Creating and Using Normal Bump Maps

Normal bump mapping is a way of adding high-resolution detail to low-polygon objects. It is especially useful for real-time display devices such as game engines, and it can also be used in rendered scenes and animations.

A normals map is a three-color map, unlike the grayscale maps used for regular bump mapping (see Bump Mapping). The red channel encodes the left-right axis of normal orientation, the green channel encodes the up-down axis of normal orientation, and the blue channel encodes vertical depth.

Basic Workflow

3ds Max provides a number of different ways to create and use normal bump mapping, but the most straightforward and simplest workflow involves these steps:

  1. Create a detailed, high-resolution model.
  2. Create a simpler, low-resolution model.

    The low-resolution model should have the general shape and outlines of the high-resolution model, and typically it should be a bit smaller, so that projected detail in the high-res model will appear to be above its surface.

  3. Select the low-res model.
  4. Choose Rendering Render to Texture.

    The Render To Texture dialog appears.

  5. On the Objects To Bake rollout, in the Projection Mapping group, click Pick.

    3ds Max opens a selection dialog.

  6. Choose the high-res object, and then click Add.

    3ds Max applies a Projection modifier to the low-res object.

  7. In the Projection Mapping group, turn on Enable.
    NoteAt this stage, often you will click Options to display the Projection Options dialog, which has a variety of settings for how to generate the projection.
  8. On the Output rollout, add a NormalsMap element (see Baked Texture Elements). Assign Bump as its target map slot.
  9. In the Selected Elements Unique settings group, turn on Output Into Normal Bump.
  10. Click Render.

    3ds Max renders the Normals map, which stores normals data from the high-res object. As for other kinds of texture baking, it creates a Shell material and applies that to the low-res object, with the Normals map assigned as the bump component.

Components of Normal Bump Mapping

In the 3ds Max interface, controls for normal bump maps appear in three locations:

Viewing Normal Bump Maps

If your display driver uses DirectX 8, you can view normal maps in viewports by using the Metal Bump shader. If your graphics driver is DirectX 9, you can view normal maps in any shaded viewport. See Direct3D Driver Setup Dialog.

If your display driver is Software or OpenGL, you can't view normal maps in viewports. However, you can still render them and use normal mapping in renderings.

Normal Projection with Sub-Object Selections

You can associate different sub-object selections with different high-resolution geometry. See Reference Geometry Rollout (Projection Modifier).