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TUTORIALS | Skin texturing

Basic Blinn shader

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Perfect digital skin
Master the techniques used to texture and post-produce this issue’s flawless BY OLIVIER PONSONNET 3D cover image
ealistic skin is hard to fake because it’s both an

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Red Black

Extra lighting map: Shadow/Light Falloff map

Shadow

Light

The first thing to fake is the flesh beneath the skin and its physical property to scatter light. Use a basic Blinn shader with a Shadow/Light Falloff map as an extra lighting map to make the skin a little brighter and reddish in shadowed areas. You can also mix it with a dark red and black map that’s red around the ear area in order to simulate translucency.

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artistic and a technical challenge. It’s artistic because you can almost feel a character’s personality through the look of its skin; its

wrinkles, colours and beauty spots. But it’s also a technical test, because skin isn’t like a homogeneous material that has simple physical properties – it’s composed of several different layers. However, we always model it as a perfectly even thin surface, which is why it’s so hard to get good results. To make matters worse, until recently, 3D software didn’t include appropriate rendering tools to make human skin, such as subsurface scattering shaders. To create realistic skin, you have to use some tricks. When I started the image on the right, my aim was simply to create a realistic portrait. With work and good anatomical references, I created the model in about two weeks with 3ds max. I then started to paint the texture maps with Paint Shop Pro, which isn’t too hard with hi-res photos as references – but only as references, as I’ll discuss later. I then started on some rendering and lighting tests. That was the biggest difficulty: the look of the skin actually ‘killed’ the character and made it seem lifeless. That’s why it’s important to put a lot of work into the skin’s appearance. I don’t only mean skin shaders, but maps, lighting and post-production too. After many difficulties trying to reproduce the different layers, aspects and colours of the human skin, I found a way to create quite realistic skin without subsurface scattering or a wax-like shader. I finally modified the rendered picture with few Photoshop filters. The following tricks may help you during your character creation process. Olivier Ponsonnet is a 23-year-old student from Bordeaux, France. His work featured in Elemental, Ballistic Publishing’s collection of still images created in 3ds max [w] http://re1v.free.fr
You can use a greyscale copy of your Diffuse map as a start for the Specular Level map. Mix it with a Perpendicular/Parallel Falloff map to make the specular reflections brighter towards perpendicular surfaces. For the specular Colour channel, use a Perpendicular/Parallel Falloff map to make the speculars more blue.
Specular level Specular colour

Use photos as references, not as maps. Exaggerate the details: the Diffuse map is attenuated when it’s mixed with other layers. Mix it with a black and white Falloff map to make the skin whiter on the surfaces that are almost perpendicular to the camera, and a white and blue marble Procedural map to simulate veins.

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Skin texturing | TUTORIALS

Bump map

Final picture

The lip and eye areas need slight reflections, so paint a Reflection map in these two areas. Now use an HDRI Environment map or place two big white and self-illuminated spheres or boxes just behind the camera. Combined with a good Bump map, this gives great results. For the eye area Bump map, draw slight concentric lines around the eyes to achieve realistic blemishes.

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Lighting setup: (top view)

Character

Skylight

Two spotlights casting soft shadows Camera

The skin scatters the light and shadows never appear sharp on it, so don’t use hard raytraced shadows on your skin. Instead, use Shadow maps or soft shadows with area lights. Create a really slight Dome/ Skylight. This will increase the reddish aspect of the skin, giving it more depth.

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Rendered picture Base layer Overlay layer added Layers composited

The three noisy layers Final picture with colour balance filter

In Photoshop, duplicate your base rendered picture three times and apply a Noise filter on each copy. Now apply a Gaussian blur with a one-pixel radius on the second copy and a three-pixel radius on the third. Set their opacities to 7%, 14% and 21% respectively. This will add little colour variations and details to your skin.

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Still in Photoshop, duplicate your base rendered picture and apply Gaussian blur. Set the opacity for this layer to around 35% and set the Blend mode to Overlay. The skin will now look warmer, but it may still be a little too reddish so add a colour balance layer with less red in the shadows, slightly greener mid-tones and bluer highlights.

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