Car studio lighting recepies


The title says it all. I am looking for the “universal” car studio lighting setup. My “usual” setup is :

Mental Ray renderer
-renderer: type Mitchell, samples min/max 1/16 / 64
-final gather 1000 - 5000 (radius 5-10 - smaller radius will prevent blurring GI)
-self illumination plane above (output map in the self-illum., RGB level 1 - 3)
-omni with raytraced shadows, shadows on or off (0.4 intensity)
-skylight (0.6 intensity)

Any other methods ? Or advices ? Share them and our cars will shine !
(ex: maybe lume MRshader for the omni so the reflections will “shine” a bit ? - smaller intensity)

Of course, render times are allways our dreams killers but…never loose hope ! :hmm:

Waiting feed-back. See ya ! :wink:



only one question…do u use HDRI??


As stated before, it’s an INDOOR scene so I’m not rushing to use any HDRI. The reflections over the car paint is done well by the self-illumination plane above.

Still, I found something very interesting here, on CGTalk. Check rodrigogua’s thread, Studio Light Stup - FREE HDRI Map. It’s simple and amazing. The HDRI he made emulates the self illum. plane/planes.

Cool stuff !


any other advices/setups ?

no one ? :eek:


hi I believe this is a very interesting subject… I’m gonna keep an eye in this thread, but I don’t have any advice for now



I am also looking for an effective lighting setup for a chevy I have built, It’s the last piece of the puzzle for this project.
I will try out the method from dodoPAN, but will keep an eye on this thread for more info.
I have tried playing around with different methods in 3ds max7, but render times prevent me from exhausting all options!


This isn’t a cg technique, but the pics may be of interest to you guys. This is how car studio lighting setups exist in the real world:


And for the photos too, it’s great, i’ve never seen a real car setup for a final shot, i’m studying graphic design here in mexico, but our photo studio is much smaller and i can’t wait to try this but with a smaller object. Thanks for the pics…


the concept behind those pictures is really interestig. trying to emulate them the exacxt same way in cg should be a pain in the ass (in rendering times) since it rellies completely in GI and FG (so that the bounces actually cast shadows) to light the car. has some commercial-quality hdri maps (that are not free whatsoever) that emulate car studio lighting setups for different types of shots (3/4 front, laterals, front, back, etc)

i might assemble a tutorial on how i created the studio-like environment map mentioned above.

hope this helps, and i will keep an eye on this thread!


You don’t need to copy the bounce lighting. The reason they use HMI lights bounced off the poly flats is because they don’t have a light of that size to use instead.
If you were to recreate that lighting setup wouldn’t you just use a large area light where those hot spots are? (no need for GI)


rodrigogua: looking forward to see that tutorial !

Ian Jones: thanks a lot for the shots ! I have also some, I will post them soon !

ant… : I think you’re right, as a matter of fact, here’s my ACTUAL try: selfilum plane above(output map, level 3 RGB), MR area spot 45 deg (allmost) to the car (front/side view) at 0.4 intensity and skylight at 1.0. It seems it emulates a studio shot right & allmost cheap (as render times).

I’ll keep you informed and I’ll post those real studio pics soon !

See ya !


@ ant: that’s of course true what i meant is that recreating it EXACTLy the way pros do it in real life would be quite expensive rendering-time-wise in cg. what you say about huge area lights is also true, butnyou might have to paint a diffuse map to get the variation you can see on the planes on those photos (i mean the hotspots where the lights hit the planes)


I was going to work on a night-time scene in MR once. I wanted to have many house lights and other lamps. Found out pretty fast this was un-feasible due to MR taking a major rendering time hit for each new light :frowning:


Rodrigo: Yes you are exactly right. As a veteran retoucher I have been on many car shoots to make sure I get what we need, and when I asked why they bounce light off the scoup the photographer would say its more practical than getting lights that big. But Jeff Patton an I are working on a pro car studio setup currently and getting hard edge reflections off the area lights is a problem that I have not overcome yet. :hmm:

I have tried using maps of the hotspots on the enviroment and lite through the skylight, but possitioning them for perfect lighting is unpractical. Building a copy of the set and using GI is; as you said; too slow.

Last night I made a map of a hotspot but I am still trying to work out how to get it to work on a light? :banghead: Does anyone know how in 3DS Max7?

One technique I haven’t tried is to UVW map the hotspot to a plane and turn the RGB level up and see if it produces the effect I need, doubt it…


ant: i wouldn’t try getting it as a projector map ina light, but rather as a texture map for a light-emiting plane, which would make its positioning MUCH easier. fiddling around with photoshop for around 2 minutes, i generated this 16-bit (for increased accuracy) map to be used as a texture map for a plane.

this map is a reduced version in order to be able to upload it as attachment, the full-res map is 1000x500 and saved as a lossless, 16-bit TIFF (450 kb) if you want it, please PM or e-mail me


i rendered these in under 2 minutes each. the maps where generated with photoshop, since i noticed that it gave much more flexibilty than gradient ramps in max 7 (you could still use gradient ramps if you don’t want to bother with photoshop). notice that if you fiddle with the tiling settings, you can create “arrays” of lights for your scen with slightly significant differences.


rodrigogua : you’re very right and that’s a good advice you gave. still, mainly “car studio shots” are focused on clean refractions/reflections. (that’s for the TILING issue).

after I tried allmost every possible setups, I ended with a MR area spot, a selfilum plane above, slight rotate for matching camera perspective (output map RGB 3 level) and a skylight. also, very important is the “studio” object material and the background color as well.

that emulates real studio shots for me. simple&allmost quick, untill I’ll find something more exquisite ! :wise:

(I got my inspiration from Simoni Racing Cars&Girls shots)

here’s what I’m talking about: (real world car studio setup - you can find more on the Simoni Racing link above)

and here’s one wire from my project: (I used only 1 selfilum plane 'cause more than one gets a bit of confusing reflections - just my opinion - allready tried that)

hope it helped… :wink:
see ya !


I’d get rid of the skylight and just place few directional lights around the scene. Sometimes they don’t even have to cast shadows ;). Then i’d add another directional light from top, to simulate light bounced of that plane. Also, i’d use area shadow on that spot, if shadow map is not good enough. But generally, this should work well enough without GI, and be faster.


yes, i look at it as the “traditional” way (what you described).

still, i’ll be glad if you tell me your rendering times. as for my own, Mentalray@1024x768 with 3000 FG enabled, (no radius - it seems I didn’t needed it checked, the render is very smoothed) my car needed only 2 hours to pump out of the render… (turbosmoothed highpoly) - and that’s on a P4, 1,8Ghz with 712 DDR, 32 DDR video card.

see ya !


@ DodoPan: where exactly in the site are the pics with the setups? i’d like to have a closer look at them. from what i see from that picture, it is rather different than the setups with the BMW Series 1 posted earlier. these (i guess) tend to give harder reflections and this has got a lot to do with the mood you want to inflict on your model. i think that harder highlights will make it look more aggressive while softer ones (like the ones in the BMW, you’ll notice there are hardly any hard shadows in it) will make it look more bland and warm.

also notice that the tint that the light has also contributes a lot in the mood.