I am new to 3d animation. I have always wanted to make 3d animation shorts (cartoons) and have now made the plunge. Over the past few months I have learnt to model, rig and animate characters (Maya/zbrush). I want to take it a step further and learn lighting and rendering. After doing research for the past week, I have realised I have no choice but to ask here as several forum posts just mention that big studios use their own proprietary pipelines and softwares, while many indie-animators use all kinds of softwares from NUKE to after effects, V-ray to mental-ray. The thing is that people are using such software for all kind of VFX (like NUKE for live-action and v-ray for photo-realism). Can someone please guide me on the following questions:

For 3d/CGI animation shorts, what it the right lighting and rendering software to learn?

Do you recommend any tutorials out there that I can look at for those specific softwares? I do not want to be looking at a 10 hours video tutorial series on v-ray if they are teaching interior design lighting examples instead of how to light up a cartoon cgi animation. So unfortunately google has been unable to help me find specific tutorials on this.

I do not want to compromise on the quality so difficulty level and price of the software doesnt matter (not yet anyways).

  • Why don't you use Maya to light and render? Commented May 19, 2014 at 12:46
  • @JasonConrad Maya does a lot of things. If only I knew of all the things it does. As someone who's just starting out, I needed someone to show me the way.
    – Tomatoes
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 14:05

1 Answer 1


There seem to be a few basic misconceptions here. For cartoons you don't need anything fancy as long as cell-shading is supported, which is typically a camera filter.

Lighting is actually done in your 3d animation software. The job of a render engine like Mental Ray or V-ray is simply to process the scene you build to generate the final image, but it takes the geometry, light sources, materials, and cameras that you have defined in your animation software.

I'm personally a big fan of Mental Ray in general, but that's just because of the fact it is included with my 3d animation package of choice (SoftImage). I thought it was included in most editions of Maya as well, but it might not still be. I don't remember which render engines are included with Maya, but they should be more than sufficient for your purposes. For cartoon rendering, you really don't need a hyper-accurate ray tracing engine that can do good physical simulation (which is the point of most of the third party render engines).

Lighting and rendering is also a complex and broad topic that can't really be covered in a couple of simple tutorials. The basics are very similar to building your model, you just choose the types of lights you want and place them throughout the scene and then place one or more cameras to allow you to render viewpoints. Lights and cameras can also be animated, just like your characters and scene.

Do your lighting in Maya and try rendering it out in Maya. If you run in to any specific issues while working on trying to get the look you are going for, you can always post a screen shot here with a specific question and we should be able to offer more directed feedback about how to accomplish what you are trying to do.


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