What is Katana 3D Software? How to Use Katana in 2021

by | Updated: June 28, 2021 | Tips & Techniques | 0 comments

Want to learn how to use Katana 3D software? 

To take your lighting skills to the next level, you need to master industry-standard software applications. One of these applications is Katana. This tool is made specifically for lighting, and when used correctly, it can significantly scale down your lighting workflow. 

Let’s get to know more about Katana and learn how to use it.

What is Katana 3D software? 

Katana is a Lighting and LookDev tool from The Foundry. The software was initially developed at Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI) in 2004 as a part of a 2D compositing package. 

Developing and managing LookDev used to be a time and labor-intensive process. The data management was so time-consuming that SPI tried hiring lighting assistants – Associate TDs – to take the load off the TDs to preload the material. 

SPI’s lighting application at that time, called BIRPS (Sony Pictures RIBs backward), wasn’t cutting it anymore. As BIRPS had no GUI, and lights couldn’t be adjusted, the company decided to develop an alternative to BIRPS called Katana. 

Katana was designed to streamline the workflow so you can focus on your work instead of dealing with repetitive tasks. Because Katana 3D software worked so well at data management, SPI no longer needed to hire associate TDs. 

Katana drastically simplified the management of assets, materials, shaders, and output files like AOVs using a node-based workflow. It is designed to make an artist’s life easier. Katana processes large files efficiently and allows you to simultaneously work with multiple shots, frames, assets, and other variations from within one Katana project file.

Katana uses a rule-based expression to set the materials to particular objects, isolate parts of the shot for different renders, merge scene components from partial scenes, and use Python scripting to define arbitrary manipulation of attributes in the scene hierarchy.

What is Katana software used for? 

Why and how is Katana used? Let’s take a look. 

Why should you learn Katana if you already know Maya? 

Knowing all the industry-standard tools and software applications makes you a valuable part of an animation team. The more software applications you know, the higher the chances of landing a job at top studios. 

Katana is best used for sequence lighting on a large scale, as it’s designed to make a light artist’s life easier by solving problems with scalability and flexibility. 

You see, complex 3D animation software applications such as Maya, Houdini, 3D Studio Max are bogged down by a multitude of tools and functionality, which clog the interface and decrease efficiency. 

That’s why you need to learn not just these software tools, but also Katana.

Benefits of Katana

All the shots that different animators work on have to look the same. But with other software programs, you have to open all of the shots separately — and just imagine how much time, energy, and resources that takes if you have multiple animators working on a film. Not to mention that all of these changes have to be made for every revision.

Let me explain:

To light a sequence of shots in a software package, you have to load the scene, create a rig, export a file before moving on to the next scene. And each time the scene needs a tweak, you have to wait for the scene to load again before lighting and saving your work. It’s a cycle that eats a huge chunk of your time. 

What Katana does is it implements the changes once and then populates them throughout the shots, saving you a lot of time. 

So, Katana strips away the excess and provides a streamlined workflow so you can work quickly and easily, even with complex files. 

Katana harnesses the power of a node-based workflow

A node-based interface is easy to use and flexible, thanks to the non-destructive workflow. The workflow makes it easier to duplicate and share between multiple project files too.  Katana allows for easy access to every step in your process, and a mistake with one component can easily be fixed without corrupting the entire file.

Top studios are making the switch to Katana

To have the edge against the competition, you need to master all the tools that top studios use. And with more and more studios making the switch to Katana, now is the best time to learn and master this software. 

How to learn Katana

Want to learn Katana? There are a few different routes you can take. You can learn it on your own or take an online course.

But which option is better? Let’s find out. 

On your own

There are hundreds of Katana 3D software tutorials online, and most of these are free. But if you’re a beginner, it will be challenging to learn all the terms and tools on your own. Most of the free resources online are incomplete, only lasting for a few minutes, which isn’t enough if you want to go in-depth on specific features. 

You have to have a bit of experience with Katana just to know how the system works. Without formal training, it will take a long time to master this very complex lighting software. Choosing the right tutorials online can be overwhelming for a beginner, and if you have no idea where to start, it’ll be harder to focus on the actual learning. 

Taking an online course

Because not many animation schools offer software-specific courses, taking an online course is the best way to go. Taking a technical course online allows you to quickly learn Katana, leverage the features that will make a significant impact on your work, and save more money because online courses are affordable. You can learn at your own pace too!

At the Academy of Animated Art, we have a Katana Workshop, and it covers the basic and advanced features of the software. The course is conducted by Abel Vargas, a lighter compositor who’s been in the  VFX and Animation industry for over ten years. He brings an experienced and professional take on what Katana features are important to learn and pay attention when it comes to being part of this community.

In our Katana online course, you’ll learn all the essential tools and features that will make a significant impact on your images, such as:


  • Creating variables
  • Creating a simple light setup
  • Local variables 
  • Lighting overrides

Advanced Topics

  • Launcher Scripts
  • USD Primer
  • LookDev Template Overview
  • Interactive Render Filters
  • Network Material Create

… and so much more. Click here to enroll or to learn more about our Katana workshop.

If you do want to familiarize yourself with some Katana tutorials, these are a good starting point:

How to make a simple texture for a katana 3d model

Step-by-step students’ guide to getting started with Katana

How Method Studios used Katana and Mari for Ford V Ferrari

Over to you!

More and more studios have switched to Katana 3D software. It pays to master this tool to edge out the competition and land your dream job. We suggest getting formal training so you’ll know what features to master and what tools will take your images to the next level. Don’t forget, we have a list of technical workshops, including a Katana online course. Oh, and we’re throwing in a cool character for you to light if you sign up for this workshop.

Want to learn Katana? If you’ve got questions about this software and you’d like to know more about our Katana tech course, hit us up in the comments section!


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