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Struggling to achieve convincing results when working on textures for organic and hard surface models? Chris Nichols – Lead Texture Painter for Avengers: Infinity War at Digital Domain in Vancouver and the instructor for CGMA’s Texturing For Films/Cinematics class – offers some words of wisdom.

Realistic Texture Work
The line between a flat, unconvincing texture and one that fools the viewer into thinking they’re looking at a real world object can be a fine one. Ultimately, the real secret to success lies both in working with good source materials and taking the time to modify and augment them with all the necessary associated maps that will determine how the textures behave as viewpoint, lighting conditions, reflections and so on all change. “When it comes to creating realistic materials you want to be able to keep your workflow flexible for iterations and also make sure you’re using the best quality references for the surface, whether they’re photographic or surface scans,” explains Chris Nichols. “This will go a long way to quickly setting up a texture workflow for testing quick iterations of a shader and then building on that in a modular fashion.”

Organic Surface Textures
“If you’re creating organic surfaces then a lot more projection work will need to be applied in the texturing software,” says Nichols. “This means that the use of high resolution polarized photography or surface scans is of the highest importance.”
The precision and variation of detail involved with this kind of work inevitably means that it’s not always possible to utilise off-the-shelf imagery. Nicholls therefore advocates a DIY approach for this kind of work: “Often you will not be able to find exactly what you need online or in your texture library so will have to get creative with what you have, using a hand or foot scan for the wrinkles on a face instead of trying to track down face wrinkle scans of the right frequency or scale.”

Hard Surface Textures
When it comes to hard surface modeling, consider the story you’re trying to tell. Is the object in question pristine or worn? How and when was it constructed? What materials were used and why? Every decision will contribute to the overall sense of realism and give viewers an at-a-glance notion of the object’s role in the story being told.
All the usual advice regarding levels of detail, use of layers for easy navigation and modification, and scaling applies, but there are some benefits to hard surface work when compared to organic. “Hard surface texturing is usually a lot easier so long as you are using great variations of tileable textures,” notes Nichols.
While texture artists have a little more leeway with regards the use of tiled textures, it’s vital to ensure that the viewer never notices or sees the joins. “Make sure you don’t show any repetition in the texture, and breakup the surface with paint through stencils of grime, grunge scratches and so on to really get a natural look to the surface.”

Chris Nichols is a lead texture artist and modeler who has worked at Digital Domain, Vancouver, Bardel Entertainment, Whizz Digital, Spin FX, IS Vancouver. He’s worked on titles such as X-men: Days of Future Past, Night at the Museum, Thor, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, and most recently Avengers: Infinity Wars. Check out Chris Nichols’ course Texturing and Surfacing for Films/Cinematics.


CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.