How would I achieve this low poly water effect using cycles?

enter image description here

But the closest I've gotten would be this:

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ What have you done already, or what got so far? $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2016 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking about making the mesh? The material? Both? Do you want the effect animated in some way? $\endgroup$
    – gandalf3
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ I don't want it animated, but I'm asking about the mesh and material. $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2016 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ @gandalf3 Sorry, forgot to tag $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2016 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ Modeling-wise your mesh seems to pretty much be there already. Now what you are missing is not so much on the water itself but on the "context" it seems. Add the rocky bottom or ground geometry behind it and and a scene around the water, perhaps work a bit on your lighting and it will probably look quite similar. It's hard t tell from the image alone, but there either seems to be a second layer of water (a second mesh below it) to simulate water depth or there is some volumetric material at work there. $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2016 at 23:25

3 Answers 3


It looks to me like some kind of mix between glossy and transparent shaders.

enter image description here
This setup is rather arbitrary, it's up to you to come up with a combo you like.

The trick is that there seems to be multiple layers of mesh superimposed, allowing objects near the surface to be seen, while nearly completely obscuring the bottom.

One way to go about creating such layers is by first creating a "base mesh". I used a fluid simulation, but for more control you may want to use dyntopo.

Once you have a mesh more or less how you'd like it, duplicate it and add differently seeded displace modifiers, and decimate modifiers with different ratios to get a mix of polygon sizes.

enter image description here

Also note the way the water meshes in your example have been sculpted to give the impression of currents; long poly strips where water is flowing straight, and choppier, evenly distributed triangles for more turbulent regions.
I didn't do this, but you may want to.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow, really great answer! But how did you light this scene? And also if you don't mind, can you give a download link to this file? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ And how did you model the water using a fluid simulation? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexSafayan I've uploaded the .blend. The lighting is from the sky and a sun lamp. As for the base mesh, I set up a simple lowish resolution fluid simulation (100 IIRC), picked a frame I liked, then applied the modifier and manually tweaked the mesh from there. $\endgroup$
    – gandalf3
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... I can't seem to find out how to make the fluid simulation that you made to create the water. But I was able to create this - bit.do/lowpoly with your material. Could you make a download for the fluid simulation, or just tell me how to set it up? Sorry! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Nice render! I'd suggest looking for some fluid simulation tutorials (e.g. on blenderguru), or perhaps the manual $\endgroup$
    – gandalf3
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 22:46

You can use a Glass Material as a base and set the IOR (indice of refraction) to 1.39336 which is the value for the water at 20°C.

An important thing is also the environment texture setting as the reflection is important.

The result and the node setting for the water

The environment texture setting

On this base, you'll probably need to add turbulences effects. But this may be to take into account differently depending on what you want : static image or animation.


After some searches, I found this "swimming pool" effect combi which fits my needs (water is a small part of a big picture). You can adjust the effect by changing glass shader iOR value (which set very strong on illustration).

My goal is to have 1 plane for each water zone with light reflection AND some roughness... This method reaches both goals so it stays animation friendly until water comes at foreground. In this case, I would add some surface displacement as seen in the question picture. the plane beyond is emitting white

Notes : 1) Unlike in a real pool, light zones are coming from surface reflecting a sun lamp placed at upper front of the camera. 2) Wave texture can be used too but less convincing than musgrave to my opinion.

Possible improvement : Try to transfert effect to the bottom surface, behind water. Would require to recreate glossy effect for water surface.


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