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I can subdivide a mesh, for example a coin, many times, then add a texture to it as a Displacement modifier to add detail on the mesh (coin), for example a bust of a famous person. However, the displacement modifier will require a lot of polygons (over few millions) to make the relief look smooth and detailed. A lot of those polygons are useless and piece in a large group of planar polygons. The 3D preview can also get hard to navigate with the CPU/GPU reaching their limit.

A more practical and easier approach in my opinion would be to have the topology regenerated based on the texture used for the displacement modifier, then adding polygons to that mesh instead.

Is something like that possible?

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As far as i know, it is not possible, you have to do a manual retopo or use a decimate modifier to reduce the polycount.

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It is possible. I'd go with a combination of displacement modifier for the rough shapes and then add a normal map for the fine details.

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  • $\begingroup$ How does normal map change the toplogy? Or is there a way to "bake" a normal map to a geometry and have it add polygons where it sees fit, unlike how the displacement map works? Or did you assume I was only looking for a solution for renders, not results on the actual geometry? Please add more info. $\endgroup$ – Leo Ervin Aug 30 '16 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ It depends on the purpose of your model. If you really need the topology you will definitely have to rise your polycount until you reach the amount of detail you want. This might or might not work for 3D printing (depends on the printer). I'm not the printing expert, I mostly deal with 3D game assets and the occasional still and animation scene renderings. That's the focus of my answers. $\endgroup$ – metaphor_set Aug 30 '16 at 7:02
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry I think you misunderstood my question. I really need what I ask in my question title. "Can you retopologize a mesh based on a texture?" This is not about 3d printing, though an answer could help there as well. The point is with "subdividing until it looks good" with Displacement modifier it gets harder to view and edit that mesh because it becomes too CPU/GPU intenisve. $\endgroup$ – Leo Ervin Aug 30 '16 at 8:05

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