Understanding Layout (LightWave v9 Layout) Part 1

Along with Modeler, which we met in the previous topic, LightWave v9 includes another application called LightWave, which is commonly referred to as Layout. Layout is where all of your hard work in Modeler pays off. In Layout, you apply textures to models; assemble scenes, complete with lighting and motion; and see the final animated results.

Just about everything in Layout can be animated, from textures to lights to cameras to (of course) objects. There are plenty of tools for you to harness; in fact, many people spend more time in Layout than they do in Modeler. This topic guides you through a tour of the LightWave 3D Layout interface, its workflow, panels, and possibilities. You’ll learn about these topics:

• LightWave v9 Layout interface navigation

• Simple motions

• Viewports

• New cameras

• Surfacing enhancements

• Render Globals overview

3D animation is about geometry and movement. You create 3D geometry in Modeler, and Layout is where you put things in motion. LightWave’s animation program is appropriately referred to as Layout, because that’s where you lay out your scene. A scene consists of 3D models, lights, and cameras. Think of Layout as your stage. The 3D models you build in Modeler are your actors. You are the director. Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re also the gaffer, taking care of lighting, and you’re the production designer. Keep this in mind as you learn about navigating the Layout interface.

LightWave v9 Layout Interface

When you first start up Layout, you see a large empty workspace. This workspace, however, is a three-dimensional space, rather than a flat grid as in most other programs. The view you’re looking through is a Perspective view—sort of a bird’s-eye view of your virtual set. After all, Layout is your virtual television studio, and if you noticed, there is a camera and a light already in place for you. Figure 2.1 shows the Layout interface upon startup.

The LightWave v9 Layout interface.

Figure 2.1 The LightWave v9 Layout interface.

This view is the default, and there is always one light and one camera. The interface will look familiar, because it resembles LightWave Modeler in its organization and workflow.

To understand how the LightWave 3D world works, consider this: LightWave Layout is a big 3D space. When you’re working in Layout, you’re inside a big invisible sphere, and everything you do in that sphere can react in various ways with everything else, such as reflections, shadows, and even dynamics such as gravity.

Across the top of the interface are tabbed menus, each containing key tools for object editing, animating different items, compositing, and more. Before you learn about the different menus, take a look at the bottom of the Layout interface. Here, you’ll find your timeline.

The Timeline

Animation is all about timing. It’s about telling items such as lights, cameras, objects, or even textures to occupy a specific point in space at a specific time. Figure 2.2 shows the LightWave Layout timeline.

The LightWave v9 Layout timeline.

Figure 2.2 The LightWave v9 Layout timeline.

By default, Layout works in frames rather than seconds or minutes. This is because 3D animation, and even 2D animation, is a frame-by-frame process. Although the computer automatically interpolates motions, it’s still up to you to create the "key" frames. A keyframe is nothing more than a marker in time. At the left side of the timeline, the value is 0, representing the first frame of the animation.


Just because the front of the timeline defaults to 0,you are not locked into this value. You can start an animation at frame 6 or frame 40.You can also start an animation before 0 by entering a negative value.You would do this for certain animations that need a head start, for example. Let’s say our object needs to already be in motion. If it starts at frame 0, then ramps up to speed, you could start the animation at the point of when it’s in full motion. Similarly, you could keyframe the motion before frame 0, and then when your animation starts at 0,the item is already in full motion. It’s all about control!

At the right side of the timeline is the ending frame number, which defaults to 60. Because LightWave defaults to the National Television System Committee (NTSC) video standard, 60 frames is 2 seconds, at a 30 frames per second rate. You can change this easily by pressing o (that’s the letter o) and opening the General Options panel. Here, you can change the Frames Per Second setting to anything you like. Later in this topic, you learn about all of LightWave Layout’s preferences.

For example, the last frame of your animation can be changed just like the first frame. Most likely, many of your animations will go well beyond 60 frames, or 2 seconds. To change your current animation’s overall time, it’s just a matter of changing one value:

1. Double-click in the end frame window, which should read 60 by default. You can also just click and drag over the number.

2. Enter a new value—for example, 250—and be sure to press the Enter key on your PC or Return on your Mac.

After you enter the value, you’ll see that the timeline looks a little different—this one’s busier because it’s now displaying keys for 250 frames rather than 60. If you need more frames for your animation, just change that value.

Selecting Items

You’ll see that beneath the timeline on the left are four interesting buttons labeled Objects, Bones, Lights, and Cameras. Above the buttons is a drop-down list called Item. When an object is loaded and the Objects button is selected, you’ll see the selected item here. Conversely, you can choose different items with this list, as well as bones, lights, and cameras. To the right of the Item list is a tiny button. If you click this, you’ll be presented with LightWave v9′s Current Item selector. Figure 2.3 shows the item selection buttons with the Current Item panel open.

 The item selection buttons allow you to choose which type of item you want to work with; click the button to the right of the Item list to open the Current Item window.

Figure 2.3 The item selection buttons allow you to choose which type of item you want to work with; click the button to the right of the Item list to open the Current Item window.

The Current Item Selector will be your friend in complex scenes as it allows you to easily organize your items, especially when you’re using numerous objects in your scene. You’ll employ this feature later in the topic.

Here’s your goal: Do not be confused by the buttons. Think about what you’re doing before you click. Too often, animators click the mouse, press the spacebar, or press the Esc key until something happens. Usually, something does happen, but not what they intended. Do yourself a favor and think about your actions just as you do in Modeler. Select an item, turn on a tool, use it, and turn off the tool. Think about the process. Then, by paying attention to the buttons at the bottom of the interface, you’ll know whether you are working with Layout’s Objects, Bones, Lights, or its Cameras. After you’ve selected an item category, simply choose the Current Item from the drop-down list. Then, pick a tool, such as Move, and have at it.

Of course, there’s more to animation than point, click, move—so much more! What’s great about LightWave’s vast toolset is that some things, such as the timeline, stay the same no matter what you’re doing. Take a look at the bottom right. Those VCR-like buttons you see are your playback buttons (Figure 2.4). Don’t confuse these with a final animation or realtime reference. These give you a pretty good idea of how your animation will play back.

The playback controls in LightWave v9 Layout.

Figure 2.4 The playback controls in LightWave v9 Layout.


Never judge your animation entirely by the Layout playback buttons.This applies to motions, timing, shadows, textures, and so on. Always save judgment until the animation has been properly rendered out.


The best way to understand timing is to work with it, every day, all day. Timing is truly the hidden art of animation. Without it, nothing works. Sure, you can make pretty images, print ads, and the like. But if you’re putting anything in motion, the timing needs to be dead on. It needs to "work." With that said, follow this next simple tutorial to set up some keyframes of your own, and see how LightWave interpolates motion.

Exercise 2.1 Creating Keyframes

1. Open LightWave Layout and make sure that nothing is in the scene. The scene is like your current project, so if you’ve loaded any objects, or sample scenes, be sure to save your work, and then choose Clear Scene from the File drop-down menu (or press Shift+n).

2. With a nice new default blank scene, all you’re going to do is animate the camera. Click Cameras at the bottom of the Layout interface, as shown in Figure 2.5.

Tell LightWave Layout that you want to work with cameras by selecting the Cameras button at the bottom of Layout.

Figure 2.5 Tell LightWave Layout that you want to work with cameras by selecting the Cameras button at the bottom of Layout.

3. Because there is only one camera in the scene, it is automatically selected and highlighted after you choose to use Cameras. If you had multiple cameras in the scene, you would select which camera you want from the Current Item dropdown list, just above the Cameras button.


To add multiple cameras to a scene, go to the Items tab at the top of Layout; then from the tools on the left side of the interface, choose Camera from the Add category of tools.You can name this camera anything you like. Multiple cameras are great for scenes in which you need to show your client different views. Rather than always moving the camera, it’s better to switch between multiple cameras.

4. Make sure that the Auto Key button is on, beneath the timeline.

Layout’s Auto Key function provides a great way to get started with keyframing. When activated, it creates a keyframe to mark the position and rotation of an object, camera, or light any time you move it within a scene. As your animations get more sophisticated, you won’t always want this turned on, but it’s great for blocking out a basic scene.

5. You can grab the slider in the timeline to make sure it’s at frame 0 all the way to the left. This is the start of your animation.

6. Make sure the camera is still selected (it should be highlighted in yellow) and press t on the keyboard. This calls up the Move tool from the Modify tab. Move the camera slightly to test.

7. Drag the timeline slider down to frame 60, and then click into the Layout and move the camera to a new position (Figure 2.6).

When the Auto Key button beneath the timeline is active, moving the frame slider automatically creates a new keyframe for the camera.

Figure 2.6 When the Auto Key button beneath the timeline is active, moving the frame slider automatically creates a new keyframe for the camera.


A good way to keep track of your keyframes is to simply look at the timeline. When a keyframe is created, LightWave puts a small yellow dash at that point in time, like a marker. If you’re wondering how many keyframes you’ve created, look to see how many markers are in the timeline.

8. Click the Rewind button at the bottom-right of the Layout, beneath the timeline, as shown in Figure 2.7. This quickly jumps your timeline slider back to 0.

The Rewind button in the timeline quickly brings your timeline slider back to 0.

Figure 2.7 The Rewind button in the timeline quickly brings your timeline slider back to 0.

9. Press the play button in the timeline, and you’ll see your camera move from its 0 keyframe position to its 60 keyframe position.

LightWave Layout calculates frames 1-59, and you might notice that after a keyframe at 60 is created (automatically with Auto Key), a motion path appears. That’s the white line you see connecting the camera’s first- and last-frame positions.

LightWave has interpolated the motion of the frames in between. If you do not see the motion path, press d to open the Display Options panel and under the OpenGL tab, make sure Show Motion Paths is selected. Of course, this motion path is just a straight line. So, try what is suggested in this next step.

10. Move your timeline slider to frame 30. Then, move the camera in some way, perhaps off to the side. You should see the motion path now curve, to accept the new keyframe. LightWave interactively updates the motion path, as shown in Figure 2.8.


A quick way to jump to specific keyframes without dragging the timeline slider is to press f, which calls up the Go To Frame requester. Enter a value and press the Enter key, and your timeline slider jumps to the keyframe.

LightWave interactively updates motion paths with the Auto Key button active.

Figure 2.8 LightWave interactively updates motion paths with the Auto Key button active.

This example shows keyframing in the simplest form. Throughout this topic, you’ll be creating more advanced keyframing—and more precise keyframing. The Auto Key button you turned on to automatically create keyframes is on by default in LightWave; but as helpful as it is, it can be quite destructive too. There are times when you should use it—for example, when tweaking character animation. Other times, you shouldn’t use it—for example, when doing precise mechanical animations. You’ll see how this use (or non-use) of Auto Key plays a part in your keyframing actions throughout the topic.

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