Create Volume Lights in 3DS Max

This tutorial will help you create great-looking, volumetric lights in 3DS Max. In the real world, this effect is visible when there’s a lot of dust in an enclosed space. The tutorial also skims through basic interior lighting techniques, without going into too much detail. Enjoy.

The result

Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - Final

1/4 The Scene

We’re using an old 3D doodle that we found loitering about on our HDDs. You can download it here (you can also download the completed scene at the end of the tutorial):

Download resource archive

Import the FBX file and let’s get started.

2/4 3DS Max Interior lighting

We need to enable mental ray. Open 3DS Max’s Render Setup window {“F10“}, scroll down the common tab and assign the mental ray renderer to the production slot.
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - Enable Mental Ray

First of all, we need to make sure that the interior is lit “from the outside”. Switch to the perspective view {“p}. Go to 3DS Max’s Lights {Lights Tab } / Standard tab and place a Skylight anywhere around the box.
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - Place Skylight
Switch to the Back view. Click the Lights drop-down, switch to Photometric {fancier lights} and place a mr Sky Portal precisely over the 3 openings. Also, set the multiplier to 5, and the shadow samples to at least 32.
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - Place mr Sky Portal
To force the light inside the box we need the help of Global Illumination. Open up the Render Setup window {“F10“} again and click the Indirect Illumination tab. Scroll down to the Global Illumination tab and enable it. Also set the Photon number to at least 40.000.
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - Global Illumination
To bounce the light particles around even more we need to setup the all so familiar Ambient/ Reflective Occlusion map. Open up 3DS Max’s Material Editor {Material Editor Icon} and select an empty slot. Set the Specular level to 10. Click the diffuse map button and drop-in an Ambient/ Reflective Occlusion map.
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - Ambient/ Reflective Occlusion map
Choose a light-yellowish color. Set the Shadow Samples to 64 {less grain}  and apply {Apply Material} the material to all the objects.
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - Ambient/ Reflective Occlusion settings
Press the “8“ key and set the Background color to a bright blue.
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - environment Background Color
Switch to the Camera view {“C”} and render the scene. It should look something like this:
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - First Render
If it looks like the spawn of Beelzebub himself, make sure that the mr Sky Portal is outside of the box and not intersecting anything.

3/4 The Volume Light

Switch to the top view. Go to 3DS Max’s Lights tab {Lights Tab} again, and place a “standard” Target Direct light. Make sure that the shadows are on and set to Ray Traced Shadows. Also, be careful so that it intersects the windows and that its length exceeds the box’s.
Volume Light 3DS Max Tutorial - place the Target Direct light

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Programmer and 3D enthusiast. Teaches web design, builds games and maintains this site in his spare time.

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2D/ 3D artist. Loves game& product art.

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2D/ 3D artist. Works as a print designer and does 3D art in his spare time.

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