Normal mapping

If you aim to work in games, it's worth playing around with normal mapping. Now one of the industry's hottest topics, normal maps make the surface of a game model look much more detailed and impressive. This detail is displayed in real time: the images in the article are screengrabs, not renders. To create a normal map, a 3D software package samples the directions in which the surfaces of a detailed model (a higher-resolution version of the in-game object) face, storing the information as coloured pixels. The map is then applied to the lower-resolution object, passing information about the hi-res model to the lighting calculations.

In this article, we'll be providing a brief overview of the issues that normal mapping throws up. At present, a common approach is to build the hi-res source model immediately, but I feel it can be more effective to start with the lo-res final model. Firstly, starting low makes it easier to revise proportions, and allows for vital early rigging and animation tests. Secondly, once the lo-res is finished, it is a simple job to add polish. With subjects like the pirate on the right, I recommend exporting the mesh to ZBrush 2: a great tool for sculpting in organic detail.

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