Intro to Normal Map Modeling for Games

Intro to Normal Map Modeling for Games

Should you model for quality or performance? The answer is a balance of both! Normal mapping is a texturing technique that allows us to fake high resolution details on a low poly mesh. In this course, learn the modeling techniques that are necessary to bake high quality normals.

Introduction

Get the basics down before tackling specific techniques.

High Poly Modeling

How to prepare your high poly model for best results when baking.

Low Poly Modeling

Baking Normals

Should you model for quality or performance?

The answer is both! The big difference between modeling for animation or 3D printing and modeling for games is the amount of geometry that you can use. Games need to run in real time at 60 frames per second at minimum, so we need game models to be as efficient as possible so that we can instance many of them in one scene, use physics, and do all of the other cool things that modern games do.

But we also want our games to look gorgeous!

…and that usually entails adding a lot of detail. So the central problem that every game artist needs to solve is finding the right balance between quality and performance.

The trick that all modern games use to get more detail out of less geometry is normal mapping. A normal map is a special kind of image texture that tells the game engine to bounce light off at a different angle than the surface that is actually there. We’re tricking light into rendering the illusion of depth. It might seem like magic, but normal mapping does have certain limitations that we need to be aware of in order to get a the best possible result.

Creating normal maps can often be one of the most frustrating things for beginning game artists because there are so many potential pitfalls.

Thankfully, they can all be avoided by using the right workflow. In this course, we’ll cover all the concepts that you’ll need to be aware of before you even begin modeling. We’ll de-mystify normal mapping by going over how it works and how you can adjust your modeling to get good results on the first try.

There’s a lot to ton of material to cover about modeling hard surface objects for baking, but I’ve boiled it all down to a concise and practical course that’ll quickly get you up to speed on the modern industry standards. It’s packed full of theory and examples, so an intermediate understanding of how to model in Blender is expected before taking this course. The first two parts are lecture format where you can sit back and enjoy some popcorn, and then join in on the fun during the third part.

HeightvsNormal

TanObWorld

modeled vs textured detail

mirroredvsnot


Music: Restart by PhoEnix

Lesson Questions and Answers

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  • Replies: 1

    I dont understand why i got artifacts on seam areas. Please help me https://sketchfab.com/models/724d212edf874572867ceda9099e3593

    1 week ago

    • Replies: 1

      Hey, it looks like the problem is likely with the UV islands. Try to make sure that they are not overlapping, have plenty of padding, the bake margin is set high enough, and that all sharp edges are seams: https://cgcookie.com/lesson/sharp-edges-and-uv-seams/

      1 week ago

      • I noticed that my low poly model is not a low poly model , i mean my subsurf modifier was applyed when i exported and i unchecked it, it looks better now. https://skfb.ly/68NTR

        1 week ago

  • Replies: 1

    jpax:

    Early on, you say that you can’t really mirror Normal maps, and that makes sense, but later you talked about splitting a model in half for mirroring on texture maps to give better real estate for texture details. What?

    3 weeks ago

    • Replies: 2

      Hey, I mentioned in one of the first videos that you can’t mirror object or world space normal maps, but that tangent space normal maps can be mirrored. In the course we use tangent space, so we can mirror them.

      3 weeks ago

      • jpax:

        so if I have a symmetrical model, I can mirror it’s UV’s for the purposes of Normal maps, texture maps and height maps?

        2 weeks ago

      • You sure can! Just be careful to only mirror the areas in which it won’t be obvious that the textures mirrored, i.e. the face or other areas of focus.

        1 week ago

  • Replies: 1

    Thanks for the course, your method of creating cages looks very promising!

    I would like to share a normal maps trick that allows to combine two normal maps together (for example to add a scratches normal map to the box from the tutorial https://blender.stackexchange.com/a/51624/1311

    2 months ago

    • Replies: 1

      Nice tip! What’s the advantage of using that over a Vector Math node?

      2 months ago

      • I would say it is a personal preference, I got scared implementing the same thing in 60-70 nodes instead of 20 lines of code :)

        2 months ago

  • Replies: 0

    Just wanted to say that this course does a tremendous job of packing the important things in the normal map workflow into a easily digestable format. Polycount has a plethora of information, but it’s hard to parse it all and have examples for everything. Thanks a bunch!

    2 months ago

  • Replies: 1

    Course is very informative (even though I am not doing games specifically). In Cycles I can use normal map and displacement map simultaneously. (Seems like they could be additive.) I don’t see a visible difference – is this even useful? Does one override the other? I’m not aware of any examples of this. Thanks.

    2 months ago

    • Replies: 0

      Well, I thought of a different experiment and tried it. Normal map with one texture, displacement map with another. They both can be displayed at once, kind of additive, but probably not useful.

      2 months ago