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Making a Seamless Scale Material Part I


Scale Renders

Today, I wanted to share my process for creating a seamless, scale-able material that can either be projected onto Zbrush models or applied as materials to UV'd models inside of programs like Maya and 3Ds Max.

I used this when creating my unique stylized scale surfaces. You can find breakdowns for them here : Stylized Scale Materials

This is a tutorial that will be split into four parts. Below is an outline on what we will cover.  This post will be addressing part 1. 

          Part 1: Approaching Scales and Creating a Pattern.
          Part 2: Refining your pattern in Zbrush.
          Part 3: Creating a compelling and believable scale Material inside of Maya

I will be using the following programs to create my Scale material : Adobe Photoshop (optional) , Adobe Illustrator (optional), Zbrush , Vray and Maya. 

Part 1: Approaching and Creating A Pattern


  Creating a seamless texture can be done in many ways. This tutorial goes over just one way to create a seamless scale texture.First, we will go over how to create a seamless mask to apply in Zbrush and use while sculpting. I prefer to use these masks because they speed up my workflow during sculpting and keep my patterns nice and even, however, if you are confident in Zbrush , you can skip this lesson and move on to Refining your pattern in Zbrush.

Before tackling our scale tile, lets be sure to find some reference. 

[ Find your reference. ]


This may be run of the mill, but reference is everything. Make sure you look up scale patterns. This will help you to create scale patterns that are somewhat rooted in reality. There are a ton of classifications for scales and knowing what they are can be immensely helpful when deciding how to tackle your unique scale pattern.  Below is a photo that illustrates the different types of patterning you could see in nature. I got this image from Here. Check it out to see more in-depth observations regarding scale coloring and patterning.
Scale Pattern Reference
(Courtesy of © 2015 Tropical Herping – www.tropicalherping.com)
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[Creating A Pattern]


(You will need Photoshop and illustrator for this approach. If you do not have these programs, skip down to the modeler's approach to learn another unique way of creating a tillable texture. ) 

Step 1: Choose your pattern shape and tile it. 

For this tutorial, I will be creating a cycloid patterning. You can choose to do whatever you want. This process works for all types of scaling. 

Step 2: In Illustrator, set your canvas to a square. For this example, set it to 1024 px x 1024 px.

Step 3: Create your scale shape.

Define the main shape of your pattern. For my cycloid scale, I decided to use the oval shape tool and the Square shape tool together. After overlaying the shapes. I used the pathfinder set to Minus front under shape mode to cut away the top of the circle.   I then used the Direct Selection tool (A) to delete the top line created after using Pathfinder. Feel free to change the thickness of your line if you want. The black lines will act as the "masked section" further down when we begin sculpting in Zbrush.

Defining the scale shape


Step 4: Tile your scale shape with the Pattern tool in Illustrator

Once you have defined your scale shape, it is time to tile it. Select your shape and then go to Object> Pattern> Make.  Illustrator will open up a tiling menu bar. Feel free to play with the settings as you see fit. I set my tile type to Grid, with the offset at 1/2. I wanted my scales to overlap to so I turned on Size Tile to art, and defined my H Spacing (horizontal) and V Spacing ( vertical ) to a negative number.  Once you get something you like, hit okay. The shape will disappear from your canvas but don't worry - you will find your pattern has been added to your swatches menu set. ( Window > Swatches ).

Tiling the Scale Shape


Step 5: Create your Seamless pattern 

Now that you have a blank canvas, you will need to create a square shape that is the same size. You can choose to lock the proportions or manually pull the borders of the tool. They will snap to the edges of the sized art board. Turn off the border line on the new square shape. With "fill" selected in your palette, you can now select your new pattern from the swatches menu. Now you have a tiled pattern filling the canvas. 
Sometimes the square won't be perfectly seamless but you can move the square that you created,  around until you make it so that the edges of your new pattern appear to line up. We can double check that the edges do line up by copying our new square shape into Photoshop and testing it through the offset filter.  

Make it Seamless


Step 6: Test your seamless texture

In Photoshop, after you paste your new pattern onto a canvas the same size as your art board in Illustrator, offset your image. (Filter> Other> offset) . Move the sliders in both the vertical and horizontal nodes to double check that there are no seams. When you are satisfied that your texture is indeed tileable, save it as a JPEG. 

( With your new tileable pattern, you can play with the lines and shapes to make a smoother falloff  of you pattern. Different falloffs can result in dramatically different sculpts in Zbrush. See below for examples.) 


This image shows the correlation between a 2D texture with filter effects added and a 3D pattern generated from that 2D texture inside of Zbrush.


The above images illustrate how different filters and effects added to your seamless texture can help you to achieve very different affects. Doing this in photoshop can help you to achieve the affect you want quicker. You can then use variants of the same black and white seamless texture to help you add unique and refined shapes to make your scales look more natural and organic. 

In Part 2: Refining your Pattern in Zbrush, we will go over how to apply our textures as a bump and then use them as masks to sculpt and further refine our Scale patterns. 





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