Who Needs Normal Maps

Adding panel lines on spaceships is usually done using normal maps, as explained in this post from polycount. But as you can see from the screenshot to the left, I think I know better. Instead of painting the panels onto the completed spaceship at the end, I'm sculpting each one in 3D.

It's not that I have anything against creating a normal map, which is sort of wallpaper that gets spread over the spaceship model, I just think I have more of a spatial brain, and I get better results seeing each panel being created in the place it will eventually sit on the model. Another reason is that even my simple spaceships tend to be massively more complex than the relatively simple abstract shapes seen in posts like the one from polycount that I link to. The more complex the base model, the more of a pain in the neck it is to get the normal map to fit over it without distortions.

Going back to the wallpaper analogy, the more corners and bends there are in the wall, the harder the time you are going to have cutting wallpaper to fit over it.

One disadvantage with this approach is that it takes a lot more processing power, which is one of the reasons I made sure to get a laptop with the most powerful graphics chip I could afford.

I also spent a long time working on the lighting, trying to get it as moody and atmospheric as possible. The image now has about twenty light sources. A couple for the planet, one for the starscape, one for the text and all the rest illuminating the interior and exterior of the spaceship model.

Having the cover getting so close to completion is very motivating for me in writing the actual content of the book, if only to see the whole thing come together as one package.

When it is finally done, the spaceship will grace the cover of the new sci-fi book I'm writing. The spaceship is called Iron Dart, and so is the book. The new book will be part two of my series of science-fiction novels. The first novel in the series is Galaxy Dog. (Get it here at Smashwords).


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