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Area Lights

Distant lights and point lights produce hard-edged, ray-traced shadows. Ray-traced shadows take more time to calculate, which of course means more time to render. Spotlights also can produce ray-traced shadows, but with spotlights you have the option of using Shadow Maps, which take less time to render than ray-traced shadows. Softer than ray-traced shadows, Shadow Maps use more memory to render than ray-traced shadows; but ray-traced shadows use more processing power.

Area lights also can produce realistic ray-traced shadows, but to do so they require more rendering time. For example, suppose that a person is standing outside in bright sunlight. The shadow that the person casts has sharp edges around the area by the subject’s foot, where the shadow begins. As the shadow falls off and away from the subject, it becomes softer. Ray-traced shadows from distant lights, point lights, and spotlights cannot produce this effect—and neither can Shadow Maps. Area lights can produce these true shadows and give a softer overall appearance to animations.


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