Motion Graphics by Jeremy Clark

More Indirect Lighting In Maya – Caustics

Within my Film Noir Inspired Lounge scene I also set about learning how to render “Caustics” in Maya and Mental Ray.

“Caustic lighting” generally refers to the patterns of light that are formed when rays of light pass through a transparent material, and are refracted  in a way that patterns appear projected onto surrounding objects. Think of shining a light through a glass of water, and seeing the patterns of light that are produced on the table.

Within Maya, “Caustics” are considered a form of Indirect lighting, as they rely on the use of Global Illumination Photons. For this reason, the workflow for including Caustics in a scene is similar to that of enabling Global Illumination within a render.

Though somewhat straighforward to enable, caustics can be tricky to fine tune, and there are a number of variables that dictate their appearance and quality in a render. Here’s how I implimented them within my scene:

1.) Just like when setting up my Global Illumination lighting, I wanted to keep my Caustic Photon emmitting lights separate from my scene lights. For each light that I wished to appear as if casting the Caustics, I duplicated the light, dropped the cloned light’s “Intensity” to zero, and enabled “Emit Photons” under the new lights “Mental Ray –> Global Illumination and Caustics” attribute editor tab.

2.) Next I jumped into Maya’s “Render Sttings” tab and under the “Indirect Light” tab, I opened the”Caustics” tab and clicked to enable them.

3.) Now came the hard part – fine tuning them to achive a decent enough look. Key settings I tweaked included:

– From the Caustic Light’s shape node Attributes Editor  –> “Mental Ray” –> “Caustic and Global Illumination” dropdown: Photon Intensity (A lower than default value worked well here), “Caustic Photons” (I increaded the number of Photons by 10x the default here), and “Exponent” (I decreased the value from 2.0 to 1.5 here to increase the brightnes of my Caustics patterning.

– Under the “Render Settings” –>”Indirect Lighting” –> “Caustics” tab I set to lower the accuracy from 100 (Default) down to 40. Apparently decreasing the value here is better.

The following depicts two renders of the same lamp, one without , and one with Caustics enabled. Note the patterns formed by the light on the wall behind the glass of the lamp.

This shows a render of one of the lamps in my scene without Caustics enabled.

.. And this is the same lamp, rendered again but with Caustics eneabled.

Though in this scene the effects of Caustics appear somewhat minimal, I still wished to learn about how to use them for a greater understanding of how Indirect lighting works in Maya.


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