Author Topic: Make your models look infinitely better with Normal Mapping & Ambient Occlusion  (Read 8240 times)

SPACEMTNMAN

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After looking around here it seems that alot of people have migrated from RCT3 Forums and have little or no knowledge of normal maps because that engine didnt support them. I thought i would make a thread explaining them and how they can be made easily.

First of all. Normal maps are a little like bump maps except they are 'pre processed'. Bump maps are greyscale images that are used to create the illusion of detail where there isnt any. These used to be used in games but the problem was that they required processing to calculate the faked geometry. Normal maps use Red green and blue to show the direction of the geometry so no processing needs to be done meaning its alot faster.
In lamens terms Normal mapping is just a new faster way of faking surface details. Its been around in games consoles since the Sega Dreamcast!



To make a normal map you must make a high resolution version of your model. It can be as many polygons as you want (which might frighten some of you RCT3ers!) You then take this high resolution mesh and project the details onto a texture (a normal map).
This normal map is then applied to a low resolution version of your mesh giving the illusion of surface details.

There is a free program called xnormal which makes this process very simple. Ill post a link at the end of this post. Theres plenty of youtube tutorials on how it works but its pretty easy anyway. This program takes your high res, UV Unwrapped mesh and creates a normal map. The it applies that texture onto the low res mesh and voila you have a great yet low poly model.

Below is an example;


On the left, you see the high resolution mesh. In the middle is the very low poly version of that mesh and on the right is the low poly mesh with normal mapping. As you can see its a great way to save polygons.

XNORMAL DOWNLOAD: http://www.xnormal.net/1.aspx

NVIDIA also make a really good plugin that turns diffuse maps into normal maps. Theres also a program called ndo that does the same thing.



Another amazing feature of xnormals are its Ambient occlusion mapping capabilities. For those who are unaware, Ambient occlusion are the small shadows that form where surfaces meet

For example;



The left temple has ambient occlusion on the textures whilst the right has none. It looks infinitely better because of this small tweak.

Here is what an occlusion pass looks like.


Basically once you have uv unwrapped your model and takes it into xnormal you can generate an ambient occlusion map. You can then open your diffuse texture in photoshop or gimp. Place the ambient occlusion layer ontop of the diffuse channel, and set it to multiply. This will add the shadows to your texture and make it look 100 times better.

Once i have the time i will possibly make a video tutorial detailing a simple object from start to finish i.e. from sketchup to an in game object but since i neither have the game nor any indication of the acceptable formats it could be a fair amount of time.

There are alot of tutorials on youtube on xnormals and there is a good overview of the program on the xnormal site itself.

Happy modelling!
SMM
« Last Edit: March 18, 2014, 08:09:32 PM by SPACEMTNMAN »

bigdrip681

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Thanks for creating this! Well done. :D

SPACEMTNMAN

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No problem. Maybe sticky the thread Mods? It seems that theres likely going to be alot of custom content and new modellers are notorious for high polycounts. This should help them :)
« Last Edit: February 23, 2014, 10:13:00 AM by SPACEMTNMAN »

abletudu

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Consider it done.
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SPACEMTNMAN

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Great. Ill do a video tutorial at some point in the near future.

abletudu

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Please, don't forget a printable version too because it is easier for me to work with that than a video (and I think that I'm not the only one).
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Parkman

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No, you are not. I do need to get into this modelling stuff.  ;D
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SPACEMTNMAN

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Hopefully we will get a rct3 crossover. Alot of users make stuff in sketchup over on shyguys world so maybe theyll make the jump. The thing is the rct3 community has been carved over a rather long while and the amount of custom content made for it is immense and unfortunately i see alot of it being forgotten after tps release :/

pwc1

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No, you are not. I do need to get into this modelling stuff.  ;D

Same here. I hope that I can put sketchup to some use fairly soon.

Dayradon

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Very nice tutorial on this.  It has it's uses but I do find bump mapping to be useful in others.  For example I have a flat door plane, and a custom texture with many layered faces.  It doesn't matter if I normalize it, it will still look like a flat door with a flat texture on it.  At least with bump mapping, you could make it appear that there was depth to the image.

So other than trying to put subtle bulges and relief work into the mesh (which would drastically increase the poly count from a rectangle) What other options do I have.

I also have a question about how the ambient occlusion works.  Does it not mean that if you bake shadows in, the light sources in your set have to be fixed? Or does ambient occlusion take into account all possiblities for potential light sources and bake in all possible resulting shadow directions?


SPACEMTNMAN

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Normal mapping is exactly the same as bump mapping but its drastically updated. the bump maps need to be processed by the gpu/cpu in order to fake the detail whereas the colours on the normal map are basically that information baked to the map so you can use norma maps for the same things you would use bump maps for. It shades it to make it seem like theres depth so yes it would work great on a door.

Ambient occlusion is shadow where surfaces meet. Onces baked its part of the diffuse texture. It enhances detail and creates the shadows where light sources, unless bright and direct, wouldnt reach well. I use it on everything regardless of whether its in light or not because it makes it look so much more realistic.

As for the normal mapping theres a photoshop plugin that turns diffuse maps into normal maps made by Nvidia. Its free so get downloading!


Here is a door texture.

 

Then here is the normal map generated by the NVIDIA plugin



So as you can see it can simulate very small detail

Hope this helps

SMM
« Last Edit: March 18, 2014, 09:21:26 PM by abletudu »

muchwoo

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Is ambient occlusion supported by TPS? I really don't understand wich texture (except diffuse and normal) are compatible with TPS. I make specular texture but I think It's not supported.

abletudu

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Ambient occlusion is in the models supplied with phase 1 and will probably be in any from Pantera, but individual modelers will have to provide it in their models.

@SPACEMTNMAN when I click on the DL link for xNormal 3.18.6 Windows installer, it takes me to a page with a link for the installer and a file called xNormal 3_18_6 sdk.exe  Do I need both of these?
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muchwoo

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^Have some trick to put ambient occlusion (specular map) in 3d model file? I try everything but without luck.

abletudu

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^ Is your GPU a nvidia based one. If so check the 3d settings in the nvidia experience. Check:
http://www.geforce.com/whats-new/guides/ambient-occlusion#1
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