talking of spots because I assume you would like to have shadows too, but any light
source is good.

This is what you get from a simple

scene with a single spot light. It is
nice but you can do better.

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First, in top view, create a cylinder, with not too
many vertexes, say 12. Then, in side view, select
all the vertexes of the upper base and delete (X
KEY) them. Go back in top view and add a
lamp. Make it a spot with a nice warm light
colour. Put the energy down. If with a single spot
you need energy ? now you must give to the
newly created spot an energy ? / N , being N
the number of vertexes of the mesh (here 13).

Give to your Mesh (the remaining base of the

cylinder) the size you want for your area light.

Parent the spot to the mesh (select spot, then

SHIFT select mesh, then press CTRL P) then in
anim window (F7), with the mesh selected, press
'DupliVerts' and 'Rot' buttons. Now your mesh is
an Area Light!

Spot softness (SpotBl) should be pretty high, to

allow a nice blending of the spots. In this image
the value was 0.608.

Next step is to place it in the right place and rotates it so that the direction of incidence
suits your need.

As you may notice image is a bit

darker because spots do not sum
everywhere, but lights and shadows
are noticeably softer and more
good looking. Also specularity
highlights on the vase are more diffused and more convincing.

Another tweak, to fake area light which comes from a finite distance, is to resort to an
UV sphere as a mesh. In top view add a UV sphere with not too many vertexes, say 12
segments and 12 rings.

In side view select all the vertexes but the last two rings and the bottom pole and delete
them (X KEY). Select the remaining node and constrain scale (S KEY, then press middle

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mouse button) so that mesh is flatter. The flatter the mesh, the more directive the beam.
In top view scale once more to the desired dimension of the area light.

Next steps are identical as before, except that

now you have 25 vertexes and hence energy
should be further decreased.

This time you came out with 25 spots projecting

their beam of light in the direction normal to the
(flattened) spherical surface comprising the

The effect is that of a lamp of finite size and

distance from the object.

An additional, subtle tweak to

better fake radiosity is to place two
very dim lamps on each wall,
casting a light having the same
colour of the wall.

This way you'll get both some light

illuminating the shaded side of your
object and the correct hue.

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Suppose now you want to have nice smooth lights and shadows in an Outdoor scene.

All the sky diffuses light, so there is a small amount of light coming from each point of
the sky, but there is also the sun, unless sky is completely covered with clouds.

Again a single spot faking the sun is


You don't get the light diffused by

the atmosphere.

Your sun is hopelessly a point, not an area light.

Shadows are sharp and uniform.

The conventional technique to obtain a faked

global illumination to approximate atmospheric
diffusion is to use the dupliverted spot technique
described earlier with a skydome, or, in other
words (half) an iconsphere.

In top view add an Iconsphere (Subdivisions at

least 2, 3 is better).

In side view delete all nodes below the horizon.

Move iconsphere up so that no vertex is actually
on the horizont.

Flip the normals (Flip Normals button in F9 window).

Back in top view scale the iconsphere so that it will

engulf your entire scene. Then add a spot and
parent it to the iconsphere. Duplivert and Rot as for previous examples.

Result is interesting ad there is a sensation of light coming from every point of the
space, but no distinct shadow is present and general feeling is that of a gloomy cloudy

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To get rid of this one possibility is to
add a single strong Spot light casting
light and shadows. The Iconsphere
area light can be light blue and the
single spot representing the sun
sligthly yellow for a better result.

In any case you get again a spot and not an area

light, and sun is an area light, otherwise how could
we get partial eclipses?

So you can add a sun the way we did for Indoor light
(a disk coming from a cylinder is better here since
the sun is usually quite far away) Or we can think
something different.

For the lazy ones, once you are done with the half
iconsphere stuff you are done!

Look at your iconsphere in top view, it is made of

triangles, clustered in hexagons or pentagons. Go
Editmode (TAB) Choose a vertex where you want your
sun to be. Select it and all the vertexes surrounding it
and press the subdivide button in the mesh editing
(F9) window.

Deselect all ad re-select the central vertex and the 6

(5) newly created vertexes surrounding it. Press
subdivide again.

Repeat the subdivision process as many times as you

like - I did it thrice, don't exaggerate, unless you are
willing to wait a lot for rendering...

This technique is interesting because it actually takes

into account that light is diffused by the whole
atmosphere but there is more diffused light next to
the sun, furthermore the sun itself is an area, not a

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Be extremely careful with energy, now you have a lot of spots (If you followed my steps,
they are 127) so energy must be really low (I used 0.030).

Be also careful with ClipStart and ClipEnd, don't keep

ClipStart too close to the spot, move it towards the
object. Keep SpotBl fairly high (around 0.6) so that spots
blend nicely, but don't bother with Samples and Soft.
They are unneeded since it is the number of spots which
smoothes shadows. I kept both down to a value of 2.


Description of two Soft light scenes,

indoor and outdoor has been carried

I hope that in this tutorial you found

some useful tips to get smoot and soft
lights and shadows in your renders.

Happy Blending

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