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Chapter 4. LightWave 7 Layout > Understanding the Animation Environment

Understanding the Animation Environment

Understanding the environment in which you are creating animations is key to your success as an animator. Knowing how to create an effect, or where to make the right adjustments, saves you not only time but also aggravation.

LightWave 7 has a lot of power and it’s up to you to harness it. If you are familiar with LightWave version 6.5, the LightWave 7 Layout interface should look familiar and you should think of Layout as your very own television studio. It is uncluttered, yet functional. While many other programs fill up the screen with useless icons, LightWave names buttons clearly. By default, one camera and one light are used in the scene. Figure 4.1 shows the Layout window at startup. The default interface is in Layout’s Perspective view—sort of a bird’s-eye view of the environment.

Figure 4.1. Layout opens to the Perspective view at startup.


The colored arrows visible on selected items represent axis control handles. Clicking and dragging the green arrow limits movements to the y-axis. Clicking and dragging the blue arrow limits movements to the z-axis, and clicking and dragging the red arrow limits movements to the x-axis.

The Layout Interface

Too often when a program opens, it seems as though you’re staring at a blank canvas. Where do you go from here? What’s next? Or even if you know what’s next, what should you create? If you look at the default startup of the tabs across the top of Layout, you’ll notice that seven tabs are available: Items, Objects, Lights, Camera, Scene, LScript, and Display. When you select any of these tabs, various controls appear on the left side of the interface. The toolbar across the top of the interface will show a different set of tools. Think of the tabs across the top as your steps to creating by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What items will you need in your scene?

  • How will you control objects?

  • What lights and cameras do you need?

  • Do you need to set any scene parameters?

  • Are you adding and executing LScripts to your scene?

  • How will you display your Layout view?


You should be using LightWave’s default interface settings for this chapter. By default, the controls are displayed on the left side of the interface, but you can move them from left to right or hide them, if you choose. Later you can use Chapter 1, “Introducing LightWave 7,” or your LightWave 3D reference guide to find out how to add your own tabs and controls and rearrange everything to your liking. For now, however, stick with these default settings.

The Timeline and Fractional Frames

At the bottom of the Layout interface, you’ll see more controls. The timeline for your animations, referred to as the frame slider in LightWave 7, appears here and cannot be moved. Don’t think of this as just a timeline for your animations; think of it as your lifeline. All the elements of 3D animation are important, from lighting, to cameras, to special effects, but the timing and movement you employ is what brings it all to life. Figure 4.2 shows the default Layout timeline.

Figure 4.2. The Layout 7 frame slider at the bottom of the interface is the lifeline of movement and timing for your animations.

If you click and drag the frame slider, you can shuttle through your animation. By default, the timeline ends at frame 60. In most cases, you’ll need more than 60 frames for your animations. In the General Options tab within the Preferences panel, accessed by pressing o, the frames per second (fps) is set to 30. NTSC video is 30fps, which is the most common setting for rendering in the United States. If the timeline ends at 60, and there are 30fps, you have a 2-second animation. To change this, double-click the number 60 at the end of the timeline to highlight it, and enter a new number, such as 300. At 30fps, 300 frames will give you a 10-second animation. Once entered, the numbers in the timeline adjust automatically, as shown in Figure 4.3.

Figure 4.3. The Layout timeline adjusts accordingly when you make the total animation length longer.


LightWave allows you to set a different starting frame as well as an end frame. To change the starting frame, simply double click the numeric value at the front end of the timeline and enter a new starting frame. Additionally, you can add a negative value, so your animations start before frame 0. There’s no rule that says you have to start your animation at frame 0. You would set negative keyframes to begin a motion of an item before the entire animation begins. Using pre 0 keyframes is great for character animation—your character can already be in motion as the scene begins.

Although the default fps value is 30, you can change this to whatever you like. For example, if you’re creating animations for film, change this value to 24. You might need an animation rendered at 15fps for a corporate Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Whatever fps you set, the default value will be used the next time you run Layout. Saved scenes with different fps values retain the information.


You can also set a higher fps if you like for strange and cool visual effects.

LightWave 7 offers the capability to view fractional frames in the timeline. Activating Allow Fractional Current Frames enables you to input frame numbers and keyframes with decimals, like frame 10.23. Back under the General Options tab in the Preferences panel, click the Allow Fractional Current Frame button and you’ll see values appear between the increments in the timeline (see Figure 4.4).

Figure 4.4. Fractional frames can be turned on in the Preferences panel and will be displayed in the timeline for specific control and timing.

The Coordinate System

Animating in 3D takes some getting used to. You need to realize that although you are looking at a flat computer monitor, elements in a 3D environment have x, y, and z-axes. This is the 3D world in which your animations live. The world, per se, is the environment around your animation. Each animation you create will have its own environment and its own coordinate system. LightWave 7 allows you to choose between three coordinate systems: World, Parent, and Local. The Local coordinate system eliminates any movement problems by allowing an object to be moved or rotated upon its own axis.

The Coordinate System setting affects movements and determines what happens when you drag your mouse. The easiest way to see this is to add a null, rotate it on Heading (H), Pitch (P), and Bank (B), and then parent the default light to it. You can turn on the Show Handles option to indicate the movement axes. If World is used, the axis will be along the grid. With Parent, it will be the same as the null’s local axes. With Local, it will be the light’s own axes. Only World is really new. If an item is deep within a hierarchy of rotated parents, movement along its parents or local axes can be confusing. The capability to move the item along the world axes is a lifesaver.


Every item in Layout has a pivot. Think of a pivot as an item’s root. Movements, rotations, parenting, or targeting all work based on an object’s pivot. As in previous versions, LightWave 7 enables you to interactively move pivots in Layout as well as rotate them. To understand this further, follow along with this next exercise.

Exercise 4.1 Moving Pivots

Building multiple objects in Modeler, such as machinery or industrial equipment, requires you to have individual parts that rotate independently but remain assembled to a single object. A tractor, for example, requires that the wheels rotate upon their own pivots and the main lift rotates upon its own pivot. The arm extending from the main lift also needs to rotate, as does the main body of the tractor. The main body also needs to move and rotate upon its own pivot. This tutorial shows you how to load a single object with multiple pivot points (something you couldn’t do before version 6) and move each pivot into place. Doing this will allow you to animate your model correctly.

You have three ways to load objects in Layout. You can select Load Object from the File drop-down menu and then select Load>Load Object. You can press + on the keyboard, or you can select Add from the Items tab; then Objects, and Load Object. Load the Tractor object from the Projects/Objects/Chapter4 folder on the book’s CD-ROM.

At the bottom of the Layout interface, click and hold the Current Item drop-down list, as shown in Figure 4.5.

Figure 4.5. The Tractor object has five layers, which means there are five parts (four wheels and the main body) to the object, each with separate pivoting parts.

You’ll see that the single object you loaded is comprised of five layers. Each layer contains a separate part of the object.

Press 1 on the numeric keypad to switch to the Back view.

This is the view looking down the z-axis. Figure 4.6 shows the view.

Figure 4.6. The Back view in Layout is an orthogonal view that looks down the z-axis, toward the back of the Layout view. Only the Camera view is rendered.


The numeric keypad is preprogrammed in Layout. You can switch among views easily, as follows: press 1 for Back view (z), 2 for Top view (y), 3 for Right view (x), 4 for Perspective view, 5 for Light view, 6 for Camera view, and 7 for Schematic view.

You can use the period key (.) to zoom in to the view, or the comma key (,) to zoom out.

From the top right of the viewport, click the small target icon to select Center Current Item.

The view centers on the currently selected item’s pivot. If you move your view, the currently selected item will remain centered. Figure 4.7 shows the Center Current Item function. Note that this feature toggles on and off—select it again to turn it off.

Figure 4.7. The Center Current Item function helps you align your view.

To place the pivots correctly, start with the wheels.

Select Layer 2 of the Tractor object from the Current Item selector for objects at the bottom of the Layout Interface, as shown in Figure 4.8.

Figure 4.8. Select a layer of a particular object from the Current Item drop-down list at the bottom of the Layout interface.

When Layer 2 is selected, you’ll see that the front-left wheel is highlighted yellow.


If your object continually jumps to the representational Bounding Box mode when object layers are selected, increase the Bounding Box Threshold. Press d on the keyboard to enter the Display Options panel. Set the Bounding Box Threshold to 42000. This value is slightly higher than the amount of points and polygons, whichever is higher. This keeps all layers drawn when selected. Also, if you’d like to see your object’s pivots more clearly, you can change the view to Front Face Wireframe, as shown in Figure 4.9.

Figure 4.9. Changing Layout’s Maximum Render Level to Front Face Wireframe shows all objects as only the front facing wireframe for better visibility.


Higher levels of the Bounding Box Threshold can slow system resources.

At this point, you can begin to move the item’s pivot into position. Positioning pivots in orthogonal views is important for accuracy. This is why you are in the Back (xy) view.

With Layer 2 of the Tractor selected, select Move Pivot Tool from the Pivot command under the Items tab (see Figure 4.10).

Figure 4.10. With the Items tab at the top of Layout selected, choose Move Pivot Point Tool from the Pivot drop-down list.

The object’s handles, shown as arrows, will appear: a green arrow pointing upward, a red arrow pointing from left to right, and a blue arrow pointing away (which is not visible in the Front view). The handles are centered on the object’s origin along the x-, y-, and z-axes. The wheel is off to the left of its origin. The 0 axis is where the x-, y-, and z-axes meet, similar to an intersection. Each axis has 0, represented in Modeler by the dark line in the center of the grid. For example, in the Back view, the dark line running up and down is the 0 y-axis. To the right of the 0 y-axis is the positive x-axis, and to the left of the 0 y-axis is the negative x-axis. Rotating the wheel in this position would rotate the wheel around the 0 axis, and not its center. Figure 4.11 shows the wheel rotated with the existing pivot.

Figure 4.11. Rotating the wheel’s pivot instead of moving it produces a wide rotation around the 0 axis. The wheel should rotate around itself.

With the wheel in its original position, move the pivot to the center of the wheel by dragging the red arrow.

This moves the pivot on the x-axis. Use the period key (.) to zoom in if needed.


Make sure Auto Key is off when you’re working through these exercises. If you have moved the wheel, simply click the u key to undo the move. Undo works only one time.


To move quickly into a closer view of the wheel, position the mouse pointer over the wheel, making sure that Center Current Item is off (upper right Layout). Press the g key to instantly center the mouse position. Then, zoom in by pressing the period key (.). Note that this works only in the Front, Side, or Top view.

Be as precise as possible centering the pivot.

When the x-axis pivot movement is in place, press 3 on the numeric keypad to switch to the Side view (x).

Select the green arrow and move the pivot up and over, centering it on the wheel for the z and y positions. If you like, you can move the y position from the Back view. Try dragging directly on the handles to constrain an axis. Figure 4.12 shows the movements in Bounding Box mode.

Figure 4.12. Use the Side view to align the pivot’s position for the y- and z-axes. This view shows the selection in Bounding Box mode for better visibility.

If you cannot get your pivot movements to be precise enough, you might need to adjust your Grid Square size.

You can do this through the Display Options panel (d) or press the left-bracket key ([) for a smaller grid and the right-bracket key (]) for a larger grid.


If you do create a smaller grid square size, you’ll need to zoom out by using the comma (,) key. A smaller grid square size allows you to create more precise movements.

You’ve just moved the pivot for the front wheel, Layer 2.

To test its position, select the Rotate command for the selected item and then use the right mouse button to click and drag to rotate the wheel on its bank position.

Because the tractor is positioned on the x-axis, selecting Bank for rotation makes the tire rotate upon its center.

If you notice that the spinning of the wheel is unaligned, reposition the pivot point. When you have it to your liking, save your scene and your objects. From here, select the other layers of the Tractor object and move the pivot points into place. Experiment with different pivot point positions, and even try rotating them for various results. You can load the Tractor object into Modeler, select the scoop area, and place it on another layer. Resave the object, and you’ll be able to set a pivot point for the rotation of the scoop. You can do this for any object.

Remember that pivot points are the roots of the object and/or layer. All movements, centering, and even rotation are based on the pivot. For example, the pivot for a door swinging on a hinge would be the edge of the door where it meets the frame. The door rotates on this pivot point.

Setting Pivot Points in Modeler

You also have the capability to set a pivot point in Modeler. Setting the pivot point in Modeler is much easier than in Layout. To do so, choose the object you want to adjust and follow these steps:

Under the Detail tab, select Pivot, and you’ll see a blue crosshair appear in your Modeler views.

You’ll see a blue crosshair. This is your pivot point. Move it into your desired position, and save the object. This is a smart way to create complex objects with many moving parts. Once you have a pivot point set, it will be saved with the object.


To Rotate the pivot in Layout, use the Rec Pivot Rot (Record Pivot Rotation) command to lock the new pivot location, which records Pivot Rotation. Pivot Rotation is for resetting the rotation values to zero and allowing full axis rotation from something other than HPB 0,0,0. Actually, with the new coordinate system feature this option is not often used.

This eliminates rotation problems often found in complex hierarchies and works well for LightWave’s multilayer objects.

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