Course: Skin Shading with Cycles

Education of the Epidermis!

Skin shading isn’t new to the Blender Cookie training catalogue. But it is new to the Cycles rendering engine! So that’s why we’re revisiting the topic again. Besides, skin shading is such a difficult thing to get right that’s it’s a good idea to revisit occasionally from a new perspective.

What you’re going to learn:

The key to skin shading in Cycles is the relatively new “Subsurface Scattering” node. This “BSSRDF” surface type is essentially a fully-featured translucent material allowing light to partially pass through your object. A crucial characteristic of human skin.

  • In Lesson 1 I will walk you through more of a simplistic approach to skin shading using the Subsurface Scattering node basically by itself.
  • In Lesson 2 I will show you a more complex approach based on Matthew Heimlich’s Arnold Skin Shader Port. This prefab shader group offers traditional tri-layer skin construction that’s standard with commercial renderers like Vray, Mental Ray, and of course Arnold.

Matthew Heimlich's Arnold Skin Material Cycles Port

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34 Responses to “Skin Shading with Cycles”
  1. Posts: 132
    anthony c says:

    Well this comes at a great time.
    Going to be a good skill for when Sculpt Cookie goes live.

  2. Posts: 11

    Man I can’t thank you enough! I’ve been working on my own version, but it really helps seeing someone else do it. Especially coming from you :)

  3. Posts: 7
    Ellis gio says:

    @Kenttremell do animators animate in cycles or in blender? thanks

    • Posts: 2128

      Hi Ellis,

      Do you mean render animations with Cycles or the Blender Internal engine?

  4. Posts: 208
    gonzou says:

    Hello Kent. I am very happy to see another priceless tutorial like this. It makes me want to be a citizen again :). You made a lot of fantastic tutorials for people (like me) who want to be the character artists in the future. Though there is something I want to beg you for. PLEASE, do the tutorial about how to make a proffessional demo reel, like this one on your site. The most interesting for me is the effect where you can see the grid of the mesh going up or down revealing the textured model. I tried to find the tut about how to make it but there is no such information, so it would be very precious one for Blender Cookie users. BTW your reel is A*W*S*O*M*E! Greetings.

    • Posts: 2128

      I love your suggestion, gonzou! I’ve added it to our to-do list. Such a practical thing that isn’t taught much…and it doubles as a reason for us to teach Blender’s VSE. Thanks for sharing the idea!

      • Posts: 208
        gonzou says:

        THANK YOU SOOOOO MUCH!!!!! I love you :).

  5. Posts: 31
    ratstance says:

    This was really great just what I was looking for, would love a tutorial dedicated to creating believable eyes I find everything I create has no
    expression in the eyes and as such not believable :p

    • Posts: 28
      yeobe1 says:

      watch Kent’s creating a realistic head tutorial.

  6. Posts: 28
    yeobe1 says:

    I would love to see you take “sad eyes” all the way with cycles. It has always been one of my favorite images done in blender, if not my favorite. Then an artist’s comparison on the final outcome. I think we sometimes forget the power of blender internal in the right hands. But a comparison could highlight the pros and cons of both render engines, and why an artist would choose a particular one for a particular project. I know this would be a serious endeavor, and revisiting a project that is completely done and wonderful really has no purpose artistically, just may be really interesting.

    • Posts: 2128

      That could produce some interesting results! Though subsurface was really the only thing I did in BI. Generally it’s hard to crack open an old project for me, but I like your suggestion. It would indeed be a cool comparison study between the 2 engines :)

      And I’m honored that you would consider it one of your favorite Blender images!

  7. Posts: 40
    Timotheus says:

    Excellent tutorial. I really enjoyed this one. The complex skin shader is really nice and I actually found it a little easier to understand versus the simple skin shader. The only thing I’m having trouble with is the nodes themselves. Will there be a tutorial on cycles nodes? Like an overview of what each individual node does for the artist? I do understand the basics like shaders and what ray and path tracing is. Although I do like technical stuff the wiki is a bit too vague and technical for me at this his time. What can I do so that I can better understand the nodes themselves?

    • Posts: 2128

      You make an interesting point: General Overview of Cycles Nodes. I think we’ve covered all the nodes at one point or another in various other videos but maybe it’s a good idea to do an overview. Thanks for suggesting and watching! :)

  8. Posts: 20

    I know this is not the right video to make a sugestion like this,,
    But I would be soooo happy, about a tutorial how to make a HDRI image like this one.. Normaly you see just the mirrorball, but how to you edit this so it looks like this?? Maybe someone knows it and he/she can make a tutorial for that..

    • Posts: 2128

      That’s certainly a good suggestion, Michael! I’ve never actually made an equirectangular map myself, but I have a feeling it’s some sort of camera trick maybe (?). I’m not sure, but we’ll look into it!

  9. Posts: 1
    pacman829 says:

    is it possible to use the sss on gpu in blender cycles?

    seems really slow on cpu

  10. Posts: 1

    Really great course! I find all of your tutorials incredibly useful and always learn something from each one.

  11. Posts: 1
    Peter Shwayka says:

    Hi Kent,

    Is the Cycles renderer capable of handling vector displacement maps? If so, I’d love to see an example in a tutorial. (I’ve tried a few times without success.)


    • Posts: 2128

      Hi Peter – I don’t believe that functionality is included with Cycles yet. But once it is you can certainly expect a video about it!

  12. Posts: 72

    thank you very much! a lot of appreciation for your reality observations and thoughts!

  13. Posts: 48
    bintangsenja says:

    Hi Kent ! Great tutorial as always, I’m pretty sure there is a little bit shifting in the color value from Blender 2.69 to 2.71.
    as example,
    0.03 value in 2.69 = 0.19 value in 2.71

    Am I right ? or I missed something ?

    • Posts: 2128

      Sorry for the late reply, bintangsenja – Yes you’re right, they’ve changed something about the color picker’s color management in 2.71. I’m pushing for them to change it back to the previous behavior

  14. Posts: 11

    Please help. I created some nice texture maps with a stencil brush from photo reference. They look great in texture view but when I go to render view, using cycles renderer, I don’t see any texture, just solid flat color.

      • Posts: 11

        I don’t think it’s the Arnold port shader. I get identical results with a Diffuse BSDF shader. Even when I plug the texture straight to an emission shader I get only flat color. Perhaps I’m missing some fundamental concept of shader nodes. Yet I’ve done a portrait recently and it seemed to work (by chance?) Anyway here’s a link to g+ for a screenshot of the whole UI workspace.


      • Posts: 2128

        Try lowering the Overall Scale value way down. It looks like maybe the SSS effect is too intense and washing out the texture.

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