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.


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. 

Music: Restart by PhoEnix

Lesson Questions and Answers

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  • Replies: 0

    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.

    13 hours ago

  • Replies: 0

    just FYI, appears the audio is behind slightly on the downloaded videos assets

    3 days ago

  • Replies: 0

    So I have always baked by the rule that the low poly should be beveled to catch the rays in between perpendicular faces. You almost rocked my world but then I realized you are flat shading your low poly thus splitting vertexes at render, same vertex count as a bevel. But as you pointed out great technique to get rid of those triangle artifacts on Ngons. Still experimenting with your approach, thanks for the insight.

    5 days ago

  • Replies: 1

    (and there’s neither edit nor delete button on the questions menu, let’s start over): Not exactly the course intention, but does it teaches how to go the “other way around”?

    Like, getting a low poly model with a normal map and getting what the high poly model the normal map gives the illusion it is?

    1 week ago

    • Replies: 0

      Hey, since baking is a lossy process (not all the information from the high poly is baked – only the angles) it’s impossible to go the other way around unfortunately. You can get details out of a height map (like in this video: ), but it won’t be the same as making the high poly model first.

      5 days ago

  • Replies: 0

    Wow…after just a quick watch of this course I now understand concepts I have struggled with for years. THANK YOU so much for this very clear and concise course!

    2 weeks ago