Help Understanding Normal Mapping (3dsmax7)

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Okay, I know what normal maps are, but I've never tried doing one before.

I know you can use UVW unwrap and all that to make a custom one in Photoshop, but I'm more talking about normal mapping that creates a map from a high res model and applies it to a low res version model. I'm just testing the principal out by trying to make a sphere, and then make a second sphere with spikes, 3 iterations of subdivision, and noise applied to the geometry to use as the high res model (no real goal; just trying to make something bumpy).

I've looked up tutorials on all this, and I have to say there is an abysmally small amount of information on the topic. Not to mention youtube tutorials are immensely frustrating for how they never have good enough resolution for me to see the settings the teacher is pressing.

Basically, what I've gathered is once you make the high res model, you go to "render to texture" and set it up so it creates a normal map. Well, all well and good, but there are a number of problems.

First off, I don't know much about normal mapping, but I'm fairly certain the end result of the map shouldn't be flat purple. I was pretty sure different shades of violet formed a sort of contour look that dictates the bump. And sure enough, putting this image in the normal bump slot did just about nothing.

Secondly, the mapping coordinates are all wrong. When I apply the map to the object, I can see how the normal map is slapped on like a sticker on the surface of the low poly sphere. I don't have the foggiest of ideas as how to get it working, and I'm sure I must be quite noobish to normal mapping to be failing at such a relatively simple thing.

Anyone, please, this is pretty crucial knowledge for someone interested in joining the industry someday.
 
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the easiest way to explain it is that normalmaps, like most other maps, work on colour values to generate their properties.

working in grayscale is going to be easier for this purpose...

basically, your Red channel in photoshop will be your top to bottom (white being up, black being down), Green channel is left to right (White being left, black is right), and Blue channel is depth, the blacker, the deeper. but most blue channels look almost completely white with very shallow grays.

best thing you can do to test it out, is to make a flat plane, apply a normalmap, go into photoshop, set up a gray image set to exactly mid-gray. then paint a white part in the red channel, save it, and see how it looks in max/your 3d app.

once you get the hang of that, you can actually look into painting normalmaps from scratch, by hand.

i'm not very good at explaining this, sorry... my experience with normalmaps is literally "make highpoly, bake highpoly, use photoshop to edit".
 
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No no no no no

I'm trying to figure out how you map a high res model and apply it to a low res model, all inside Max, no external programs.
 
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oh... don't do that with max 7 lol...
 
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No no no no no

I'm trying to figure out how you map a high res model and apply it to a low res model, all inside Max, no external programs.
I know what you mean, however Max 7 wasn't designed for that style of mapping (dont quote me on this, not 100% sure if this is correct since I've been using Max9 for a while)

I suggest upgrading to max 9 and doing it that way. I have a tutorial saved somewhere about what your trying to do.. I will go look for it soon and repost it if i find it.. However I think it was made for max 9 :S 7 might be missing some of the modifiers needed for it.
 
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I can't, and never will upgrade to a high version of Max. All of my crucial plugins will be unuseable. Max 7 was the first version of Max to support normal mapping, and I've pretty much figured it out. You have to use a combination of a "normal bump" map for your bump, render to texture, and the projection modifier.

I still haven't figured out how the "cage" works, and testing it on some models didn't work quite so well (likely because my low poly is REALLY low poly) but you could make out what it was trying to do despite certain mistake areas. I also learned valuable information about what could be done with render to texture by experimenting with the different outputs, since "normal map" was only one of several possible. With it I can sorta' cheat the texturing. Usually I prefer to apply different materials to different parts of a character's geometry rather than do it all in a single texture, mainly because I've never gotten the hang of setting up the UVW Unwrap editor.

Flatten mapping would always break complex areas of a model into a lot of single faces, and it would be impossible to make out what they were part of in Photoshop. Other mapping options would make some things overlap. I always wished I could somehow unfold the whole geometry like a cardboard box so I could actually do a real proper texture, but I could never get it right and I'd just have to settle for a half assed texture. I'm sure there must be some higher method of properly mapping a model, but I've yet to see it. I've even taken 3 seperate professionally taught courses and the ****ing instructor never got around to saying much more than "this is the UVW Unwrap modifier, used for mapping complex objects, but we're not going to go over that at any time, ever".

But while the method Max uses to automatically create it's UVW coordinates in "render to texture" makes it even less efficient to map, I at least can use it eventually to make my originally multi-material character models use only one texture by exporting the model's diffuse. Or Hell, I might even be able to use the beginnings of proper specular and glossiness maps, again, all of this culminating in fulfilling all the model's materials needs using only one material. Might even be able to put a model in a game someday that way...
 
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Its almost 2am, im really tired, but I just made this to help you learn UVW mapping... its short..but hell im tired Iwill write a more detailed on soon. Hope this helps you man.

Glode
 
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while 7 supports the display of normalmaps in realtime, it's very inneficient at it. and as for creating them in max.... no, just no.

google a program called X-Normal.
 

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