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In games we use normal maps in combination with diffuse and specular to add realism and detail in our models. What a normal map does, in short, is change the apparent direction of the polygons as they react to light. Now, there is more to it, and there are lots of materials available on exactly how they work and what they do. But the way to think of it is it makes the surface look like it's got more detail in it. A good place for a normal map, for example, is on this garage door. We can tell this garage door has a lot of wear and tear on it, and it's got windows and some recessed panels; however, on the garage door there're nothing that sticks out in silhouette, so it's a perfect candidate for a normal map.
We want to make sure that the panels look recessed and the windows look recessed as well. We also want to make sure that this trim around the window shows up correctly. As another example, we could use normal maps on the siding of this building/ The siding looks cracked and warned and is droopy in places but doesn't change the silhouette of the building, which is determined by the roofline and the corner boards here. So a normal map will really make the siding look like it's got some age and weathering to it. I have constructed a quick bump map to illustrate this.
A bump as a grayscale going between black and white for high and low, and it's relative; it's not a particular distance out. We've got different normal map filters available, and I'm going to quickly use xNormal here in Photoshop to make a normal map out of this. I'll use the default settings in xNormal and see how this looks. I'll click on Continue, and there is my normal map. Normal maps tend to look a little bit odd when you look at them just straight. Blue is strength and red and green gives us direction.
It's going to make these panels look recessed, and the dark lines in between the door panels became groups. The rivets here at the quarters popped out. And I'm ready to apply this in Maya. Here in Maya I've made a plane, and I have put a light in the scene. I'm going to put a normal map in the Bump Mapping texture on this material. I'll click on the texture node for bump map and in the Create Render Node dialog, pick File. In the Bump 2d that Maya creates, I'll go under Use As and change over to a Tangent Space Normal.
Then I will go into the File node and go pick the normal I've saved out. I've called this a 01_04 example, and there is that normal map. I'll click Open and make sure my High Quality displays on, by clicking on the gold sphere. Those are the hotkeys 6 to show textures and 7 to shows scene lighting, to get back to this view. Now, we can see that this door looks like it has a lot of detail. This is a great example of where a normal map is useful. We can't take a sphere for head, as an example, and normal map a nose out of it, but we can have a lot of detail that's within a plane with a normal map and make things look richer in our world in game.
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