Course: Fundamentals of Shading in Cycles

Make your Cycles materials more tangible and appealing!

In computer graphics, “Shading” is the process of developing surface qualities for 3D models. The way your model interacts with light is very important. It’s a key step in achieving realism, tangibility, believability, and appeal. If you ever have doubts about this, go watch the film “Rango”. The artists responsible for the visuals clearly spent a lot of time perfecting the thousands of material types throughout the movie. The tangible quality of each eyeball, rock, wood board, and glass bottle is nothing short of stunning. The materials are so believable that you can forget to notice them because your brain accepts them as authentic.

If you’re new to the concept of shading, the best place to start is to intentionally observe reality. Take note of your car’s reflections; the spotty specular quality of an asphalt road; or the frosted transparency of a condensating glass of water. Lucky for you and I, scientists have done the hard work of measuring reality’s phenomenon and programmers have mathematically implemented them into 3D software like Blender. Thanks to those rockstars we have the freedom to use their discoveries and tools to more efficiently create something beautiful.

Speaking of something beautiful – For this course we’ll be working with the lovable “Pancake Hobo” character designed by Citizen user, Galit Weisberg!


So, how does one “Shade”?

Shading is more than simply building custom materials. Texture painting and Lighting go hand-in-hand with material creation and all three disciplines compliment one another. Therefore, the first half of this training course covers Texture Painting and associated tasks:

  • Photo-sourcing and stenciling
  • Paint-by-Hand
  • Deriving a bump map from a color map
  • Making non-tileable textures tileable

Then we’ll dive into material creation by first establishing a solid lighting setup before tackling each material one by one:

  • Metallic Objects: The Fork
  • Fabric Material
  • Translucence/Subsurface Scattering: Butter, Skin, and Pancake
  • Transparency/Refraction: Maple Syrup
  • And more!
With this course, my hope is that you will develop a solid foundation of shading principles supported by basic scientific observation. Which in turn will prepare you to tackle any shading task in the future!

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17 Responses to “Fundamentals of Shading in Cycles”
  1. Posts: 7


    You really have done a fantastic job with this course Kent. I’ve learned more through your video series than from countless hours of online searching.

    There is one question I have about subsurface scattering. Are SSS and transparency two different animals – that is to say, I know SSS desaturates and lightens a color, but does it ever make a material see-through?

    Thanks again for the series. We’re lucky to have you.


    • Posts: 2022

      Thanks for watching, Darrick! And for the kind words :)

      SSS and transparency are indeed two different animals. While of course with Cycles you have the freedom to mix an SSS and Transparency shader node, SSS by itself won’t ever become “see-through”. Hope that helps..

  2. Posts: 11

    Great tutorial. I learned a lot. But i still have a little problem. I rendered the picture. Than i clicked on the cross to stop the render because i forgot to save the file. Still seeing the just started computing image i clicked ctr+s. Than i rendered the picture and after saving the render result as .jepg i closed the file. Today i wanted to make some adjustments i opened the file, but its exactly where i saved it. So i see a grid, and normally i would click “back to previous” or “esc”, but there is one problem… When i do it the file just.. CLOSES. I fear that i lost my 1 month work.

    • Posts: 11

      Ok it repaired itself. Im stupid, now i can submit my image that i made thx to your tut 😀

  3. Posts: 72

    Thank you for this superb series! I want to thank you especially for your analysis of photography sections and portions where you describe theory or observational details. This was to me very valuable because I’m more into concept painting and just rendering zbrush sculpts so even though this is a blender tutorial i was much more fascinated by your explanations of fundamentals and ways of thinking and what to look for. Thank you!

  4. Posts: 22

    Make your Cycles materials more … I don’t get it, you were in Blender Internal the whole tut

    • Posts: 2022


      I had Blender Render enabled for the texture painting portion just because I think it displays textures more intuitively in the viewport. But all the material creation is Cycles..

  5. Posts: 8
    pharm says:

    Hi Kent. Thanks for your fabulous tutorials. I’m working on the first part of the tutorial and I’m having a problem I can’t seem to solve. At about 17 minutes into the tutorial, I’ve added the texture for the brush and changed the Brush Mapping to “Stencil”. However, when I then hover over the 3d viewport, the image doesn’t appear. I’ve watched the segment several times and followed it and I still can’t get an image to appear in the 3D port. I’m using 2.71 and I’ve also noticed that in your version (2.69, I believe), there’s an slider under the “Alpha” checkbox that says “Overlay” and it’s set to 33%, which appears to be the opacity of the overlayed (overlain?) image. In 2.71, there’s no “overlay” slider available. Could this be the issue and if so, where do I change the alpha overlay settings? Any help would be appreciated. I’m getting hungry and I really want to eat this pancake!

    • Posts: 8
      pharm says:

      Okay, it’s not the opacity. I found the setting for that and it’s on 33% so forget that. I still can’t get the image. Is there another key for me to press and hold while trying to see the image overlay perhaps? Thanks again. I’m still starving.

  6. Posts: 8
    pharm says:

    Okay. I found it. I have to click on the “Options” tab, twirl down the “Appearance” tab and check “Show Brush”. Thank you again for your tutorials. Now I can finish this pancake and eat it. 😉

    • Posts: 2
      David says:

      Thanks for posting the solution!
      I just had the same problem following this tutorial so I googled “blender 2.71 stencil doesn’t show up” and the result pointed me back at this page with your answer. Thanks!

      • Posts: 1
        raymago says:

        Thank you David. I had the same problem, your comment has solved it.

  7. Posts: 4
    Ken Dias says:

    Another great tutorial Kent. Wish I could Learn as fast as you think 😀

  8. Posts: 6
    junglejes says:

    Kent this is the best course/tutorial I’ve seen yet on texturing and materials. You are the man! Keep it coming please.

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