Texture mapping, not your regular Atlas

Rendering isn’t all about models – without textures you end up with objects that are generally single-colour and largely featureless. This doubly so because textures can suggest shapes and countours that actually don’t exist on the model, especially nowadays when a single 3D model rarely has only a single texture.

Let me show you what I mean.

These are the two base textures I use for Nhani Moonfall – the sword, the shoulderpads and the headdress all have their own textures of course, but skin and hair are the two key elements that basically any World of Warcraft player character has. Just as-is, they work.. but it’s hardly ideal. The light sources still interacts solely with the shape of the model and neither shades nor highlights will respect the shapes implied by the texture in any way. So how do we solve this? More textures!

Now this is the full array of of various texture maps the Nhani model uses, and mind you – this is only one side. In cases where Nhani has differing features on differing sides (like the injured texture set) she basically needs the above repeated once for each side.

Diffuse is the standard texture, or atleast the name 3ds Max has for it.

Specular Color is the colour of specular mapping highlight – if light shines on a peice of the texture, what colour will the texture shine back with. I generally just create it by adding a slight blur and adjusting Brightness and Contrast.

Specular Level is the other aspect of specular lighting – it defines how much a given part of the model will shine when subjected to direct light. In this case, things like skin, metals and soforth should have a higher shine than things that are dull and don’t have much of an innate shine. I create these much the way I do specular color – except make them darker rather than lighter, adjust so some places don’t become too dull or too shiny, and make it grayscale.

Bump maps are a sort of texture-based model detail – they change a bit how highlight and shadow interacts with the model, feigning detail that isn’t there. In later games, bump maps have mostly been superceded by normal maps that are like bump maps but have different maps for different viewing angles to further enhance the illusion. Now to be honest, I have no idea how to make a proper bump map, so I generally just use an Emboss filter and roll with that. Someone telling me how bump maps are actually supposed to be made would be appreciated 😉

Self-Illumination is something that gives a model an innate light – it light up the world around them, but it makes them (or part of them) act as if they were lit up even when they’re not. In this case, I use it to make the Night elven eyes have their bright, glowing quality to them.

As a comparisson, I can show the texture maps for the corrupted side of Reiki Moonfall from Sunrise:

The maps are the same, but as you can see there’s a whole lot more self-illumination going to make the fel scars along her arm have their own bright green light, as well as make the bad eye inately glow green. I admit, I didn’t pay too much attention to the specular level map there – if I had, the implied metal objects (throwing knives, rings) would’ve had a higher specular level than the rest of the outfit. Since they twist and bend however, calling attention to them might be a bad idea.

Moving on to the hair then, it has roughly the same maps as the skin does, with one exception.

Mask. In computer terms, masks are essentially filters, something that allows things to pass in certain places but not in others. In this case, the mask decides how much light the model absorbs and how much is allowed to pass through – bright white makes the texture surface solid, black makes it fully transparent. You can then slide between the two extremes to make things only partially transparent as you wish.

When exporting a model via modelviewer, you do get the mask for free, but as an alpha channel (I haven’t been able to make 3ds Max use the alpha channel as a mask so far) and turned upside-down. So you basically have to get the alpha channel, mirror it vertically and save it as its own image to make proper use of it. Also do note that some Burning Crusade items actually has the alpha channel as a bump or specular (not sure which actually, though I’m suspecting the latter) map instead.

To be fair, there’s a whole lot of more detail work you can do with texture maps (and a whole lot more map types to use than I show or use here period), but I’m not much more than a novice at it myself, so there’s only so much I can tell. 😉

Still, it’s another insight into how the renders are put together.

Edit: I still can’t spell Appreciated.. -_-


18 Responses to “Texture mapping, not your regular Atlas”

  1. 1 bbr
    August 27, 2008 at 08:38

    Google spellcherker 😉

  2. 2 Nhani
    August 27, 2008 at 08:51

    Bah, I need no spellchecker. My english skills are great and many!

    I just need to foster the habit of spelling it right without thinking.
    Appreciate. Appreciate. Appreciate.


  3. August 27, 2008 at 11:39

    I SEA 😀
    nah i know it’s see and 10x for this

  4. 4 bbr
    August 27, 2008 at 12:22

    Ah, i see you got the sidebar working, cheers for the link 🙂

  5. 5 Nhani
    August 27, 2008 at 12:31

    Welcome 😉

    I’ve known how to add links to the side for some time evidently, but I haven’t used it before because I’ve been a little conflicting over where to link to and the point it’d serve. Linking to somewhere that’s never updated and/or I never check seems a tad odd, for example.

    I actually do check your blog however, so it seemed like it’d make an appropriate addition. *nod*

  6. 6 bbr
    August 27, 2008 at 12:58

    Wuh, oh, some bad news from blues:

    I can’t give you exact numbers, but you are correct that Sunwell Radiance was added simply because we let tanks get crazy high avoidance. It does feel like a bit of a band-aid, but when you think about the alternative we would have needed to balance those encounters (dodge, dodge, parry, dead), lower avoidance was probably the right call.

    We’ve learned a lot about itemization since then and certainly have no plans of going back to Sunwell Radiance. But don’t expect to get 100% avoidance any time soon.

  7. 7 Nhani
    August 27, 2008 at 13:12

    Never actually had 100% and don’t really expect to get it. I don’t need to be completely, totally and utterly invincible, I just need to avoid enough 😉

    Mind you, what Wrath itemization will do to the viability of roguetanking is one of my main concerns for the expansion. If I can push about 60-80% avoidance and enemies won’t be excessively stunning, fearing or otherwise negating it, it should be fine. Emphasis on should.

  8. 8 bbr
    August 27, 2008 at 13:17

    Well, if you take into considderation that some bosses hit for 10K or more, getting hit twice in a row is going to flatline you. I’m wondering how high we’ll manage to get though.

  9. 9 Nhani
    August 27, 2008 at 13:30

    I well expect I’ll likely be stuck off-tanking early on atleast. How things’ll pan out remains to be seen. I have plenty of worries to go around, but plenty of reassurances too. Blizzard can still grossly change itemization and/or coefficients to radically rebalance things to make it easier or harder.

    We simply have to wait and see.

    Oh and I posted up a list of gear choices.

  10. August 27, 2008 at 15:12

    heres from today texture mapping tutorial

  11. August 27, 2008 at 15:13

    sorry for double posting forgot to post the link

  12. 12 Nhani
    August 27, 2008 at 16:59

    Hm. It’s hard to tell all that much how it works, lighting doesn’t really seem to make it easier. There doesn’t seem to be any bright lights to really cause any kind of shean or anything and the only thing I can see is a bit of highlight on the leggings there. ;o

  13. August 27, 2008 at 17:55

    um i kinda made the bump alittle stuped and it looked bad

  14. 14 Nhani
    August 27, 2008 at 18:43

    Well I’d say the important thing to realize is that most of these things are just tricks you can use – none of them will automatically make things better, and many of them are heavilly reliant on a single thing: light.

    Bump and specular maps won’t really do anything for you unless there’s a good lighting environment to play off them. And bump maps in particular can be really hard to notice sometimes because they’re really only visible from certain light angles and sometimes only when objects are in motion.

    In the end, all you need to make something look cinematic is poses, camera angles and lights. All things you can do with textures just make something pretty prettier, they won’t make an image on their own 😉

    Beyond the Tree uses only diffuse, self-illumination and mask textures up to page 20 or 30 something and got by perfectly with just those. Bump and specular maps do make things prettier once they come into play, but they don’t exactly make or break a visual, they just enhance what’s already there.

  15. 15 Frostsaben
    August 28, 2008 at 06:06

    Now thinking about it, your comics are starting to remind me of the Warcraft III movies, especially the one from Frozen Throne when Illidan battles Arthas to enter Icecrown, the only difference is that your characters don’t move (well, not real-time anyway). Now this makes me think of two questions:
    1. Have you ever thought about doing graphics for computer games, or special effects in movies?
    2. Do you think you could do a mini-movie with the characters from your comics?

  16. 16 Nhani
    August 28, 2008 at 06:18


    #1. I’m actually going to be studying game design (though attached to programming, not graphics) for the coming three years or so, is the idea anyway. So it is something I think I’d love to be working with. That said.. I’m still heavilly reliant on whatever art resources I can lift from World of Warcraft – anything scratchbuilt is feeble by comparisson. I have a loooooong way to go before I can consider myself a capable modeller or texture artist. And some of the graphics Blizzard pulls for video sequences? It just blows me away. I am in awe of what they can do.

    #2. Weell.. 3ds Max can innately render to video files and the tools I use for posing are intended for animation. So out of a purely functional standpoint? Yes, I could make one. That said, it requires a script, it requires talent with animation (Something I still lack, arguably from not training it), it requires some solution with the backdrops also needing to be mobile somehow and – if characters are expected to speak – there’s the small issue of voice acting 😉
    It’s possible, and I have thought about it, but it really hasn’t gone further than that 😉

  17. 17 Frostsaben
    August 28, 2008 at 07:30

    Then I wish you good luck with the studying and with getting to do what you love and… we’ll see in three-four years how it worked out. Who knows, maybe Beyond the Tree will still be here with it’s number 500 or even more but this only time will tell… 😉

  18. 18 Nhani
    August 28, 2008 at 11:15

    Thanks, and we will, heh. I have no shortage for plot material, so Beyond the Tree certainly has ways to go during the time. It’s more about wether I stick with it, but right now I have no reason to push it aside beyond plain and simple sloth, which is one of the things I’m hoping Beyond the Tree will help me overcome. xD

    As for numbers.. three years times fifty two weeks times twice a week plus the fourty two I’m already at only sums up at around three hundred fifty or so. xD

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