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Chapter 4. LightWave 7 Layout > Constructing Scenes

Constructing Scenes

With the necessary basics on keyframing out of the way, it’s time for you to begin learning how to build 3D scenes in LightWave. A scene in LightWave is comprised of objects, lights, and cameras, similar to a real-world television set. But with LightWave, you have no limitations—it’s a virtual world you can call your own.

Setting up scenes often requires that you plan what it is you are trying to accomplish. Plan it, organize, and you’ll be much better off. Remember the motto, “Work smarter, not harder.”

Surfacing Objects

Sometimes starting a big project can be overwhelming. Where do you begin? What should you do first? How much are they paying? All of those questions play a role in how you approach a project. From the start, you should know where you want to end up. This is, of course, if you’re creating an animation for a client or your boss. There is much to be said about letting your creativity flow and see where it takes you—just don’t do this on paying jobs. Time is money! Nevertheless, you should be aware of the entire project and begin by creating models.

When you set up a scene, a good place to start is to load your objects into Layout. However, because LightWave’s object files retain their surface information (surfacing is not saved with a scene file), it’s a good idea to load an object, surface it, save it, and then continue. Don’t load all your objects at once, and don’t try to surface them all together. Surface objects one at a time. From there, you can concentrate on movements and lighting.


LightWave’s Modeler supports surfacing and texture mapping. So much of your object’s surfaces can be created there, as well as in Layout. The choice is yours. Be sure to check out Chapter 10, “Organic Modeling,” for more surfacing information.

Loading and Saving Objects

Earlier in this chapter you followed the steps to load objects into Layout. However, you also can load objects from other scenes, load recently loaded scenes, or load a specific object layer. Additionally, because you have the capability to change object properties and shapes, you can save objects as well. Figure 4.19 shows the options available to you in LightWave 7 for loading objects into Layout, while Figure 4.20 shows the options for saving.

Figure 4.19. Load functions, such as Load Items From Scene, are found under the File drop-down list at the top left of the Layout interface.

Figure 4.20. There are various save options available to you in Layout, found in the File drop-down list, under Save.

At some point in your career as an animator, you will come to know the Load Items From Scene command. This handy option enables you to load just the objects and their motions from one scene into another. You also have the option to load another scene’s lighting into your existing scene.

For example, let’s say you’ve set up a complex scene of a scary haunted house and graveyard. Now you need to add a bat or two flying about the front of the house. You could load the bat and its wings into this scene and set it in motion. However, you’d need to do that twice, once for each bat, and you’d be working in a crowded scene, which might slow things down and make it confusing to see what you’re doing.

Additionally, you don’t want to accidentally change any of the other objects’ settings, such as the house. Instead, you can set up the bat in a scene all its own. You can test the wings, make sure they flap, and so on. From there, you can save the scene, and load the complex haunted house scene. Then, all you need to do is select the Load Items From Scene command to load the bat and its motions into your current scene.

When using Load Items From Scene, LightWave will ask you whether you’d like to load the lights as well. In most cases, you won’t load the lights because you already have a scene with active lights. You really want only the objects and their motions to be added into your current scene. But there are times when all you do want is the lights, such as a scene where the light source is a key element. You can create a scene with only the specific lights you need, and load those lights with their motions into your current scene, also with the Load Items From Scene command. For example, you can spend an afternoon creating lighting setups for various sets, such as a traditional three-point lighting scheme or a daylight scene. When it’s time to light your scene, you’ll already have it done. Just use Load Items From Scene to import what you’ve already created.

Adding Cameras to a Scene

Without a camera in your scene, you would never see anything render. LightWave lets you add multiple cameras. Adding additional cameras is very useful for animations that need multiple angles of a single animation event. For example, perhaps your client has contracted you to re-create a traffic accident. It is required that you show the animation from all views: top, side, front, back, and a traveling aerial view. You can add five cameras and place them all once, in their respective positions. This eliminates the need to move the camera to different angles. Instead, you can simply switch between any of the multiple cameras. Chapter 6, “LightWave 7 Cameras,” explores multiple cameras further.


It’s important to remember that in LightWave, rendered animations are always seen through whichever camera is selected at the time of rendering. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of using camera views to set up your scenes and keyframes.

Exercise 4.4 Adding Multiple Cameras

This next exercise will use multiple cameras. You’ll learn how easy it is to load and set up different cameras for renders from different angles.

Clear the scene by selecting Clear Scene from the File menu.

From the Items tab, click the Add drop-down menu.

Select Add Camera, as shown in Figure 4.21.

Figure 4.21. Adding a camera is as easy as adding objects.

Before the camera is added, a requester comes up asking you to name the camera. If you choose not to name the camera, LightWave names it Camera (1) (additional cameras are automatically named Camera (2), Camera (3), and so on). If you are creating a scene with more than two cameras, take the extra three seconds and name them. Figure 4.22 shows the MultiCam scene’s cameras (found in the Projects/Scenes/Chapter4 directory of the book’s CD-ROM).

Figure 4.22. When scenes have multiple cameras, rename the cameras so that you can keep track of each camera.

If you want to rename your existing camera, you can do so by first selecting the specific camera and then selecting the Items tab, clicking the Replace drop-down menu, and choosing Rename Current Item.

Adding Lights to a Scene

Even if your scene is a virtual set, you need to add a light or two to see what’s going on. By default, Layout has one light, which cannot be removed. It can be turned off, but cannot be deleted from the scene. To add a light to a scene, select the Add drop-down list under the Items tab, choose the Lights listing, and select the type of light you want to add.

When you have selected a light, you can display the Light Properties panel by pressing p. In the Light Properties panel, you can color each light, change the type of light, and add lens flares, volumetrics, and more. However, you can quickly access the individual light controls from under the Lights tab, shown in Figure 4.23.

Figure 4.23. Instead of opening the Lights panel to set parameters for your selected light source, you can directly select commands from under the Lights tab.

Lights in Layout respond the way objects do when selected. They can be moved or rotated, and they, too, will show control handles. You can also select lights (as you can with objects) directly in Layout by clicking them. If you hold down the Shift key, you can select multiple lights. When you have selected multiple lights or objects, your movements and rotations apply to each selection. Multiple selections are great if you have to place your lights or objects perfectly and need to adjust their positions. However, if you were smart and planned out your scene, you would have parented the items to a null object.


Parenting your lights or objects in Layout is a good way to help keep things organized and save time. This next brief tutorial will show you how to parent a few lights to a null object. Parenting is the process of making objects “belong” to one another. For example, a car is one object that has four wheels, each being objects in their own right. Parenting the four wheels to the car will make the wheels follow the car if it is moved. Once parented, the wheels are “children” and a hierarchy is born.

A null object is nothing more than a representational point in Layout used for various control issues. It does not show up in the render, and it is very useful for texture references, visual references, motion tracking, parenting, or targeting. The following exercise shows you how it works.

Exercise 4.5 Parenting Lights

Lights, in many ways, work like objects. They have a property panel, can be animated on any motion channel, and can also be parented.

Clear the scene.

Start by adding two more lights, making a total of three, including the existing default light. Do this from the Items tab.

Select Add, then Lights, then Add Distant Light, as shown in Figure 4.24.

Figure 4.24. Add lights directly from Layout.


Remember that you also can access the Add menu by pressing the Ctrl and Shift keys, and clicking directly on the Layout interface with the left mouse button. This brings up the mouse button menus.


When you add a Light to a scene, a name requester appears asking you to give the light a name. You also can choose not to name the light and click OK, or press the Enter key.

The second light appears directly in the middle of Layout at the 0 xyz-axis. Now it’s time to add a null object.

Select Add, then Objects, and then Add Null.

Just like adding a camera or light, a name requester appears. Click OK or press Enter to leave the default name Null.

The Null object also loads at the 0 xyz-axis. Select the second light in the center of the screen and move it off center, similar to Figure 4.25.

Figure 4.25. The second light is moved off center to make the Null object more visible.

Don’t forget to create a keyframe for the light after you’ve moved it to lock it in place! Otherwise, it will jump back to the previous position once the timeline slider is adjusted.


If the Left Button Item Select feature is turned on from the General Options tab (o) in the Preferences panel (see Figure 4.26), you should be able to click and select the light directly in Layout. However, because both the light and the null object are located at the 0 xyz-axis, LightWave might not select the desired item. If this is the case, simply select Lights at the bottom of the Layout interface, and select the particular item from the Current Item list, also at the bottom of the interface.

Figure 4.26. The Left Button Item Select function allows you to directly select items in Layout.

With the second light still selected, press the m key to access the light’s Motion Options panel.

Select Null for the Parent Item, as shown in Figure 4.27.

Figure 4.27. The Motion Options panel holds the commands for parenting and unparenting your objects.

Keep the Motion Options panel open, and in Layout, select the next child item, such as the first light in Layout (the item that is to be parented). You may need to move the Motion Options panel off to the side to see your Layout.

Parent the first light and the camera to the same Null object.

Back in Layout, select the Null object, and move and rotate it.

You’ll see that the items parented to it move along with it.

Parenting items is useful in so many ways. You can create great variations in reflections by parenting objects and rotating them during an animation. You can organize your scene and group items, such as lights and cameras.

This is a traditional way of selecting and parenting objects. However, LightWave also allows you to parent items directly in the Scene Editor, and in Modeler when you build your objects. In addition, you can parent multiple items at once, which is handy for characters with bone structures, or other complex hierarchies. Later in Chapter 12, “Deformations and Movement,” you’ll discover how parenting is essential to properly setting up skeletal structures for character movement, and more. But for now, you can load the SimpleParent scene from the Projects directory of the book’s CD-ROM as an example of parenting described here. Use this scene to parent items to other objects and even to unparent items to get a feel for parenting.


Targeting is different from parenting in that parenting attaches one item to another. Targeting only points one item to another. For example, if you parented a camera to a moving car, the camera would move with the car wherever it traveled. If you target a camera to a car, the camera will remain stationary, but it will always point at the car, following it wherever it goes.

Although targeting is different from parenting, the two processes are similar. From the Motion Options panel of a selected item, you can choose to have an item target another. Figure 4.28 shows the Motion Options panel and Target Item selection.

Figure 4.28. The Motion Options panel for the selected item allows you to target other items.

When setting up targets, the camera’s pivot will point at the pivot of the object. This is great for many types of animations, such as a character’s eye movements, a simulation rifle to target animation, and much more. Try targeting the camera to a null object and move the null around. The camera will point at the null no matter where it goes. When you target something in Layout, you’ll see target lines between the two items. You can turn this on or off from the Display Options tab in the Preferences panel. Remember that any parent or target looks to the pivot point of an object. If your object’s pivot makes your targeting look odd, you can add a null object and parent the items to it. Then, target the camera to the null.

The exercises in this chapter have given you an idea of the relationship between objects in that each individual item, such as an object, camera, or light can be grouped together or used individually through parenting and targeting. Larger scenes incorporate the same usefulness of hierarchies, but managing them becomes difficult in Layout. No worries, though—the LightWave 7 Scene Editor keeps track of your complex setups.


LightWave 7 allows you to parent and target anything to anything. A light can target a camera, a camera can be parented to a light, an eyeball can target a camera, and so on.

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