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The usual workflow is to take a high detail model, such as a sculpt, create a lower detail copy, then bake a normal map off the high detail to use on the low. Is it viable to do the reverse?

I need to keep the overall geometry of my model intact for various reasons, but I would actually like to eliminate certain surface details with a texture within some parts of my material setup, while having the rest of the geometry intact for other parts.

Note that I don't necessarily mean a lower detail model in terms of vertex count, but rather in visible details. For example, here are two UV spheres. One has been crumpled. If I rendered it, it would have complex shading due to being crumpled, and the wireframe sphere would have smooth shading.

enter image description here

I want to give the crumpled sphere the smooth shading of the non-crumpled sphere, but keep it's geometry complex. This would cause it's silhouette to still have the high detail of the crumpled sphere.

Can this be done?

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    $\begingroup$ Does this only need to work for spherical normals, or do you need to apply this towards mapping the normals of other meshes, too? $\endgroup$ Jun 10 '17 at 21:38
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Bake Normals to Object's Space

Normals map are often baked on Tangent space, but as in the "reverted" process you brought Object's space is probably more appropriate

enter image description here

The following image is showing a low poly shape at the top, while in the middle and in the bottom there is the high poly mesh. The lower rigth texture is the result of the baking of the Normals of the low poly to the high poly.

The shape in the middle is using that texture as imput for Normal map of a diffuse shader.

In the right of the 3D view, the shapes are duplicated with a different material showing the Normal map used for the shading.

enter image description here

Looks like some of the ridges and valleys don't bump up as in the lower shape, so coming back to your main question, I would answer yes.

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  • $\begingroup$ This looks good. I have it working in some simple tests, but when I try to test on more complex objects I get errors to do with Cuda and the bake fails, or if I change it to CPU it crashes. Sooo I need to figure that out before I can tell if this really works. $\endgroup$
    – Ascalon
    Jun 14 '17 at 1:06
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In the case of a spherical object, it is pretty simple. Just add a Normal Edit modifier and enable Auto Smooth in the Normals panel of the Object Data menu.

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Before:

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After:

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  • $\begingroup$ That certainly works for spheres! But how about other shapes? I used a sphere as an example because it was easy to demonstrate, but it is not the end goal. $\endgroup$
    – Ascalon
    Jun 11 '17 at 1:32
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To reduce normal influence you can change the intensity in the node settings. If you were sculpting with the multires you can work in layers that way.

I wouldn't really suggest projecting a low res mesh onto a high res one and if that is what you want to do I'd suggest retopoing you're mesh and working from that.

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You can always go into sculpting mode, hit s for a smooth brush and smooth as much as you'd like.

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