by CGAfrica in Tutorials,

on April 30th, 2017

If you’re a beginner learning lighting in CINEMA 4D, you’re probably looking at all the lights and their many settings and scratching your head. Let’s get some of the basics clarified so you can hit the ground running. Let’s jump into the general tab of a regular omni light.

Color & Intensity

These two attributes are somewhat self-explanatory, but there are a few less-obvious options I want to tell you about. When it comes to color, choosing the right color for the mood is essential, but you can further fine-tune that chosen color temperature by choosing the Kelvin option.

See the button “K” is enabled rather than the typical RGB or HSV.

This will allow you to make the light warmer or cooler depending on your preference, but you can also type in the Kelvin value of a known light and get a real world temperature light.

When it comes to light intensity, that is referring to the brightness or dimness of the light. If you’re using the slider you can only drag intensity from 0 to 100%, but if you click in the number field or use the arrows to the right of the number, you can drag the value above 100%. CINEMA 4D will also allow you to add an intensity value as a calculation. For instance, let’s say you had a light set to 243% intensity and you wanted it to be half as intense. Instead of calculating what that number would be you can simply type 243%/2 in the field and it will do this for you.

Dividing the Intensity value by 2 is a quick way to cut the value in half. CINEMA 4D will automatically make the calculation and swap in the value of the equation.


There are many light types in CINEMA 4D and you can change your mind of what type you want after you’ve already created it. This is handy for when you have many of the settings already set up, but you want the overall behavior of the light to change based on type. At that point, you can simply choose a different light type from the list and your workflow and work duplication is uninterrupted.


When you choose a shadow type there are a few things to keep in mind. The shadow type None is the default and keeps things moving fast by being turned off when you first create a light. Sometimes you might want it to be this way though. If you need a light to do something secondary, like adding a few highlights, but you don’t want it to look like there’s actually another light in the image, this is a good time to use None. Leaving this set to None keeps things uncomplicated with overlapping shadows.

Shadow Maps (Soft) is the next shadow option in the list. The shadows created using this setting will want to be soft, no matter the size or distance of your light. In the real world, the closer a light is to an object, the harder the shadows become. Keep this in mind when you’re lighting a scene with lots of objects at varying distances. These types of shadows are fast to render, but they use a lot of memory. If you ever notice a strange looking error that looks like lines or blinds across the rendered area, it probably means you need to change the shadow map size.You can change this by going into the Shadow tab of the light and increasing the Shadow Map resolution. Increasing this value too much can slow down the rendering process so change it in small steps to get the best compromise.

The next option is Raytraced (Hard). This option is rarely used for more than technical drawings because the shadows are very hard on the edges and somewhat unrealistic looking, they also are not quick to render.

The next option is Area. These are just the best shadows! At least they look the most realistic. However, they do take much longer to render and they require a little more finesse to reduce noise. When you switch the shadow type to Area on a light, a square will appear. This square doesn’t affect the light distribution, but it does affect the shadow distribution. This is an important difference to understand because there is also an Area Light and in that case, the square does affect light distribution. When it’s just an area shadow though, you can change how diffused a shadow looks simply by increasing or decreasing the size of that square.

In the image on the left, the default Area shadow size is shown. In the image on the right, it has been scaled up. The light’s effect on the dragon looks the same but the shadows on the right appear to come from a much bigger light. This allows us tremendous control. 

To reduce the noisiness of these Area shadows you must go into the Shadow tab and adjust the Minimum and Maximum Samples. By default, the minimum Samples are set to 8. This will always make it grainy, but that is helpful when you’re making quick iterative changes to get everything perfect. Then, when you’re ready to render, crank the samples up to smooth it all out. The more you increase your samples the longer it will take to render, but the smoother they will also look. It’s all a balancing act and the more you practice, the better you’ll get at knowing where you need more samples and when you need things to go faster.

Visible Light

The next option we have in our Light’s general tab is the Visible Light option. This again doesn’t refer to the intensity of light; it’s about whether or not we see the light itself and not just the effects of the light.

The image on the left has the Visible light set to None. The image on the right has the setting at Visible.

Imagine the way a bright flashlight looks in a foggy place. It looks diffused because the particles in the air reflect the light differently than when the air is clear. There are lots of options that go deeper into this concept, which is called Volumetric Lighting. However, it’s more advanced than what we’ll get into here. To learn more about Volumetric Lighting in CINEMA 4D, you can watch the full course on


The first checkbox is No Illumination. This may make you wonder why you’d want this. Sometimes you might want to see a light but not actually gain any scene illumination from that light. This could be useful to make something like a firefly or other source of light that doesn’t necessarily need to light up the scene. To achieve something like this, you check on No Illumination, then you set your Visible Light setting to Visible. You could then see a little pinpoint of light but not have it affecting the lighting of the objects around it.

Next, we have Ambient Illumination. This will cause a flat, even color over everything. It lights the scene from every possible angle without blowing it out. This can be useful if you’re going for that 2D looking flat animation style that’s so popular.

ou can also use this Ambient Illumination setting aesthetically by changing the color and combining it with other lights to set the mood.

Following the Ambient Illumination box, we see the option Diffuse. This is checked on by default and it’s what gives the majority of the lighting in the scene. By unchecking it, we’ll be left with just the specular and reflections. This can make for a really intense effect (Think Girl with The Dragon Tattoo Title Sequence although this example does have some diffuse lighting.)

Disabling the next effect, Specular, has nearly the inverse effect of unchecking Diffuse. This will give the object a more matte effect. When combining it with multiple lights, you can use one light to control the color of the specular and then other lights to control other aspects of the scene. This gives you a lot of control over how to fake the look of something very easily.

The rest of the checkboxes go deeper by interacting with other aspects of Cinema 4D that are a bit beyond what we’re learning here, but I’ll still mention what they are so you get a cursory understanding.

These are the checkboxes this section is referring to.

The next box is GI Illumination which is referring to Global Illumination. When you’re using global illumination in a scene and this box is checked (it is checked by default), then that light will be added to the overall Global Illumination Calculation.

After that, we have the Show Illumination option. This simply controls the visibility of gizmos around more complex lights than typical omni lights. For example, an Area Light will have a box around it that allows you to change its size right in the viewer. If you have many lights all together, it could become difficult to move around the scene. Unchecking Show Illumination will disable that box and let you have a cleaner viewport as you work.

Show Visible Light is the next setting and very similar to Show Illumination. When you have the Visible Light dropdown set to Visible, it will have controls in the viewer representing the extent of that light’s reach. Checking or unchecking the Show Visible Light box will let you control the presence of that gizmo in the editor and you can unclutter things if you need to. Show Clipping is another in-viewer controller for other types of light like spotlights that have parameters controlling the distance that the light travels. Unchecking it is another way of decluttering the viewport.

Next, we have the Separate Pass checkbox. If you enable this option, separate diffuse, specular and shadow layers will be created for the light source when you render (provided you have set the appropriate multi-pass parameters).This is helpful when you’re planning how you’ll composite the final render.

The last checkbox, Export to Compositing, is related to the Separate Pass checkbox. It simply means if this is checked the output will export to a compositing application. There are a few supported by CINEMA 4D, with After Effects as the most notable as they have the CINEWARE plugin, making for a seamless round-trip of work. These two options you won’t need unless you’re getting into some more serious setups for comp work so if you want to take it to that level make sure to check the rest of Pluralsight’s Fundamentals of Lighting in Cinema 4D.

This is only a basic overview of some of the taken for granted options for lights in CINEMA 4D, but many of them are overlooked and knowing them from the start sets you up for success to become a lighting guru!


Laura is a passionate visual effects and motion graphics author at Pluralsight. Her favorite projects are her two in-depth After Effects introductory courses on Pluralsight, which were each built around training motion artists and VFX artists, respectively. Laura has taught thousands of artists everything from shot-tracking and rotoscoping to motion design, and she has a passion for mid-century modern design (and her rambunctious dog Otis). If you ever need to reach out for questions, comments, or to discuss nerdy motion designer things, feel free to reach out on Twitter: @LauraHawkDesign.


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