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Handpainting Normal Maps pixel by pixel (100% Photoshop - 0% HighPoly)

RUX
RUX
polygon
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RUX polygon

Hi everyone,


I love to handpaint normal maps using just photoshop without doing any highpoly at all. I only do this when the polycount is kept quite low and the texture size is as small as possible.


When I work like this 90% of the work is done with the pencil tool in one pixel size (not the brush tool). The rest 10% of the work is done using any tool that photoshop can provide. I also have the "NVidia normal map" filter, but I barely use it. I only use it when I handpaint an organic "height map" and I whant its normal map, or when the UVs contains alot of diagonals. But when I use this filter I never use the resulting image, because with the texture sizes I'm working on are very small, the resulting image that the filter produces usually is quite blurry and messy. So, whenever I use the filter, I only use the resulting image as a reference to then paint my own normal map.


The images I'm going to show you are my own projects, they are not done for any actual game or anything. I just do them because I enjoy it so much. The first images I'm going to show are basicaly simple objects, and then I will show more complex objects at the end. The shaders I use for this are very simple, they only use difuse map, normal map and specular map. The screenshots are taken directly from 3dsMax, not using any game engine.


I hope you like it!


Bathroom:


Tools 1:


Tools 2:


Food 1:


Food 2:


Livingroom:


Scorpion Evo3 :


H&K MP5:


More guns:

I like guns, so I made a few. Polycounts and texture sizes are consistent with the rest of the objects.


Vehicles:

There is something I whant to say for the last object. I did this object and the normal map back in 2011. Since then I have improved alot, so today I would have done things quite diferent. I'm not particularly pround of the underneath part of it, but at that moment I was already too bored with the object, so I kept it as it is. Also, I never did the difuse texture, so I've created a very simple one just to show you how it could look (No specular map here). Still I think is good looking enough to show you.


Replies

  • Esselle
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    Esselle polycounter lvl 10

    This is quite interesting, and the result does look good too with the low resolution! It would be very cool to see examples of the actual normal map texture that you handpaint. I am very curious to see how it looks like for the toothpaste for example, where I would expect non trivial shapes. Also why low resolution? Is it a stylistic choice or is it because high resolution normal maps are too hard to handpaint?

  • Joopson
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    Joopson Polycount Sponsor

    If you enjoy it, that's what counts! These look much better than I expected they would.

    Fascinating and cool!

  • PolyHertz
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    PolyHertz hero character

    The dedication to optimization of these assets is impressive, and really interesting! There's something really beautiful about art made with such attention to detail under such strict limitations. Excellent work! :)

  • rexo12
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    rexo12 greentooth

    This is a crazy idea, love it. Not only that, the smorgasbord of assets you've done it for is wonderful to look at. Very unique look and feel!

  • sacboi
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    sacboi insane polycounter

    The guns and especially that van are standouts, I mean for goodness sake's a detailed smoothed high resolution looking vehicle:

    • way under 2k tris
    • 512 x 512 textures/px


    Alongside normals edited by hand in an image editor, no less - Wow!


    As an aside, imho I've only seen low poly baked stuff by Ben Bolton which I think is on par, aesthetically.

  • killnpc
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    killnpc interpolator

    i love these! so much fun

  • RUX
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    RUX polygon

    Thank you all for the nice coments!


    Esselle , what do you mean with "non trivial shapes" about the toothpaste? And about the low resolution is simple. When I did this projects, my goal was to try to obtain the best looking graphics I could do using as less polygons and texture sizes as possible. I wanted to see how low could I go but still maintaining a reasonably good looking graphics. After a few objects done, I realized I liked how they looked, so somehow it's also a stylistic choice you could say. And about handpainting bigger resolution normal maps, it's not like they are harder to do, it's just a matter of investing more time.


    Rexo12, I made quite a diferent types of objects to see if this method of working could be adapted to anything.


    Sacboi, I'm a bit familiar with Ben Boltons work. When I saw his lowpoly weapons I was quite astonished on how similar they looked to mine.


    Again, thank you very much for the comments! :)

  • RUX
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    RUX polygon

    (I'm very sorry for repeating the message, but I didn't know how to "Mention" people before. I hope it works this time.)


    Thank you all for the nice coments!


    @Esselle , what do you mean with "non trivial shapes" about the toothpaste? And about the low resolution is simple. When I did these projects, my goal was to try to obtain the best looking graphics I could do using as less polygons and texture sizes as possible. I wanted to see how low could I go, but still maintaining a reasonably good looking graphics. After a few objects done, I realized I liked how they looked, so somehow it's also a stylistic choice you could say. And about handpainting bigger resolution normal maps, it's not like they are harder to do, it's just a matter of investing more time.


    @rexo12 , I made quite a diferent types of objects to see if this method of working could be adapted to anything.


    @sacboi , I'm a bit familiar with Ben Bolton's work. When I saw his lowpoly weapons I was quite astonished on how similar they looked to mine.


    Again, thank you very much for the comments! :)

  • rexo12
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    rexo12 greentooth

    Quite alright, I had read it already actually :)

  • sacboi
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    sacboi insane polycounter

    Nah all good, it's this recent vanilla forum editor 'upgrade' that sometimes really sucks balls : /

  • zetheros
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    zetheros polycounter lvl 8

    this is really inspiring actually, I've been working on a game of my own and have been thinking of art styles to work with. Super efficient UVs and texture maps have always been appealing

  • starcow
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    starcow Polycount Sponsor

    Very good work! Looks impressive!

    Would you like to show some of these normal maps?

  • Frigus
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    Frigus polycounter lvl 5

    Amazing works! Can you post a breakdown please?

  • iam717
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    iam717 triangle

    looks like a lot of fun. looking forward to seeing some trailer or anything you are working on with all these.

  • gnoop
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    gnoop polycounter

    Fantastic work. A huge potential for mobile games.

    Wonder how you managed to do so seamless rounding on cylindrical form manually . Wheels etc.

  • RUX
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    RUX polygon

    Thank you all!


    @zetheros - I'm sorry for the late answer, I thought nobody was looking at this post anymore. Would be cool to see what game you are working on your own. If you are looking for very efficient UVs and small textures, that's what I enjoy the most.

    @starcow - I'm sorry for the late answer, I thought nobody was looking at this post anymore. If I don't show the normal maps is for two reasons. First, I have never seen someone working the normal maps the way I do, therefore I am a bit jealous to show them. Second, if you think about it, a normal map is just a normal map, regardless it's size, so... Maybe I'll post them in the future.

    @Frigus - I've posted this material in another forum and I have had a lot of people asking for a video or a tutorial. But right now I don't have the time for it. If I see that someday I have the time, I'll do a tutorial.

    @iam717 - This work is my personal work. I do it in my free time just for fun so, don't expect any trailer or something similar. I do this with no purpose at all.

    @gnoop - Yes, I think so to. I think this can work for mobile games and with a few more polygons, I think this can work also for third person games and similar. About the seamless edges on round objects, there's no diference on how I do them in flat objects. But I have to admit that I have a lot of practice doing this type of work so, for me this comes very natural to me.

  • Polynaught
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    Polynaught polycounter lvl 9

    Looks great. Care to give a small breakdown on one of the assets like the headphones or a wheel of the car or its chair? Those beveled/rounded edges are so convincing. Beautiful.

  • SeveredScion
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    SeveredScion polycounter lvl 10

    Just wanted to chime in to say this is really impressive! I love how consistent the style is between the different assets. Seems like handpainting normal maps would be very hard, but once you got the hang of it this would be a very fast way to work.

  • RUX
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    RUX polygon

    @Polynaught - Thank's! ... I'm sorry but I don't have too much time lately. I will tell you the same I tell to anyone that ask for thows beveled rounded edges. I recomend you to make very simple highpoly objects and bake them to lowpoly objects. Look at the results and study the colors. Try to understand what color does what. That's how I learned all I know about rounded bevels.

    @SeveredScion - Thank's! Yes, I agree. What I like about this way of working is that, no matter what, every object that I handpaint has the same look and feel. And this is something important. The homogeneity in one specific art style is key I think. It took me a lot of practice to achieve this knowledge, and at the beggining it took me quite some time to do every object. But with practice, now I'm a lot faster handpainting normal maps. Some people asked me why I work this way, and the answer is very simple, I enjoy a lot handpainting normal maps and I love how they look.

  • starcow
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    starcow Polycount Sponsor

    @RUX

    I do not quite understand.

    Are you afraid that someone could copy your technique just from the map? Isn't it rather the knowledge of the process that is relevant with regard to this aspect?

    Especially if you create the normal maps by hand and show the results, it would of course be particularly interesting to see such a map.

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