3 ways to displace an object in Cinema 4D

3D artist Francesca Forzoni outlines three ways to apply a displacement map onto an object in Cinema 4D.

Chocolate image

Use a mixture of methods to create the displacement map for the best effect

There are a few ways to apply a displacement map onto an object in Cinema 4D so it's normally down to personal preference. Here I'll outline three ways you can go about it, and what the benefits and drawbacks are of each.

01. Use the Displacement channel

The first way you can do it, which is probably the most common way, is to just turn on the Displacement channel in your object’s material. You should put in your displacement alpha into your Texture channel to control your strength, height and sub-polygon displacement directly through this channel.

When I use this method I duplicate my material for the object and apply the displacement to the duplicated material, select the faces I want the displacement to affect and just apply the new material with displacement onto those faces only.

This enables me to have control over the displacement position and have no issues with the rest of my object. However, the problem with this method is that it’s not live in your working preview screen, so it’s a constant battle with positioning, depth and resolution.

02. Use the Displacer Deformer

The second option would be to use the Displacer Deformer and input your displacement material via a Colour channel. To do this you need to create a new material, turn on Colour only, and pop your displacement alpha into Texture.

Create a Null object and put this new material onto the Null. Create a Displacer Deformer and make it a child of the object you’re displacing, click Shading in your Attribute manager, set your Channel to Colour, and in your Texture Tag, drag and drop your newly made texture from your Null object in there.

So this will take your texture and use whichever channel you have put in your displacement map, in this case we used the Colour channel.

The issue I have with this method is that you have to subdivide your object a crazy amount to get smooth high-resolution embossing, which slows down render times and can be a real pain if you need to alter your object at a later time.

03. Hybrid approach

The third and final way I’ve created a displacement on an object is a combination of the two approaches above.

Create your texture for your object, and duplicate it. Apply your displacement as normal through your displacement channel in your second material. Add a selection tag to the faces you want to apply your displacement onto and add your material here. So you have your object with your base texture on, then your same texture, plus the displacement applied to your selected faces only.

Next, create a Null and a Displacer Deformer and place both the object and Displacement Deformer into the Null. In your Displacer, click Object and tick Emulation. This means the Displacer Deformer will mirror the displacement created by the Displacement Material channel. Then you can control your displacement as normal through your material, like in the initial route.

I’ve found this works the best by giving you a live preview to see your displacement position, height and resolution, and letting you keep your mesh low resolution, which does not effect the quality of your displacement.

Bonus tip: Add a blur to your displacement

By blurring the edges of your displacement map slightly, you can give your texture a much smoother embossing/debossing effect. Experiment with various strengths of blur, as well as increasing and decreasing the contrast between black and white on your map.

Words: Francesca Forzoni

Frankie is a 3D artist and visualiser in London. She has recently moved from working in post-production to branding and packaging.

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