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Okay, here's a little something in need of a solution:

I am planning on making some piles of coins for a dragon's treasure hoard. This would be for game content, so it would all need to be low-poly, probably as a mesh pile with a textured surface.

Is there any good way to do this that would make the pile look authentic, or at least believable? Like, for example, would it be possible to create a particle system, and then bake its output to the surface of a mesh? Or would there be a better way to get natural results?

EDIT 1: If possible, I'd also like to get decent normal maps for the coin pile.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Model a coin (depending on how detailed you need just a short cylinder). Then use rigid body physics to drop the coins into a pile. cg cookie tutorial (archive). After you have a pile of coins then you can bake a normal map to a low poly mesh. Short description of the process on bottom of that page.

For the color, bake that too (also on that page). You would want a full render, or a Textures bake for the diffuse map.

If you are using cycles, the bake options are a little different.

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Along with a diffuse map as well, aye? – Zauber Paracelsus May 6 '14 at 17:46

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