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Illumination Tutorial for Industrial/ Product/ Furniture Design by Mario Malagrino, Italy


illumination tutorial

This tutorial was created by the Florence Design Academy. On the F.D.A. gallery (http://www.florencedesignacademy.com/gallery_eng.html) you can see a few examples of designs of our students who have used this technique.

Since our students need a effective way to display their concepts and ideas, our teachers have developed many tutorials in order to give them an additional tool that every designer should have.


This tutorial explains all steps to illuminate an object with a technique which simulates the illumination techniques of a photo studio. Before we begin it is very important to inform you that we will use "Mental Ray" as render engine (version 8 and 9 of 3D Studio Max). Mental Ray is a very stable render engine and it allows you to have very realistic renderings. Since we are using Mental Ray for this tutorial it is very important to use "real dimensions" for all the objects that we have to create. Otherwise the result will not be realistic. It means that you have to go to CUSTOMIZE -> UNITS SETUP and choose the units that you want to use. In any case you should get used to create objects with their real dimensions so that you get a feeling for correct dimensions and proportions.

The first step to do is to create an "environment object" (it is similar to the rooms which are used in the professional field of photography) on which later we will place our object to illuminate (this is ideal for product/industrial design and furniture design).
There are different shapes that you can create to have an environment-object which will be reflected correctly on your object and will give very good render results. What many designers don't know is exactly this last point: in order to have a good rendering, the object has not only to receive a good lightning, but it needs to receive a good reflection of the room in which it is placed.



The color that you should assign to the environment-object (the room) should be white like the walls of a photo-studio ! The material should not have specular highlights. In this way the color of the environment will not affect the color of your product design (especially if you use reflective materials). Of course it is the designer's choice to change the color to a different one.

Let's do the first steps for an environment-object. Create a spline like the letter "L". Then select the corner vertex and go to "modify", select the "fillet" tool and smooth the corner like in below image..




If you like to have a very smooth environment you should put a very big value in the fillet slot. Now we need to create an outline of this shape (the thickness of the walls). Select "spline" and go to outline the spline with the command "outline" that you can find again in the modify panel.

From this point you can create both environment objects (the linear or the circular one). To create the "straight" one (which will be the one that I will use for the tutorial) you must assign to the spline an "extrude" modifier from the modifier list.



To create the “circular” environment object you must first move the PIVOT/GIZMO to the correct location. Just go to hierarchy, click on the button "affect pivot only" and move the pivot (this button allows you to move/rotate the pivot independently from the object)!




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