LightWave 3D

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LightWave 3D
Lightwave Icon.png
Developer(s) NewTek, Inc.
Stable release 11.6.2 / March 17, 2014 (2014-03-17)
Operating system






Type 3D computer graphics
License Proprietary

LightWave 3D is a 3D computer graphics software developed by NewTek. It has been used in film, television, motion graphics, digital matte painting, visual effects, video games development, product design, architectural visualizations, virtual production, music videos, pre-visualizations and advertising.


LightWave is a software package used for rendering 3D images, both animated and static. It includes a fast rendering engine that supports such advanced features as realistic reflection and refraction, radiosity, caustics, and unlimited render nodes for free. The 3D modeling component supports both polygon modeling and subdivision surfaces. The animation component has features such as reverse and forward kinematics for character animation, particle systems and dynamics. Programmers can expand LightWave's capabilities using an included SDK which offers LScript scripting (a proprietary scripting language) and common C language interfaces. With version 11 onwards, Python support is available.


In 1988, Allen Hastings created a rendering and animation program called VideoScape 3D, and his friend Stuart Ferguson created a complementary 3D modeling program called Modeler, both sold by Aegis Software. NewTek planned to incorporate VideoScape and Modeler into its video editing suite, Video Toaster. Originally intended to be called "NewTek 3D Animation System for the Amiga", Hastings later came up with the name "LightWave 3D", inspired by two contemporary high-end 3D packages: Intelligent Light and Wavefront. In 1990, the Video Toaster suite was released, incorporating LightWave 3D, and running on the Commodore Amiga computer.

LightWave 3D has been available as a standalone application since 1994, and version 9.3 runs on both Mac OS X and Windows platforms. Starting with the release of version 9.3, the Mac OS X version has been updated to be a Universal Binary.

The last known standalone revision for the Amiga was Lightwave 5.0, released in 1995. Shortly after the release of the first PC version, NewTek discontinued the Amiga version, citing the platform's uncertain future.

LightWave was used to create special effects for the Babylon 5, Star Trek: Voyager, Space: Above and Beyond and seaQuest DSV science fiction television series; the program was also utilized in the production of Titanic as well as the recent Battlestar Galactica TV series, Sin City, Star Trek, 300 and Star Wars movies. The short film 405 was produced by two artists from their homes using Lightwave. In the Finnish Star Trek parody Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, most of the visual effects were done in LightWave by Finnish filmmaker Samuli Torssonen, who produced the VFX work for the feature film Iron Sky. The film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius was made entirely in Lightwave 6 and messiah:Studio.

In 2007, the first feature film to be 3d animated completely by one person without the typical legion of animators made its debut, Flatland the Film by Ladd Ehlinger Jr. It was animated entirely in Lightwave 3D 7.5 and 8.0.

In its ninth version, the market for LightWave ranges from hobbyists to high-end deployment in video games, television and cinema. NewTek shipped a 64-bit version of LightWave 3D as part of the fifth free update of LightWave 3D 8, and was featured in a keynote speech by Bill Gates at WinHEC 2005.

On Feb 4 2009, NewTek announced "LightWave CORE" its next-generation 3D application via a streamed live presentation to 3D artists around the world. It featured a highly customizable and modernized user interface, Python scripting integration that offered realtime code and view previews, an updated file format based on the industry standard Collada format, substantial revisions to its modeling technologies and a realtime iterative viewport renderer. It was planned to be the first Lightwave product to be available on the Linux operating system. However, on 23 June 2011, CORE was cancelled as a standalone product and NewTek announced that the CORE advancements would become part of the ongoing LightWave platform, starting with LightWave 10 (which was originally LightWave HC, intended to be a transitional software system comprising the classical Layout and Modeler applications during the initial stages of CORE, in order to supply compatibility with the existing toolset for LightWave).

On February 20, 2012 NewTek began shipping LightWave 11 Software, the latest version of its professional 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software.[1] LightWave 11 incorporates many new features, such as instancing, flocking and fracturing tools, flexible Bullet Dynamics, Pixologic Zbrush support, and more. LightWave 11 is used for all genres of 3D content creation-from film and broadcast visual effects production, to architectural visualization, and game design.[2][3]

On January 31, 2013, NewTek shipped LightWave 11.5 which debuted a new modular rigging system called Genoma. The flocking system was reworked, gaining predator and prey behaviors. The bullet dynamics system was improved to include soft body dynamics, wind forces and to react to bone deformations. Interlinks to After Effects and ZBrush (via GoZ) were added as well. New tools, based on a new experimental subsystem were added to Modeler. It was originally thought that this subsystem would allow further enhancements to Modeler, but disclosures by a developer in the main user forums (since removed by moderators) indicated that this approach had been too problematic and another avenue was being considered to enable Modeler to evolve. FiberFX, the hair/fur system in LightWave, also saw improvements with the 11.5 release, to work with soft bodies and to also directly support curves from Modeler for guiding hair. Additionally, braid and twist support was added, to ease creation of complex hairstyles.

On June 14, 2013, the LightWave 3D Group released a bug fix patch (11.5.1) to version 11.5.

On November 1, 2013, NewTek shipped LightWave 11.6. This release brought a new animation tool, spline control, along with improvements to ray casting (to enable items in the scene to be precisely positioned on a surface, with optional offset. nVidia's CgFX was also implemented, albeit via the legacy shader system. STL support was added to enable output suitable for 3D printers. The virtual studio system was also enhanced to support a LightWave 3D group-authored add-on called NevronMotion, enabling direct motion capture (full body and facial) using consumer devices such as the Kinect (on Windows only) and retargeting via a simplified user interface. A simplified Python system was made available for the Modeler environment and for common functions. The timeline for Layout support via this simplified system has not been disclosed. Alembic support was also introduced. Since the release of 11.6, two minor patches have been released to resolve software issues (11.6.1 and 11.6.2). In early May 2014, 11.6.3 was released to address a licensing system limitation.

Modeler and Layout[edit]

LightWave is composed of two separate programs: Modeler and Layout. Each program is specifically designed to provide a dedicated workspace for specific tasks. When the two programs are running simultaneously, a third process called the Hub can be used to automatically synchronize data.

Layout contains the animation system and the renderer which provides the user with several options including ray tracing options, multithreading, global illumination, and output parameters. Modeler, as the name implies, includes all of the modeling features used to create the 3d models that are used in the animation and rendering component. This differs from most 3D computer graphics packages which normally integrate the renderer and the modeler. A long-standing debate in the LightWave user community has consisted of whether or not to integrate Modeler and Layout into a single program. In response to this, NewTek has begun an integration process by including several basic modeling tools with Layout.

There is also a command line-based network rendering engine named Screamernet which can be used to distribute rendering tasks across a large number of networked computers. This is used to reduce the overall time that it takes to render a single project by having the computers each rendering a part of the whole project in parallel. Screamernet includes all the features of the rendering engine that is integrated in Layout but without an interactive user interface.



Lightwave is equipped with all the required dynamics such as hard body, soft body and cloth. Hard body dynamics equips the user to simulate effects like rockslides, building demolitions and sand effects, using realistic forces like gravity and collisions. Soft body equips the user with a tool that can simulate jelly or jiggling fat on overweight characters. This can also be applied to characters for a dynamic hair effect. Cloth can be applied to clothing for characters. This can also be used for hair to simulate more realistic hair movement. The CORE subsystem of Lightwave 11 includes a new rigid-body dynamics engine called Bullet. Softbody support was added with 11.5. Constraints are not available.


Hypervoxels are a means to render different particle animation effects. Different modes of operation have the ability to generate appearances that mimic:

  • Blobby metaballs for things like water or mercury, including reflection or refraction surface settings
  • Sprites which are able to reproduce effects like fire or flocking birds
  • Volume shading for simulating clouds or fog type effects

Material shaders[edit]

Lightwave comes with a nodal texture editor that comes with a collection of special-purpose material shaders. Some of the types of surface for which these shaders have been optimized include:

  • general-purpose subsurface scattering materials for materials like wax or plastics
  • realistic skin, including subsurface scattering and multiple skin layers
  • metallic, reflective, materials using energy conservation algorithms
  • transparent, refractive materials including accurate total internal reflection algorithms


With LW 9, Newtek added Node editors to the Surface Editor and Mesh Displacement parts of LightWave. They also however release the Node SDK with the software, so any developer can add their own Node Editors via plug-ins, and a few have done so, notably Denis Pontonnier, who created free to download node editors and many other utility nodes for all of the sdk classes in LightWave. This now means users can utilise nodes for modifying images and renders, procedural textures, modifying the shape of hypervoxels, controlling motions of objects, driving animation channels, and use things like particles and other meshes to drive these functions. This has greatly enhanced the abilities of standalone LightWave. The node areas of LightWave continue to expand, with volumetric lights now controllable with nodes.


LScript is one of LightWave's scripting languages. It provides a comprehensive set of prebuilt functions you can use when scripting how LightWave behaves.


With LW 11, Newtek added Python support as an option for custom scripting.

Bullet Physics[edit]

From LW 11, Newtek have added Bullet Dynamics support for hard bodies and soft bodies. Aspects such as constraints have not yet been implemented.

Lightwave SDK[edit]

The SDK (Software Development Kit) provides a set of C classes for writing native plugins for Lightwave.

Movies that used Lightwave[edit]

A more comprehensive list can be found at the Lightwave website.[4] Some notable highlights are:

TV programs that used LightWave[edit]

Animated CG films and Cartoon series that used LightWave[edit]

Anime and Japanese OVA Series which were created with the help of LightWave[edit]

Video Games designed with LightWave[edit]


Prior to being made available as a stand-alone product in 1994, LightWave required the presence of a Video Toaster in an Amiga to run. Until version 11.0.3 [1][2], LightWave licenses were bound to a hardware dongle (e.g. Safenet USB or legacy parallel port models). Without a dongle LightWave would operate in "Discovery Mode" which severely restricts functionality. One copy of LightWave supports distributed rendering on up to 999 nodes.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]