Jeremy Birn is a Pixar lighting artist whose book "Digital Lighting and Rendering" has become a standard introductory text on the topic of CG lighting. I recommend it as a good first book for someone wondering what to do beyond the default lighting, texturing and rendering a 3D app like A:M presents.
I won't be reproducing his information here. The book is reasonably-priced and I've seen used copies go for as low as $25 on Amazon, so if you're interested in the content... get one. Make sure you get the second edition. The book is not about specific projects but, for me, it's been a great idea book for how to use all this stuff.
The good news is, it looks like A:M has a pretty full CG lighting toolset. However, since his discussion is mostly non-app specific there are some terms and procedures that may need translation to A:M terminology. Those notes begin below.
There's quite a bit to this subject so Birn can't cover each topic exhaustively, but I think after you've read this book and noted the translations for A:M you ought to be able to pick up any other CG or traditional lighting book and apply it to your A:M work.
Details of A:M features are typically covered in the A:M Technical Reference (TECH REF) and occasionally I will point to a page number in the Technical Reference where you may find further info.
Chapter 01 Fundamentals of Lighting Design
This is a very broad discussion of why you need to devise lighting to suit each scene. Not much needs translating here. The free sample files he mentions are at the link above. The "lighting challenge" scenes are all in OBJ format which is awkward for A:M users. I'm converting the "Fruit Bowl" scene to A:M format and I'll post that here when I finish.
Chapter 02 Lighting Basics and Good Practice
some translations (book term... A:M term)
background plate... similar to "rotoscope" image that you import to your camera frame.
point light... bulb light
spot light... klieg light
penumbra angle... width softness (A:M's term is really a better description of what he is talking about)
barn doors... A:M klieg lights do not have actual doors in front of them (i've never seen a program that did!) but you can precisely control the shape of a light with a gel (described in the A:M TECH REF pg. 100)
directional light... sun light
area lights... Birn says that scaling any of the basic lights above will not change the illumination. However, in A:M the light "Width" parameter can do that. A setting of 0 cm will mimic the basic functionality Birn describes, but if you set a higher value and choose multipass rendering A:M will jitter the light placement to simulate a light with real width. In regular rendering, setting ray-traced lights to have more than one "ray" will also do this.
true arbitrarily-shaped area lights are not part of A:M but in practice you can create them by constraining a light to repeatedly traverse a spline in the shape of your desired "area" on every frame in a multi-pass render. Birn warns that area lights are time-consuming to render. This is true of this technique also.
models serving as lights... similar to area lights but with a 3D shape. The same work around for A:M would apply.
Birn says a global illumination renderer can make any object a light. A:M has global ambiance rendering, which is not quite the same thing. An object surface set to 100% ambient intensity in A:M will not illuminate nearby objects when global ambiance is used. However, I believe this will work in a full-tilt radiosity render in A:M.
environment spheres... this is very much like A:M's global ambiance, although this will not create shadows in A:M. If you want shadows cast from one object to another you will need actual lights in your A:M scene.
soloing a light... the easiest way to turn lights off for testing purposes is to set their Active property to OFF. This does create a keyframe that you may want to delete later.
You can SHIFT-select multiple objects, including lights, at once and Active ON/OFF them together to save time.
If I don't plan to keyframe On/OFF in the final clip , I find it useful to RMB on the ON/OFF value in the props and choose "Constant" which forces A:M to just use one key at for the whole animation. Then I can flick Active ON/OFF anywhere and not leave keyframes littered around.
Decay... Attenuation in A:M. (TECH REF pg. 219) This is a percentage property. 0% = no decay, 50% is linear decay, 100% is the numerically accurate Quadratic Decay. A:M doesn't have an option for the extreme "Cubic" decay that Birn mentions. Quadratic decay (100% setting) is so severe, I don't think you'll need it.
Birn discusses but doesn't give a standard name for what we call "Fall-off" in A:M. This is the distance that a light gives its full illumination before decay reduces it. In my mind an object 22 cm from a light with 10 cm fall-off would be lit the same as an object 2 cm from a light with 0 cm fall-off but my tests indicate this is not the case. Lights in A:M with short fall-offs seem to have faster decays than lights with long fall-offs. Experimentation will be your best resource here.
Specular intensity... in A:M this is something we control at the object surface rather than as a light intensity parameter.
Light linking... "Light Lists" in A:M perform this purpose. (TECH REF pg 178)
Cookies... light gel in A:M
The Feedback Loop... aside from all the shortcuts Birn suggests to shorten your lighting development time, I'll add that A:M's on-screen "render lock" AKA "progressive render" (SHIFT-Q) is quite a boon. It allows you to get a quick sense of what the light is doing in any portion of your window you want without having to go thru the steps of a render to file or waiting for an full onscreen "Q" render to finish.
Chapter 03 Shadows and Occlusion
A good introduction to the advantages, peculiarities and difficulties of CG shadows. Only a few broad terms need translating for A:M:
pg. 51 Shadow color... A:M Kleig lights with Z-Buffer shadows do have a shadow color setting. While Birn says that setting a shadow color to white would be the same as turning shadows OFF, in A:M it will get you... an actual white shadow!
Click to view attachment
I'm sure there's a use for that.
pg. 55 Depth Map Shadows... known as Z-Buffered shadows in A:M. An option on Kleig lights. The alternative is ray-traced shadows.
pg. 57 Depth Map framing... Birn briefly mentions drawbacks of depth-mapped shadow with sun lights and bulb lights. A:M's sun and bulb lights have raytraced shadows only, however. It is possible to simulate a depth-mapped bulb light with an array of kleig lights and a gel on each one to prevent them from overlapping. For all I know, that may be how other software does it too.
pg. 61 Depth-mapped Shadow Transparency Support ... Conventional Depth-mapped shadows do not support partial shadows from semi-transparent objects, but A:M performs a basic approximation: 0-25% transparency casts a full shadow, 26% to 75% casts a half shadow and 76% to 100% transparency casts no shadow. A:M depth-mapped shadows do not recognize transparency created by a transparency map on an object. Use ray-traced lights if you need that.
pg. 64 Trace depth... A:M's renderer doesn't use a trace depth setting, the number of surfaces a ray can hit before it stops. It seems to avoid trouble on its own without you needing to set a limit. Reflection does have a "level" setting to avoid needless ray bouncing.
Figure 3.19... I don't see much difference between those two pictures. Do you?
pg.74 Occlusion in Global Illumination... "Global Illumination" as Birn uses the term seems to most resemble radiosity renders in A:M
pg. 76 Final Gathering... I only know of this term in relation to radiosity parameters. Apparently it can be a sort of one-bounce radiosity technique by itself, but in A:M it is always a subset of your radiosity process, not a separate rendering method.
pg.77 Image Based Illumination... This seems most like A:M's Global Ambiance when a image map is chosen rather than a single color. I'll note that while A:M's Global ambiance does not produce shadows, the older work-around to simulate image based lighting - the spinning light rig - does. So, spinning rigs may still have a life in A:M lighting.
pg.78. Shadow Only Light... in A:M turn off both Diffuse and Specular and turn on Shadows. This seems not to work on ray-traced lights. This shadow-only light in A:M seems to create total darkness where its shadow lands even if another light might be shining there. Don't know if that's a bug or a feature. An alternate technique Birn describes of pairing a positive and negative light also works in A:M, with both Z-buffered and raytraced lights and produces shadows that interact with other lights in the expected fashion.
pg. 80 Shadow Objects and Baking Lighting... Don't think either of these exist in A:M yet.
... to be continued