3D Maps Area Help

1. Getting Started

The 3D Maps Area allows you to create and edit diffuse, displacement, normal, specular and ambient occlusion maps. These maps can be extracted or rendered from the current image in the Texture Area or they can be loaded and edited at will from files or pasted from the clipboard.

To create 3D maps from the current image in the Texture Area you can do the following:

  1. In the Texture Area load or generate an image into the Texture Editor.
  2. Click the Extract 3D Maps button at the top and select which 3D maps to extract.
  3. Depending on which maps you selected a few extract windows will appear, allowing you to customize the extraction of the new 3D maps.

After this, your 3D maps are created and you can tune them with the tools available in each area. A 3D Preview of the new materials is rendered in the preview area.

A screenshot of the 3D Maps Area interface with the 3D preview at the left and the editors at the right:

3D Maps Area 3D Maps Area

2. 3D Preview

3D Preview Maps Combinations

The 3D Preview area at the left side renders a preview of how the maps appear when rendered on a 3D model. Each time a setting is changed in any of the editors at the right, PixPlant will automatically update the 3D Preview.

Use the left mouse button to rotate the model around its vertical axis.

Press the mouse wheel button and drag to change the light position - in OS X you can also press Cmd and drag with the left mouse button or trackpad.

To zoom the view in or out, use the mouse wheel. In OS X you can also swipe the trackpad vertically with two fingers.

To pan the view, click the right mouse button and drag. In OS X you can also press Cmd and drag with the left mouse button or trackpad.

The previewed model is rendered with a combination of vertex displacement and parallax mapping, to aim at the best possible realism while still offering interactive frame rates.

You can save a snapshot of the 3D Preview or copy it to the clipboard with the respective options available in the View > 3D Preview menu.

As with any other 3D application which uses your GPU, it's important that you have the latest GPU drivers installed. If you see any problems with the 3D Preview please check for the latest versions of the GPU drivers. In Windows running the PixPlant installer will scan and if necessary offer to update DirectX.

Previewed Maps

At the top-left corner of the 3D Preview area you'll find check-boxes to enable or disable rendering of each of the 3D maps that can be edited in PixPlant.

To preview the displacement map, the normal map must also be rendered, so enabling displacement will also enable normal previewing (and conversely disabling normal rendering will disable displacement rendering). All other maps are independent.

Having Alt/Option pressed while clicking these rendering check-boxes will alternate between enabling just the current one or all the others instead.

Preview Quality

Next to the Previewed Maps check-boxes is the Quality combo-box (in the image at the right only "Qual" appears) and the Model Displacement Scale slider.

The Quality combo-box lists 3 quality settings: High, Medium and Low, which you can choose depending on how smooth interaction with the model is. Lower quality is faster but may display rendering artifacts, High quality is finer but slower.

Immediately at the right of the Quality combo-box is the Model Displacement Scale slider which controls the displacement mapping scale. This is only available for the built-in models and does not work for custom models.

3D Model

3D Preview Bottom

At the bottom-left corner the Model combo-box controls the model used to preview the 3D maps. The following built-in models are included:

All the built-in models are rendered with displacement mapping and stretch their structure to adapt to the texture proportions. For example if a texture is in landscape orientation (width is greater than height) all the built-in models will stretch accordingly so for example the cylinder model will appear shorter vertically and the ball model squeezed.

The last option in the Model combo-box is "Custom" and when selected will prompt for Wavefront OBJ (.obj) format 3D model file which will be used to render the 3D maps. Alternatively you can drag & drop a .obj model into the 3D Preview.

UV Scale

This setting controls the number of times that the 3D maps will tile. This is the same as multiplying the texture UV coordinates for each vertex by the selected number.

Gloss

3D Preview Gloss

The Gloss slider controls the scale of the specular highlights (also known as the specular exponent).

This preview setting (which does not change the specular map) controls the size of specular highlights - see the image at the right - higher levels will produce more concentrated highlights, while lower levels produce spatially spread highlights.

Lights

3D Preview Lights

This setting controls whether the model should be shaded with a single white light or with two red and blue lights at a fixed angle from each other.

3. Common Editor Features

Each of the tabs at the top of the right side of the 3D Maps Area contains an editor for a specific type of 3D map: Diffuse, Displacement, Normal, Specular or Ambient Occlusion (AO) map. To select an editor, click the respective tab:

3D Map Editors

Each editor can be docked in a tab, as in the image above or detached in a separate window. To undock an editor, click the button in the tab next to its name and the window will be detached. To dock again a detached window, click its Close button and it will dock into a tab.
Detached editors are helpful to view maps side-by-side - this is very helpful with the View Sync feature which allows views to display the same area of the map.

All 3D map editors share common functionality - for example at the top of the displacement editor you'll see the following buttons:

3D Map Editor Top

And at the bottom of editors you'll find:

3D Map Editor Bottom

Image-Level and Pixel-Level Tools

Image-Level Tools

Common to all the 3D map editors is the capability to edit the maps at image-level (that is to adjust the whole map at once) and pixel-level (to change a few pixels). An example of image-level editing is to invert a map or to change its brightness. Pixel-level editing can be any of the usual image editor tools like the paint brush or clone tools.

All the editors include two tabs at their right side, the first tab for the image-level tools, the other for the pixel-level tools. The screenshots at the right and below show the displacement editor tools: Surface Tools for image-level editing and Sculpt Tools for pixel-level editing. As in the normal editor these tools are related to sculpting, while in other editors the tools are more concerned with color or greyscale manipulation.

An important point about image-level tools is that any changes you make are applied when you change into the pixel-level tools. You'll notice that if you later return to image-level the controls will be reset to their default values.

Equalization

Common in the image-level tools is the equalization tool which allows boost or attenuation of details at different scales in the image. It works similar to an audio equalizer allowing adjustments at different scales in the image. Equalization can for example be used to remove fine detail noise or to make the image crisper for example.

Five levels of adjustment are available from fine to very large allowing attenuation or boosting of image features. The Equalization Presets slider allows simultaneous manipulation of all the five levels for a smoother or sharper surface or image.

Invert

All editors except Ambient Occlusion have an Invert button: displacement and normal have one labeled Invert Surface while the other simply Invert.
This button inverts height/low surface values or brighter/darker values, depending on the editor.

Sculpt/Paint Tools (Pixel-Level Tools)

Image-Level Tools

Sculpt/Paint tools allow you to edit details of the image in a similar way to the paint tools commonly found in graphics editors. You'll find that many of the 3D Maps Area editors (Diffuse, Displacement, Specular, etc.) include similar tools but specialized for each type of map: for example the screenshot at the right is from the displacement editor where most of the functions are related to sculpting.

The settings have well-known names and should be straightforward to use:

4. Diffuse Editor

With the Diffuse Editor you can manipulate shading and color in a diffuse image.

Besides the Common Editor Features, of special note is the Neutralize Shading option in the Adjustment Tools tab which can help remove unwanted shading in the diffuse image.

5. Displacement Editor

The displacement editor allows manipulation of displacement or height maps: greyscale images where each pixel represents a surface displacement. Darker values represent smaller displacements, brighter values higher ones.

Both the displacement and the normal editors modify the same underlying surface. This means that if you change one, it will reflect in the other editor. Because of this, modifying the Displacement Editor will also cause unsaved changes in the Normal Editor. Inside PixPlant displacement and normal are two views into the same surface.

Besides the Common Editor Features, the Displacement Editor includes in its Surface Tools tab the Displacement Range tool which sets the minimum and maximum displacements for the surface, scaling all the values in between.

Extract Displacement

The Extract Displacement button will extract displacement from the shading in the current Texture Area image. Or you can drag and drop an image file over the button and it will extract from that image file instead.

The Extract Displacement window looks like this:

Extract Displacement

The most important setting is the Surface Scale slider which controls the detail level that will be used to extract the displacement. Lower values extract smooth maps with larger features but no fine detail while higher values will extract more detailed displacement.
The Fine Detail slider adds fine level detail to the extract surface.

The image displayed at the top-left is the source image, for reference. You can interact with the viewer in the same way as with the 3D Preview.

Extracting displacement might in some cases not be instantaneous as PixPlant may need to refine the extracted displacement but you can stop the process and use the current surface at any time by clicking the "Done - Use this Displacement".

Displacement Export Options

PixPlant internally represents displacement maps in floating point 32-bit values to maintain good precision when manipulating maps. Since some of the image formats support different bit depths, this window allows you to select the saving precision for each file format that supports higher precision:

Displacement Export Options

6. Normal Editor

The Normal Editor modifies surface direction information - known as normal vectors - for each point in a surface. These normal vectors are codified into the red, green and blue channels of an image.

As referred above, both the displacement and the normal editors modify the same underlying surface. This means that if you change one, it will reflect in the other editor. Because of this, modifying for example the Normal Editor will also cause unsaved changes in the Displacement Editor. Displacement and normal are two views into the same surface.

Although the Normal Editor also supports External editing, it is not usually a good idea because after being edited by an external application the normal map needs to be imported back in PixPlant into a displacement surface (with the Extract Displacement from Normal window below). If this process is done multiple times it will inevitably wash away surface details. It's better to externally edit the displacement map instead.

Compare Normal Scale

An important tool is the Normal Scale, located in the Surface Tools tab, which controls the relative weighting of the X and Y components of the normal vector with respect to the Z value (Z is the vector component which points out of the surface).
Lower settings will make X and Y smaller, while higher values will amplify them, increasing the perceived roughness of the normal map as vectors become more parallel to the surface plane.
The image at the right shows how the normal scale creates different normal maps, which when rendered will appear to have increased roughness, as the scale increases:

Besides the Common Editor Features, the Normal Editor also includes in its Surface Tools tab the Displacement Range tool which sets the minimum and maximum displacements for the surface, scaling all the values in between - this tool is the same as in the Displacement Editor.

Extract Displacement from Normal

When you open a normal map file, PixPlant needs to integrate a displacement surface from the normal vectors, this is done in the Extract Displacement from Normal window:

Extract Displacement from Normal

The most important setting is Flip Source Y: this setting changes whether the normal map Y channel (the green channel) points up or down in the surface. Since normal maps can be encoded in any of these two ways (Y normal pointing up or down in the image), if the extracted surface looks weird, it's probably better to check this setting and see if it improves the previewed surface.

The Fine Detail Preservation slider adds fine detail that might be lost with the displacement extraction.

The image displayed at the top-left is the source normal map. You can interact with the viewer in the same way as with the 3D Preview.

Normal Export Options

This window controls the direction of the normal vector's Y component (the green channel) as well as the precision used to save normal maps. Although normal map files are usually saved in 8-bit, you can save in higher precision up to 32-bit floating point.

Normal Extract Displacement

7. Specular Editor

The Specular Editor manipulates surface reflectivity information stored as a color image: darker values mean low reflectivity, brighter values higher reflectivity. Color can also be used to tint the rendered specularity making materials look more or less metallic for example.

Besides the Common Editor Features, the Specular Editor includes in its Adjustment Tools tab the Metallicness Hue and Saturation sliders. With these sliders you can control the metallicness of the surface: if the overall hue is left similar to the diffuse color by leaving the Hue slider in 0, the rendered material will look more metallic; but if you set the Hue slider to +100 or -100, the opposite colors will usually blend with diffuse to give a non-metallic (also called dielectric) look. The Saturation slider will boost or decrease this effect.

Extract Specular from Texture or Displacement

Specular maps can be extracted from the current map in the Texture or Displacement areas. Extracting from Texture can import color, from displacement only greyscale. This is decided when you press the Extract button: a popup appears asking from which source would you like to extract. As with extract buttons from other editors, you can drag and drop an image file into this button and it will extract from that image file.

The Extract Specular window contains the following settings:

Extract Specular

The Shininess combo-box controls the overall level of the specular map, producing darker, less contrasting or brighter maps.

The Metallicness combo-box is only enabled if the source image contains color and controls whether the colors should be left as is or shifted to their opposite values: this can control the metallic look of the material as mentioned above.

The Source Mapping combo-box controls how the source image is to be mapped in terms of brightness: should brighter source areas be considered more reflective or the other way around?

8. Ambient Occlusion Editor

The Ambient Occlusion Editor manipulates occlusion values in a map: if a map pixel is darker it means it is more occluded, if brighter it means less occluded (that is, it receives more ambient light).

Besides the Common Editor Features, the most interesting tool is in the Adjustment Tools tab, the Level Boost. This slider controls the overall brightness in an adaptive manner, to increase or decrease occlusion in a more sensible way.

Render Ambient Occlusion from Displacement

Ambient Occlusion maps can be rendered from the current displacement map or you can drag and drop an image file into this button and it will be rendered from that image file, assumed to be a displacement map.

The Render Ambient Occlusion window contains the following settings:

Render Ambient Occlusion from Displacement

The Quality combo-box controls how many occlusion probe rays are shot from each location in the displacement map. Higher ray count values are more accurate but take more time to render.

Enabling the Fast Preview check-box will render previews at Rough (16 Rays) lower quality for faster updates. In this case when closing the dialog a final high quality rendering will be made with the value selected in the Quality combo-box.

The Ray Distance slider controls how far should the rays used in rendering travel to test if they are occluded. This value should depend on the surface detail level: fine detail should use smaller distances, but larger features need larger distances.

The Planar Bias slider introduces a bias favoring nearby points to be understood as in the same plane. If the rendered occlusion map looks too dark (too much occlusion), increasing this setting can produce cleaner results.

Ambient Occlusion Export Options

Ambient Occlusion values are represented in floating point 32-bit values to maintain good precision when manipulating these maps. Since some of the image formats support different bit depths, this window allows you to select the saving precision for each file format that supports higher precision:

Ambient Occlusion Export Options

9. Shortcut Keys

The following shortcut keys are available in the 3D Maps Area:

Action Shortcut
Open Map (Displacement, Normal, etc...) Ctrl + O
Save Map Ctrl + S
Close Map Ctrl + W
Undo Ctrl + Z
Redo Ctrl + Y
Copy Map Ctrl + C
Paste as New Map Ctrl + V
External Edit Map Ctrl + E
Editor Zoom-in Ctrl + +
Editor Zoom-out Ctrl + -
Zoom Editor Contents to Fit View Ctrl + 9
Zoom Editor 100% Ctrl + 0
Copy 3D Preview snapshot Ctrl + Shift + C
Save 3D Preview snapshot Ctrl + Shift + P
Toggle Diffuse Ctrl + 1
Toggle Displacement Ctrl + 2
Toggle Normal Ctrl + 3
Toggle Specular Ctrl + 4
Toggle Ambient Occlusion Ctrl + 5
Toggle All 3D Maps Ctrl + 6
Action Shortcut
Open Map (Displacement, Normal, etc...) Cmd + O
Save Map Cmd + S
Close Map Cmd + W
Undo Cmd + Z
Redo Cmd + Shift + Z
Copy Map Cmd + C
Paste as New Map Cmd + V
External Edit Map Cmd + E
Editor Zoom-in Cmd + +
Editor Zoom-out Cmd + -
Zoom Editor Contents to Fit View Cmd + 9
Zoom Editor 100% Cmd + 0
Copy 3D Preview snapshot Cmd + Shift + C
Save 3D Preview snapshot Cmd + Shift + P
Toggle Diffuse Cmd + 1
Toggle Displacement Cmd + 2
Toggle Normal Cmd + 3
Toggle Specular Cmd + 4
Toggle Ambient Occlusion Cmd + 5
Toggle All 3D Maps Cmd + 6

© PixPlant/FaronStudio · All trademarks are the property of their respective owners · Photos by Ben Cloward