Arnold is an advanced Monte Carlo ray tracing renderer built for the demands of feature-length animation and visual effects movies. This is a beginners tutorial that introduces MtoA, a plug-in which allows you to use the Arnold renderer directly in Autodesk Maya. In this tutorial, we will cover how to build a simple photographic lighting studio setup that can be used to light and render all manner of objects. We will go through the steps to light, shade and render a toy robot model using the Arnold renderer. We will use Arnold's proprietary lights to achieve a physically accurate, photo-realistic lighting setup.  As well as using Arnold's lights, you can also use standard Maya lights when rendering with Arnold. If you select a light and then inspect the Maya attribute editor, as well as the regular light attributes, you will also see a new group of Arnold attributes for the light, which is where any additional settings used by Arnold can be accessed. 

We will use the Standard Surface shader to shade the robot and give it a metallic finish. The Standard Surface shader is a multi-purpose shader capable of producing all types of materials, from simple plastic to car paint or skin. The Standard Surface shader is very powerful, and allows a large number of different sorts of materials to be created, but can be somewhat daunting at first. Due to a large number of controls, the Standard Surface shader is split up into several groups such as Diffuse, Specular, Sub-Surface scattering, etc. We will need to adjust the Diffuse and Specular attributes to get a believable brushed metal effect.


We will also look at some of Arnold's camera lens options to produce realistic, physically accurate depth of field. Lastly, we will look at how to optimize render settings and eliminate any noise that may appear in the render. Note that, although Maya and MtoA have been used in this tutorial, much of the material is really about Arnold in general and so is also relevant to users of other Arnold implementations such as 3ds Max to Arnold (MAXtoA) and Houdini to Arnold (HtoA).

The estimated time it will take to complete this tutorial should be no more than 30 minutes.

Scene Setup



Light Settings


Light Samples



Camera Depth of Field



Sampling and noise

Noise nearly always comes from insufficient sampling, but increasing sampling for the wrong rays can make the render times increase without helping to remove the noise. The aim is to allocate rays as effectively as possible to minimize the noise in the most efficient manner. So if the Camera samples have to be increased to remove DOF noise, the other settings must be lowered to keep render times manageable. However, if DOF or motion blur is not a concern, then increasing Camera samples would fix all noise elsewhere but would also slow render times from the unnecessary rays.  

This tutorial is featured in the April issue of 3D Artist magazine.

The final scene file can be downloaded here.