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Shadow Types

Shadows help tie your geometry to the surfaces in your scene. They give the impression of density and size and help the viewer understand the positional relationships between all the objects in the scene. There are a few different types of shadows available in 3ds max, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.

  • Shadow map shadows are images (bitmaps) that are generated by the Default Scanline Renderer prior to the actual rendering and are then applied to your scene. The renderer calculates the distance from the light to the objects on its path to determine which objects obstruct the rays of light. Any surfaces beyond the obstruction do not receive any illumination. These shadows use more RAM than the other shadow types, but they do have soft edges, are reasonably quick to render, and are the default shadow type for most lights found in max.

  • Raytraced shadows are determined by tracing the path that each light ray follows, whether it passes through an object or not. Raytraced shadows are more accurate than shadow map shadows but take longer to calculate. Raytraced shadows have hard edges along their perimeters and are the default shadow type for the Sunlight system.

  • Advanced raytraced shadows are similar to raytraced shadows in the method that they use to calculate the shadow area, but they also have anti-aliasing controls to manage how the shadow edges appear in the scene. This allows raytraced shadows to have softer edges, similar to shadow map shadows, while retaining the greater accuracy of raytracing.

  • mental ray shadow maps are used with the mental ray renderer. They are not as precise as raytraced shadows but render fast, thereby decreasing the time it takes to render a scene.

  • Area shadows give the impression that the light source is generated by a surface, such as a diffusing cover, rather than by a single point. This spreads the shadows over a larger area, with a large variance between the dark and light areas. Area shadows can provide results not achieved by the other shadow types but may greatly increase your rendering time.


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