As a VFX artist in the game industry, I know the importance of textures in creating captivating effects. Textures are a crucial aspect of game design and VFX production. They provide the visual richness and depth needed to bring a world to life, whether it's a short indie game or a cinematic blockbuster.

Textures are a fundamental component of 3D it can help to define a character, create a seamless environment, and add subtle details like distortion or noise that make a scene feel more realistic. Designers use a variety of tools, including editors, generators, and software like Maya and Substance, to create and manipulate textures.
These textures are then added to the Shaders and projected to the 3D models using the UVs and integrated into the production pipeline.

In this article, I want to share my knowledge of textures and shaders in-game and VFX production, and how they are used to create high-quality projects.

We'll explore the different types of textures, including diffuse, specular, and normal maps, and how they impact the final result.

I'll also discuss some of the challenges and techniques involved in creating textures for games, including optimizing textures for different hardware and software platforms.

Whether you're a fellow VFX artist, a game designer, or just someone interested in the behind-the-scenes of game development, I hope this article will give you a deeper appreciation for the power of textures in creating immersive gaming experiences.

What is a Texture?

Over the years, I've come to appreciate the power of textures. But what exactly is a texture, and how does it enhance the visual experience?

At its core, a texture is a visual representation of a particular object or surface. This can be an image, a pattern, or a series of data points that represent the properties of a material. Textures are used to create a convincing and lifelike appearance for 3D models and visual effects in games, animations, and movies.

In the world of game development, textures are used to recreate the surfaces of objects, from the rough bark of a tree to the shiny metallic surface of a car. By applying patterns and details like bumps, scratches, and imperfections to a 3D mesh, textures can create a sense of depth and realism that makes objects feel more lifelike. Textures can also be used to add color, lighting, and shadow effects to objects and environments, helping to create a sense of immersion in the game world.

The type and complexity of textures used in a game depending on its graphical requirements and the artistic vision of the game developer. Whether it's a simple pixelated image or a detailed normal map, textures play a crucial role in enhancing the visual experience of games and other forms of media.

What are the Different Types of Textures?

credit: Joe Taylor

Albedo

Refers to a texture map that represents the base color of a material or surface, without any lighting or shading information. It is often used in physically based rendering (PBR) workflows to provide a starting point for the material's appearance. The albedo texture can be thought of as the "color" of the material, and is often referred to as the "diffuse color". In PBR workflows, the albedo texture is typically combined with other maps, such as metallic, roughness, and normal maps, to create a realistic material.

Credit: Kieran Wilson
Credit: Thomas Denham

Normal Map

A normal map is used to add details to an object without increasing the number of polygons. These details can include bumps, dents, and other small surface features. And are often used to make objects look more realistic.

additional info:

Every point on a surface has a 'Normal' (i.e. a vector that points out at 90 degrees to the surface), which is used in lighting calculations. (e.g. reflection, refraction) Normal maps are used to modify the 'Normal' of the surface geometry, on which it is mapped, to create the illusion of more complex underlying surface geometry.

Credit: Kieran Wilson
Credit: Thoma

Specular

A specular is a texture that defines the amount of light that is reflected by a surface. It is used to create the appearance of shiny surfaces, such as metal or glass. A specular map is usually black and white, with white areas representing areas that reflect more light.

Additional info:

Specular reflection produces highlights of bright intensity on a surface, dependent on the light position. Specular maps allow fine control over the appearance of these highlights.

Credit: Andrew Kramer
Credit: Thomas Denham

Roughness

Roughness maps are used to control the appearance of an object's surface roughness. They determine how much light is scattered or absorbed by an object's surface, affecting the object's overall appearance

Credit: Kieran Wilson
Credit: Thomas Denham

Reflection

A reflection is a type of image that can be used to create the illusion of reflections on shiny surfaces. By applying a reflection map to an object, you can make it look like the object is reflecting its surroundings.

Credit: Nvidia
Credit: Clarissewiki

Ambient Occlusion

An ambient occlusion is a texture that simulates the amount of ambient light that is occluded or blocked by nearby objects, creating shadows and depth. This type of map can be used to create more realistic lighting in 3D environments.

Credit: Kieran Wilson

Displacement/Height

A displacement allows you to create the illusion of more depth and detail on an object. By modifying the geometry of an object, you can add the appearance of extra texture and dimension. This can be especially useful for creating realistic fabric or fur textures.

Credit: Kieran Wilson
Credit: Thomas Denham

Emissive 

Emissive textures are incredibly useful in the creation of realistic objects and lighting effects. Unlike other types of textures, emissive textures do not rely on external light sources to create the appearance of illumination. Instead, they emit light themselves, giving the illusion that the object is glowing. This can be useful for creating a variety of lighting effects, such as neon signs or glowing magical spells.

Credit: Thomas Denham

Alpha

The Alpha Map is a texture that is used to define transparency on objects. This type of texture can be used to create a variety of different effects, from making an object appear partially see-through to making it appear completely transparent.

One of the most common uses for the Alpha Map is to create transparent materials, such as glass or water. To do this, the Alpha Map is used in conjunction with a Reflection Map. The Reflection Map defines the reflected image that will be seen through the transparent material, while the Alpha Map defines how transparent the material will be.

Another common use for the Alpha Map is to create masks. Masks are used to hide and reveal parts of an image or video. For example, you could use an Alpha Map to create a mask that reveals only the highlights of an image, or you could use.

Credit: Unreal
Credit: Thomas Denham
Credit: Kieran Wilson

How are Textures made?

Developing textures for video games is an essential part of the game development process. Textures are used to create visual effects, such as creating a sense of realism or imparting a distinct visual style.

Many different types of textures can be employed to meet the desired effect, such as diffuse textures for added detail and normal maps to create the appearance of depth on a flat surface.

3d artists who specialize in textures typically create these textures, and they are then utilized by game developers to complete the final visuals.

Hand-painting

Textures involve creating a texture from scratch using digital painting software like Photoshop or Krita. This method allows for complete control over the final appearance of the texture but can be time-consuming and require a high level of artistic skill.

Photo-sourcing

Involves using photographs of real-world textures and materials as the basis for creating a texture. This method can produce highly realistic textures quickly, but it can be challenging to find suitable photos and requires a good understanding of how to edit and manipulate them.

Procedural generation

involves using algorithms and mathematical formulas to create textures automatically. This method is highly efficient and can create complex, unique textures quickly. However, it can be challenging to achieve a specific look or feel using procedural generation. but using a tool such as substance designer can help you achieve a specific look

Simulation

Involves creating textures through physical simulation, such as cloth simulation or fluid simulation. This method is often used for creating dynamic textures, such as flowing water or fabric and can add an extra level of realism to a game or VFX

Types of Textures used in Particles

Textures are often used in conjunction with particle effects in game engines to create more realistic and visually appealing special effects.

The workflow of creating Textures and adding them to the particles starts with creating the textures —-> Material Editor/ shader graph —-> emitters

Here are some ways textures are used with particles in games

Sprite

Sprite is a popular choice for video games because it can be easily animated and manipulated. They are also relatively small in size, which makes them good for use in games that need to load quickly. Sprites have been used in video games for many years and are likely to continue to be used for many years to come.

Sprite sheet

Sprite sheets are made up of a collection of small images, or sprites, that are placed together to form a larger image. By carefully positioning the sprites, you can create the illusion of texture and detail.

Flipbook

Texture is a type of texture that is characterized by a series of images that change over time. This type of texture is often used in movies or video games to create a sense of movement. Flipbook texture is created by taking a series of images and playing them back in succession. This can be done by hand or with the help of software.

Volumetic

Volumetric textures are three-dimensional textures resulting in a texture that is then compressed and stored in a file format that can be read by game engines. When the game engine renders the game world, it decompresses the volumetric texture and uses it to calculate the light that should be cast on the scene. They are often used to create realistic environments, such as fog or smoke. or in this case an object

What are Some of the Challenges with Textures in VFX for Games?

Creating textures for use in VFX for games can be a time-consuming and complicated task. As textures can be used for a variety of purposes, they require a lot of detail and precision to look convincing. Additionally, textures need to be optimized for the game engine being used.

Textures also need to be carefully balanced to create realistic visuals that are also optimized for performance. Optimizing and balancing textures can be a challenging process, and often requires a lot of trial and error.

A Tip for creating Textures to keep in mind

Textures need to be a power of 2 in Unreal Engine because it is more efficient for the graphics card to handle textures with dimensions that are powers of 2. This is because graphics cards are optimized to use textures that are in the form of 2^n (where n is an integer), such as 64×64, 128×128, 256×256, etc.

When textures are not a power of 2, the graphics card may have to perform additional calculations to resize the texture, which can negatively impact performance. Additionally, certain rendering techniques used in Unreal Engine, such as mipmapping, require that textures have dimensions that are a power of 2.

Therefore, to ensure optimal performance and compatibility with Unreal Engine’s rendering techniques, it is recommended that textures be created with dimensions that are a power of 2 (e.g. 32×32, 64×64, 128×128, etc.). If textures with non-power-of-2 dimensions must be used, Unreal Engine will automatically resize them to the nearest power of 2, but this can result in some loss of quality or performance.

Textures play a crucial role in VFX and game development, helping artists create incredibly detailed worlds and cinematic experiences. Adobe provides a range of tools that make it easy to create, edit, and manipulate textures, from simple noise textures to complex animations. By understanding the basics of mapping, distortion, and bump mapping, designers can enhance the quality of their projects and bring them to life.

Texture generators and online collections make it easy to find and incorporate seamless textures and sprites into any project, while emitters and character sheets simplify the animation pipeline. Whether you’re working on a short project or a complex game, textures can change the way you approach design and elevate the visual quality of your work. With a solid understanding of textures and the right tool at your disposal, you can create stunning visuals that leave a lasting impression on your audience.

Thank you so much for reading if want to see what are the tools used in creating textures for games and VFX Check out : VFX tools that are used in games

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