Lighting can be applied to a motion graphics project to enhance the depth and scope of compositions, or it can help in creating realistic environments for composites.

Motion’s lighting system only works on 3D groups and their children.

To add a light to a project
  • Choose Object > New Light (or press Command-Shift-L).

    A light object is added to the Layers tab, the Timeline, and the Canvas (represented there by a wireframe icon), and the 3D transform tool in the Toolbar becomes active.

If you add a light to a project with no existing 3D groups, the following dialog appears:

Figure. Switch to 3D alert dialog.

If you select Keep as 2D, a light at the root level has no effect until you have at least one root-level 3D group. By default, 3D groups and objects display the shading from lights as soon as lights are added.

A light is activated when it is a child of the following objects:

Properties Affecting the Appearance of Lights

When you add lights to a scene, two groups of properties contribute to the appearance of lights: light properties and object lighting properties. You can adjust light properties by selecting a light object in your project, then modifying the parameter values in the Light tab in the Inspector. You can manipulate object lighting properties by selecting a nonlight object in your project (an image, movie clip, shape, and so on), then adjusting the Lighting parameters in that object’s Properties tab.

Light properties—the quality of the light source itself—fall into the following categories: the type of light, its intensity, and its color. A light bulb, the sun, and lighting in a dance club each have a different appearance, and lighting properties can be used to simulate these differences.

Combining Multiple Light Types

Like real-world lights, you can use multiple lights to mix color. If one red and one blue spot light are pointed at a white object, they mix to make magenta.

Each type of light has its own unique attributes. It may take a combination of light types to achieve your desired effect. Most scenes with lights should include an ambient light to add depth or prevent total darkness.

Light Parameters

When you create a light, or select a light object in the Layers tab, the Light tab becomes available in the Inspector.

Parameters in the Inspector
  • Color: A standard set of controls that enable you to select the color of the light.
  • Intensity: This is the “dimmer switch” for lighting. If you use a Directional light at 100% intensity pointed straight at a red object, the object looks red. If you lower the intensity, the object and scene get darker. However, if you increase the intensity above 100% you can begin to overexpose your scene, eventually causing the object to appear white. The Intensity value slider can be used to set a value between 0 and 400, but there is no upper limit for Intensity (use the value slider to set a value above 400).

    Note: Multiple lights interacting with an object will combine to increase the object’s apparent brightness. If you have two spot lights overlapping in space and pointing in the same direction with Intensity set to 100%, you will see the same result as having a single spot light with its Intensity set to 200%.

  • Falloff Start: A slider and value slider that enable you to adjust where the falloff point of a light begins. In the real world, light falls off—or has less of an effect—as the distance from the light increases. Usually falloff starts at the center of the light. Setting Falloff Start adds some additional control to your lighting. This parameter applies only to light types that utilize a Position parameter (Point and Spot).

    In the example below, a light is positioned slightly above the origin of the scene. There are three rings of cards at a distance of 200, 500, and 1000 units from the light. (In this example, a visible light source—the “bulb” at the center of the rings of cards—is simulated for illustrative purposes.) The light’s Intensity is set to 100% and Falloff is set to 10%. When Falloff Start is set to 0 (left, below), the light has already begun to fall off by the time it hits the innermost ring. When Falloff Start is set to 200 (right, below), the inner ring is lit at 100% intensity and the outer rings are slightly brighter than before.

    Figure. Canvas window showing effect of Falloff Start parameter.

    When Falloff Start is increased to 500 (left, below), both the inner and middle rings are lit at 100% intensity, and the outer ring is brighter than before. Finally, when Falloff Start is set to 1000 (right, below), all of the rings are lit at 100% intensity.

    Figure. Canvas window showing effect of Falloff Start parameter at higher values.

    In the next example, the image on the left contains a light with Intensity set to 100%, while the image on the right has a light Intensity of 500%. In the image on the right, the outer rings are slightly brighter, but the innermost ring is overexposed. If the Falloff Start of the light in the image on the right were increased to 1000, the rings would be overexposed.

    Figure. Canvas window showing effect of Intensity parameter.
  • Falloff: A slider and value slider that control the rate of falloff for a point or spot light based on the Falloff Start setting. At low values, light falls off over a long distance from the light source; therefore, the light travels further in the image. At high values, the falloff occurs more rapidly.
  • Spot Cone Angle: A dial and value slider that become available only when Light Type is set to Spot. The Spot Cone Angle is measured from the center of the light outward. The angle may be set to a value between 0 and 90 degrees. The distance of the light from its target affects the result of this parameter. If the light is close, a wider spot cone angle may be needed to light more of the object. If the light is further away, a lower Spot Cone Angle may be needed to isolate objects.
  • Cone Softness: A dial and value slider that become available only when Light Type is set to Spot. Like Spot Cone Angle, this parameter can be set to a value between 0 and 90 degrees. Its starting point begins at the outer edge of the Spot Cone Angle. If set to 0, spot lights have a hard edge. Low values produce a slight softening effect to the boundary of the lit area. Higher values produce a wide, more natural fade. Adding softness expands the area of your light, so you may need to adjust the angle to achieve the desired effect.

    Note: Point lights and Spot lights also contain a set of parameters to control how they cast shadows. For more information on these parameters, see Shadows.

HUD Controls

The Light HUD contains the Light Type, Color, Intensity, Falloff Start, and Falloff parameters, which are also available in the Inspector. The Light HUD also contains 3D transform controls. For more information, see 3D Transform HUD Controls.

Object Lighting Parameters

All “lightable” objects have properties that control how they react to lights in a scene. You can adjust these properties for a given object via the Lighting section of the Properties tab.

  • Highlights: A checkbox that controls whether or not lit objects show highlights. This parameter has no effect if Shading is set to Off.
  • Shininess: A slider and value slider that set how strong an object’s highlights appear. Higher values create a glossier appearance.

    You may have to finesse both object surface properties and lighting parameters to achieve the desired result.

Simulating Visible Lights

Light sources are not visible. You can simulate a visible light source by combining a point light and an image or shape.

Figure. Canvas window showing simulated visible light source.

Note: Use the Match Move behavior to move a simulated light source with a light in a movie clip. For more information on the Match Move behavior, see Match Move Workflows.

Disabling Lighting

Lighting effects can significantly impact playback performance, so you may want to temporarily disable all lighting to improve playback speed while working on other aspects of your project.

To Disable Rendering of Lighting