Want to find the best 3D lighting course?
Our ultimate guide combines the top 3D lighting courses currently available, including courses run by industry experts and courses that get you up to speed with leading software used by studios everywhere.
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to hit the ground running with your animation career! Read on to learn more.
What is 3D lighting?
In cinematography, lighting can make or break a scene. It’s how emotions are conveyed, and the mood is built in a scene. But lighting a scene takes some serious skill and it’s a critical one that animation houses, studios, and other industries look for when evaluating 3D animators. Let’s take a look.
What is the role of a 3D lighting artist?
In VFX and 3D animation, lighting is integral to bringing characters and effects to life and inspiring emotion in the viewer. You as a 3D lighting artist are instrumental in the process as they will be responsible for lighting the scene effectively as part of the overall story. 3D lighting artists will work across many different industries and niches, including animated movies, games, advertising, architecture, and other creative paths.
Just imagine these scenes without any lighting… Yeah, they definitely wouldn’t feel the same:
So now you know WHY lighting is important.
But since you’re reading this post, you likely want to kickstart or enhance your 3D lighting career.
How? Let’s find out.
How do you become a 3D lighting artist?
To become a 3D lighting artist, you need to develop and hone the skills needed to successfully give animations and effects the tone, mood, and atmosphere required by the story and narrative.
In addition, you as a 3D lighting artist will need to master a few different types of software to render and light scenes and a strong demo reel or portfolio showcasing these skills in practice.
Is it worth it?
Yes. If you’re looking for a creative career, 3D lighting is a great option. (It’s also pretty neat to see your name in the end credits of feature films, if you’re looking to get started in the movie industry. Even my kids are mentioned in the end credits of a film!)
Plus, this is not a “starving artist” career.
As of November 2022, current figures show that the average salary for a 3D lighting artist can range between $78,276 to $103,351 per year in the United States.
And your salary can go up as you get more experience.
Now you know what 3D lighting is and what it takes to become a 3D lighting artist.
But how do you learn how to become a 3D lighting artist?
You have a couple of options.
You can either go through the college route and get a new degree.
That works, but isn’t necessary.
Degrees are both costly and time consuming.
Instead, a way better option is to learn by enrolling in online courses.
That’s what I wish would have been more available to me when I got started in the industry. (And a huge factor in why I created our courses, which I share below–to make the industry more accessible.)
So which courses do I recommend?
Here are the top 3D lighting courses to help you navigate the industry.
The 20 best animation lighting courses
What are the top lighting courses? I’ve listed 20 top courses to help you get started.
(Note that, except for our own courses, I haven’t personally tried these courses–my recommendations are based on online reviews and the overall reputation of the company in question. Ensure that these courses are courses YOU are looking to learn from.)
I created this course bundle to help people who are new to the industry acquire the skills they need, plus learn how to get a job. So it’s really the course I wish I would’ve had access to when I was a new lighting artist.
And it seems our work has paid off, as this comment in a Reddit thread shows:
We cover the skills you need (including software like Maya), as well as steps for presenting your work in a demo reel and getting a job in the industry.
- Learn to a lighter on animated films in less than a year with a proven system to help people get their dream job as a Lighting artist
- Software is included in the course.
- Mentoring and support will be provided to help you throughout the process.
Price: $2,378.81 (or $236.81/month for 12 months)
Maya is one of the leading software programs used in animation as a 3D computer graphics application. Maya is used to building assets, characters, and entire worlds. The Intro to Maya workshop is designed to help you learn the most popular 3D software package used in animation in a focused and precise way.
- Learn an industry standard program at your own pace
- Taught by industry experts, so you gain firsthand insight into how professional animators use Maya
The 3ds Max Lighting Fundamentals course takes you through the basics of 3D lighting without focusing on a specific rendering engine. 3d lighting courses like this one will take you through how software like 3ds Max can be used to master the concept of lighting for animation.
- Beginner-level course to learn lighting fundamentals, with shorter courses
- Learn how to create and set different light types, shadowing, and other lighting techniques
Katana is a Lighting and LookDev tool and is one of the most powerful lighting and look development tools in the 3D industry. The Academy of Animated Art Katana Workshop shows you how to master it. Taught by Katana software pioneer instructors, this course gives you all the tools and skills needed to take full advantage of all the benefits Katana offers.
- Learn a program that is fast becoming an industry standard and add it to your resume
- Learn how to make lighting a sequence of shots easy and simple
The 3D Lighting and Texturing course covers different aspects of using Maya for animation, including commonly used shaders, potential uses, and applications. In addition, the course covers the basics of lighting setups, including how to light a scene, cast shadows, and test renders to ensure high-quality animation. Taught by industry experts, the 3D Lighting and Texturing course then delves into both beginner and advanced lighting concepts.
- Support and mentorship throughout the course from leading animators in the industry
- 4 classes that encompass beginner and advanced techniques
Price: Upon request
Arnold for Maya, Katana, Cinema4d, Houdini, and other 3D renders has fast become the industry standard for creating remarkable animations. It is one of the leading tools used in animation for shading, lighting, and rendering to create photorealistic animations. This course walks you through everything you need to know about tools, including principles of shading and lighting, how to apply them in different scenes, and the most crucial shading nodes.
- Short course that is best suited for those with a foundational knowledge of lighting
- Additional software such as Maya and Katana will be needed with Arnold renderer.
Creating an amazing cinematic scene that is well-lit isn’t an easy feat. But 3d lighting courses like Arnold and Nuke – Light and Compositing a 3d Cinematic Shot are there to help you achieve that for your demo reel. In this course, you’ll learn how to light and composite a scene using Arnold render and Nuke. This course goes into techniques used by industry experts to help you achieve a great shot for your demo reel.
- Includes all the Maya assets and EXRs renders to help you create your own custom shot
- Basic knowledge of Maya and Nuke will be needed for this course.
3D animation courses such as Lighting and Shading for Film Production focus on programs such as Arnold for Maya to help you construct your own cinematic scenes using lighting, shading, and rendering. With a specific angle of film production, this course is designed to teach you the fundamentals needed for lighting, shading, and rendering for feature films. Concepts taught include direct vs. indirect illumination and other high-level concepts necessary for superior lighting skills.
- 6-week self-paced course to help you learn lighting, shading, and rendering
- Basic knowledge of Arnold and Maya needed
Price: Upon request
CGI effects have become a mainstay in movie production, and the CGI MasterClass aims to break down the process as part of their online lighting courses. CGI blends art and tech together, and this course is designed to go through the ins and outs of CGI. For those seeking a digital lighting career, the CGI MasterClass is about understanding the software used as well as the thought process behind 3D lighting.
- Modular course taught by industry professionals
- Task-based course structure
- Network with other students and professionals
Price: Upon request
Mastering 3D lighting fundamentals enables you to undertake professional product rendering, VFX, and more. The course touches on the basics of 3D lighting, lighting theory, and photorealistic rendering skills. A basic understanding of 3D lighting is needed for the course, and Blender is used as the primary tool in this course.
- Learn 3D lighting theory
- Short course to brush up on 3D lighting fundamentals
Mastering 3D lighting will elevate your reel and give you a serious edge over the competition. 3D lighting is a form of artistry in its own right, and it’s essential to spend time getting it right by taking lighting courses. With Lights, Camera, Render, you will learn critical lighting concepts and techniques necessary to differentiate yourself from the competition and build your reputation as an expert 3D lighting artist. The course is 6 hours long and includes video lessons, podcasts, written guides, and a motion community for students to join.
- Teaches studio lighting techniques for both indoor and outdoor environments
- Learn different types of rendering, including how to identify good renders from bad renders
Arnold is a powerful tool for digital lighting, shading, and rendering, and this course is focused on teaching the ins and outs of using Arnold for 3D lighting. With these types of lighting courses, you can build your 3D lighting skills and master leading 3D lighting programs used by experienced professionals. This specialized 3-week lighting course walks through procedures and techniques needed to present objects realistically using lighting and shading.
- Gain skills in using Arnold for photorealistic rendering
- Learning 3D lighting using Arnold in this course can be used for a variety of applications, including VFX, gaming, and architecture
Price: Between $450-675 depending on the price category selected
Blender is one of the fundamental programs needed for effective 3D lighting, and with this course, you can learn how to use it to get light direction and light size just right. The course also touches on color, emphasis, and Blender lighting type to ensure you gain the knowledge needed to light 3D art effectively. Taught by an industry professional, Master Lighting in Blender 3D is split into small, bite-sized chunks to make it easier to absorb, but some prior knowledge of tools like Blender will be needed.
- Learn professional workflows for the lighting process with an industry professional
- Apply your skills by readying scenes and begin the lighting process from the very beginning
Price: Included in Skillshare membership
Centennial’s College offers a Lighting for 3D Animation program, focusing on teaching some of the primary software used for 3D lighting. The course is great for experienced animators looking to enhance their professional skills and gain a deeper understanding of 3D lighting with lighting courses. Topics focus on lighting objects, scenes, camera positions, compositing, and script/storyboards. Programs taught include Alias|Wavefront Maya or Side Effects Houdini.
- Course designed for experienced animators that want to go deeper into the world of 3D lighting
- Structured like a traditional academic course rather than being self-paced
Price: Upon request
Katana has quickly emerged as one of the favorite programs for lighting artists, which is why it’s crucial to consider lighting courses that help you master the software. Katana requires specialized knowledge, and this course goes through the skills needed for animated and photo-real lighting. The Lighting Artist program is for 5 months and is taught by a veteran professional in the industry. The course is primarily designed for professional animators seeking to build knowledge around using Katana for animation, television, and feature films.
- Learn how to use Katana for advanced lighting skills, such as enhancing a particular shot’s depth, tone, atmosphere, and mood.
- The course is a mixture of theory, applied projects, and exercises
- Includes career prep options
Price: $6,427 (approximate cost)
The Advanced 3D Lighting Course moves beyond basic theory and practice and focuses more on the types of lighting and how that changes a shot using tools such as Resolve and Fusion.
The Advanced 3D Lighting Course by VFXStudy is more of a tutorial and teaches advanced techniques for 3D lighting, including ambient light, directional light, point light, and spot light. The concepts teach professional animators how to light a 3D shot effectively using advanced techniques and how to enhance the 3D lit scene in 2D post-processing.
- Best for advanced animation professionals as it builds on basic lighting skills and goes into advanced 3D lighting and 2D post-processing
- Self-paced tutorial package
Price: Free, includes YouTube video and packaged lighting files for students to apply techniques.
For those seeking to build their skills in images instead of motion capture, this MAsterclass in Archviz could be the right fit. Taught by industry professionals via Zoom, the Masterclass in Archviz is a 2-hour course that teaches students how to build their lighting skills and create stunning images. In addition, students will learn about lighting, composition in image-making in archviz, and how to improve rendering workflow overall.
- Best for learning 3D imagery and tools used for image rendering
- Short masterclass using programs such as Archviz and 3DS Max
Many of the current lighting courses available focus on teaching techniques using programs such as Blender because the latter is so prolifically used in the industry. The Fundamentals of Digital Lighting in Blender delves into how Blender lights work, simulating real light in Blender, and techniques to improve Blender renders. The course goes into the fundamentals of lighting and how that translates into simulated lighting using programs like Blender.
- If you are experienced with Blender already, this course is a great addition to build and enhance on those skills.
- Self-paced online class in bite-size chunks and included learning tools such as short quizzes
Price: Annual fee of $288 or a monthly fee of $48
Industry professionals have their own particular workflows for using tools like Blender for lighting. One of the benefits of lighting courses is that you can learn new and different workflows for skills, such as 3D lighting, as you build your own capabilities in the field. Online lighting courses such as Master Lighting in Blender 3D are crafted based on an industry professional’s workflow and how they undertake the lighting process to help you understand different ways the tool can be used.
- Learn the essentials of effective lighting using leading industry tools such as Blender
- Short course that is suitable for beginners learning Blender
Price: Included with Skillshare membership
The Maya Arnold renderer is used across industries now and has become a staple tool for lighting. That’s why lighting courses such as the Maya Lighting Masterclass are essential for professional animators looking to enhance their rendering skills using industry tools. The Maya Lighting Masterclass is designed for professional animators with a basic understanding of Maya and Arnold and also goes into how to craft cinematic-looking compositions.
- Build up Maya and Arnold skills as well as post-production knowledge
- Apply skills with short exercises to create cinematic-looking renders
Over to you!
When it comes to 3D lighting, there are a vast array of options available to you. As all of these 3D lighting courses show, there are many different ways you can learn and build your lighting skills and create your own path in professional animation.
If you’re looking for the best lighting courses, our list can give you a headstart on selecting the lighting course that is right for you. All of these courses use industry-leading software and are designed to teach you the fundamentals and techniques needed to craft a rewarding and fulfilling career in 3D lighting.