Normal Maps and nDo

by Vanessa Trepanier 


There are a few ways to make normal maps: Maya, zBrush, and programs like Crazy Bump for instance. While you can always let these programs do their stuff, adjusting a few settings here and there, you can always paint your very own normal maps from scratch with Photoshop and the nDo plug-in.

The nDo plug-in (which can be found here: is an Action in Photoshop that can convert your texture map into a normal map, using nDoexample2the information you’ve painted in to create bumps, scratches, and hard surfaces. If you have a layer that’s full of a rocky texture for example, nDo will quickly turn that into a bumpy surface for your model at the click of a button. It also allows you to adjust a number of settings, from the depth of the cracks in the rock, to beveling and embossing, and the smoothness of it. It gives you a lot of control, allowing you to create the exact look you’re going for. And of course it’s entirely adjustable, allowing you to continue to refine once you’ve already started.

Now if you have a flat texture, something like metal or plastic, and you want to add some lines for detail, nDo has you covered there too. You can activate nDo on a blank layer and paint symbols or lines, then convert that into normal map information. It’s a very advanced tool that even a novice can use.

nos tanks with a stone textured normal map


What’s especially great about nDo is that it’s  completely free, which is very useful for students, indie companies, or even portfolio work. I used it myself on personal models for my portfolio. In the example image, I converted a stone texture into a normal map with nDo for a few NOS tanks on a sci-fi gun I designed. The texture gave a rusty metal band a worn, weathered look. The painted bolt above the tanks was given detail with nDo as well.


So if you want to give nDo a try, go ahead and download it from There are also a number of useful tutorials for nDo out there, especially this one here.

Making Modular Models

by Vanessa Trepanier

Have you ever wondered how to make your own Skydome in UDK? Or how to make custom light maps that will really give your level its own, unique touch? Or what about learning a new take on modular building?

There are a few great video tutorial websites out there and today I’m going to be talking about one that I fell in love with a few months ago: 3Dmotive has a variety of tutorial video packages for free and for sale that can show you new techniques for UDK, 3Ds Max, Photoshop, and eventually Maya. While currently the amount of tutorials available is small, 3Dmotive is actively making new tutorials to share with the 3D community.

I first heard about 3Dmotive in November 2010 in a texturing class. We had been practicing modular building sets when my teacher mentioned he found a great tutorial with tips on how to do approach sets. I soon discovered that ‘great’ is an understatement; after watching their video on Modular Building, my mind was utterly blown. Before seeing that video I had a far different approach to modular building that sometimes left me with reams of useless reference images and frustration whenever I realized I forgot a certain useful part, or thought of something cooler. It was a little time consuming and while my models looked good in the end, if I had known about any other method to create modular sets, I wouldn’t have wasted my time.

The tutorial that the fine folks at 3Dmotive have created is incredible and I never considered approaching modeling the way they did. It made life easier for me to create assets for projects and even for my own portfolio. Basically, their approach saves time by getting you into the habit of building an atlas ahead of time, rather than just collect reference images you may or may not be using. It also encourages you to go out and start making your own texture library so you can customize your atlases and models.
Let’s say you want to make a basic warehouse. Instead of making a list of all the things you’ll need, finding references, building planes, and modeling individual pieces, all you need to do is find your favourite image for each part of the building: a door, a sign, a cement slab, a brick wall, a broken window.


If you arrange these properly on a grid in a Photoshop file, all you need to do is create a square in your modeling program of choice that matches the size of your atlas file, apply the atlas to your model as a texture, then start chopping it up.

Now what have you gained from this? A nearly fully assembled, already textured set of assets! After this step, all you need to do is add some detail (extrude window sills, ledges, frames, etc), remap the sides of your individual pieces and you’re done! You’ll have an entire modular set that you can use to create a number of different building styles, already textured for you and ready to go. And even if you don’t use UDK or Max or Maya, the tips in the video can be applied to any program of choice!

So why not go give a look! You might find something helpful like I did.