This blog describes my journey exploring storytelling - words, images and the sensations they generate. The lot, basically.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Mari 3.0 - Unboxing

I am a texture artist. I work in film. That means for 80% of my work Mari is my home. Despite being very well aware that Mari is a commercial product developed and sold for financial gain by The Foundry, I still have very strong and warm feelings for Mari. Some software you are forced by circumstances to use at great frustration. Mari is not like that. Mari is home.

Since Mari 3.0 was announced and later released last year I have been eager to take the next full release for a spin in a real production setting.

Unboxing videos are all the rage (39,000,000 ones and counting on YouTube!). Personally I find them pointless, but taking Mari 3.0 for my first drive, I just couldn't help myself. Finally here was an unboxing I had been looking forward to. I am busy working hard, on what will doubtlessly be 2017 biggest summer blockbuster, but throughout the day I noted down my impressions in shorthand scrawl.

(Before any of this, I of course archived all my Mari 2.6 projects one last time)

I type mari& in my shell... and... an electric blue Mari logo greets me on the loading screen - I immediately dislike it, simply because that black and yellow logo has meant home for 4+ years.

Fearing the worst, I am happy to note that Mari 3.0 immediately accepts my custom layout of palettes across two monitors. I could rearrange my layout in my sleep, but I appreciate the effort to seamlessly pick up, where we left off.

I open my current asset and Mari starts converting it to the current version. I would say, I sat five minutes as patience was replaced with anxiety waiting for the conversion to finish. I went to the kitchen and fixed myself a green tea. No? Nervous jokes and comparing notes with my fellow texture artists. One had a delivery looming and had switched back to old Mari 2.6. Five more minutes of waiting at my desk and finally Mari comes around. Nervously I inspect all the aspects of my project. Apart from the custom layers from Ideascale, everything else seems to be operational.

As for (the indispensable) extension pack from Ideascale? You obviously need to update your installation, or convert old custom procedural layers to paintable layers in an older version of Mari. A nice nod to Jens Kafitz' impressive work is that Mari alerts you to the fact that you need to update your Ideascale node pack.

Starting to work on my asset, I notice that my color management toolbar across the bottom of my main viewport is gone. Hunting around for it, I find that color management is now a palette. I am not happy about that. Those 3-4 roll-out menus fit nicely into the bottom of my viewport and seems way too little to dedicate a whole palette to. It is certainly not a palette I will dedicate my screen space to on a constant basis. The split point slider is a nice little addition. For me as a texture artist, I work with a limited number of color spaces and a LUT is something handed down from above, so I don't really need to compare different LUTs or color spaces - I can tell the difference between sRGB and Linear blindfolded with both hands tied on my back. I don't really need a split point slider to help me tell the difference.

That said, I think it is a great idea. I do a lot of A B testing and comparisons switching between channels and switching layers on and off. A split point slider there would be an amazing function to clearly make out the differences and spot changes.

On the projection palette I am pleased to note that, again, my elaborate projection settings have been kept intact.

Mari's ambient occlusion is notoriously... low tech... so reading about the new baking tools in Mari 3.0 I had high hopes for the AO bake - something I use on pretty much every asset I touch, in one form or another. It doesn't seem that much better to me? I am surprised by this to the point, where I am wondering whether I have missed a trick? Maybe I am not doing it right?

Another thing I use constantly in my work is the 1-6 hot keys for zooming on selected components from different angles. In Mari 3.0 1-6 now zooms weirdly on not the entire selection but a single part of it. I have still not determined the logic behind what is going on there.

In the Export menu for channels, Export Current Channel Flattened is now number one in the roll out instead of two. Damn my muscle memory. That is going to take some time getting used to.

The thing I have been most excited about in this Mari release are the new nodes and the ability to get under the hood with node graphs. We already work very much in a node graph based fashion with other The Foundry products such as Katana and Nuke. It seems a very straight forward step forward.

However on a busy day, where you are mindful of your time and deliveries etc. I didn't have time to dedicate more than 5-8 mouse clicks to check out the new palette etc. I already try to cover as much ground as I can procedurally before starting painting. Many effects I produce over and over again, like dust, value and color variations, generic dirt in corner and cracks and the effects of the sun bleaching outdoor assets. I am very excited to find out more about nodes and start building a library of these effects and exporting them as gizmos.

That was my first day in Mari 3.0 - of course I am anxious get back tomorrow morning and start peeling back more layers of what Mari 3.0 offers. For starters, I really need to get that 1-6 hot key navigation sorted out...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lessons in Life: Affirmations

Can you write and determine the script of your life? Can you choose what kind of person you will be?

I want to talk about mental programming. A computer can be programmed to do what you want it to do; Simple instructions, which a machine will carry out to the best of its ability. What about our brains? The most powerful computer ever devised. How do we program it?

I know how it is often negatively programmed. Ever heard the saying 'garbage in, garbage out?' I know the child, who is told over and over by its parent, that  it is stupid, will be believe so, and be so. We even tell ourselves these things. I may tell myself that I am clumsy, and sure enough, my hands follow suit, starts trembling and dropping things inexplicably.

(For more about this, look up the Pygmalion effect - Harvard study from the 1960s: The essence is, expect the worst or best and you will get it.)

All the back chatter in our minds reinforce this. You get something wrong, and there pops up a voice "You idiot!" No doubt reinforcing and deeply entrenching existing negative programming.

How about reversing it? Can all the negative programming be disassembled and replaced by positive programming, which reinforces helpful and beneficial back chatter in the mind or beliefs about ourselves?

Why not give it a shot?

On the 14th of December 2011, I started writing affirmations to myself. Over the preceding months I had noted down what the negative voices in my head were consistently telling me. I took those things and turned them on their head and made them into statements. I added statements relating to my personal and career goals. The first shot was less than half a page in my journal. Over time as things have come to my attention and I have felt the need to be more specific in certain areas, my daily affirmations have grown. They now weigh in at around a full page and a half in my A5 sized journal.

A year later, I have completely eliminated all the negative voices in my head. You don't know what a lovely weight off your mind that is. Goodness knows, this life throws enough garbage at you. For you yourself to also lend strength to that and undermine yourself, that is just a great and needless injustice.

Writing this can often feel like a chore. But at the same time, I am also not quite myself, until I have done so. I feel unfocused and my thoughts are scattered. It is a bit like a mental shower. Showering cleans you. A single shower does no miracles for you. But over time the healthy habit of showering will keep you free of sicknesses and other problems. Or like paper. A single sheet has no strength, but as you layer sheet on top of sheet, day after day, the strength of the bundle of papers grows. You can punch through a single sheet of paper, but try punching through a phone book! There has been one or two days where I did not write my affirmations. Then I wrote twice the next day. Obviously this is not an exact science, but if I have told myself X times a day so-and-so negative thing, I would like to beat it back with at least the same amount of times - and whatever you can add on top, will now take us away from damage control territory and into a place where we start building ourselves up.

I write my affirmations on the train on my way to work. As you are literally opening up to your deepest desires and the things most important to you, it can feel a bit awkward with strangers sitting next to you; You feel emotionally naked. What if they helped themselves to a peek? But what I write may be deeply personal for me, but it is not harmful to others nor anything to be ashamed of.

The affirmations I write, and thus choose to program myself with, represent both dreams, goals and a to-do list; There are things I wish to achieve, things I want to remind myself to keep on keeping on with, things I generally want to aspire to and things I want to steer well clear off.

This is what I write every single day.

I am Marque Pierre. I am a brilliant artist. I am a brilliant writer. I am a brilliant storyteller. I am worthy and deserving to be the director. My gifts make the world richer.

Before anything else, I was an artist. It was my first conscious memory. But you can lose your way. In recent years, for a long time, I have spent a lot of time admiring other artists and storytellers - while dismissing my own efforts. Slowly, slowly over time you start daring to dream, that maybe one day your own efforts would be good enough to fuel and direct the needs of a production; That you could be the leader and guiding light creatively. It feels good to think such thoughts, instead of shooting yourself down: "No, I would never be good enough for this..."

I am a brilliant husband. I am a mild and patient father. I protect and teach my family. I am always approachable to my family. My family is happy.

I want to be. I love my family. For them I try to be my best every day.

I am a handsome man. I am insanely strong. I am happy with myself. I love being Marque Pierre.

A tough one to write, as a stranger may, or may not, enter your personal space. But definitely something that has benefited me to accept. It feels good being at peace with yourself. I added the "strong" stuff after a spell of intensive pull-up exercises. I found that my mind kept telling me that I couldn't do them, even if I knew that I should be able to. It is draining fighting yourself like that. Got to get rid of such negative beliefs.

I am famous for my kindness. People admire my joy. I speak with mildness and discretion. My gratitude makes me happy. My surroundings are refreshed by my company. Jeg har mere overskud end Bassen selv.

These sentences were added during a particularly trying time at work. I felt myself growing more and more bitter, and I had to start pushing back on that. Instead of bitter and sharp, I'd like to be refreshing for my surroundings. The last sentence, I really only could write in my native Danish. Even if English is my adopted language, there are still words that can't really be translated to my satisfaction. "Overskud" means surplus. It is often used in Danish for a surplus of energy and confidence; when nothing can faze you; you are just ready for it all. The sentence reads: "I have more 'surplus' than even Bassen himself." Bassen was the nickname of the grandfather of my friend. In his youth he was a master salesman and throughout his life, by far the most positive person I have ever met; A gentle giant and a true inspiration for handling any difficult situation with ease.

I am full of confidence, libido, lust for life, energy and power. Every wish, dream and goal I have, come true. I can see clearly into the future, and everything I set out to do, becomes a success.

Yes, please. Of these things, you can never have enough.

My work excites me. I can't wait to start on my work. I work fast and efficiently. People are instantly impressed by [my work]. I make more money than I can spend. I am well on my way now.

When I work, I want to hit the day hard. I work in a field, which is incredibly competitive; a field which is very hard to break into. I never want to forget how grateful I am, and should be, to be where I am. No matter how glamorous it was at first working in the film industry, everything eventually becomes common place. But I have worked too hard and overcome too many obstacles to be where I am today, to throw it away on complacency, so I need this reminder.

I love my talents. I love my art style. I create only to thrill myself.

Do you ever look at other people in your profession and wish you had their talent and not your own? Pointless. I'd love to be Pete Docter, but I'd be a crap Pete Docter. I have a genuine chance to be the world's best ever Marque Pierre. You are you, make the best of that. It will never change. I remember reading an interview with Director Andrew Stanton from Pixar, where he mentioned some other film makers that he admired. He said something to the effect of, these film makers were busy making things, which were cool to themselves, and that made their work interesting to others as well. As opposed to wasting your time trying to second-guess, what others would think is cool and making something half-baked that neither you nor others would enjoy.

I concentrate easily and deeply for long durations of time. I avoid all distractions and I am amazingly productive.

Flow, sweet flow. Flow is the sweetest drug of them all. If I can increase my ability to sink into flow and stay clear of distractions and procrastination, then that deserves a place in my daily affirmations.

I enjoy learning new skills. I learn fast and intuitively. 

Learning brand new skills is hard. Your old skills are calling you; Whispering in your ear, how easy it would be to forget all this newfangled nonsense and just revert back to your old ways, while you are tearing your hair out trying to navigate a new system which makes no sense. Lovely.

I have a lot of friends who are brilliant artists and creators in their own right. We inspire each other and actively contribute to each others' success. 

No man is an island. Nor am I. Creating is often a solitary exercise, but to share these things with your peers and friends brings so much joy. 'Iron sharpens iron, likewise one man sharpens another man's face', says the Bible (Proverbs 27:17). I always want and need more of such friends.

I can actively shape my life to become exactly what I want and need it to be. My life is great and I am enjoying every moment of it! This is the best day of my life!

Here comes the grand finale: To firmly establish that you can shape your life into exactly what you want it to be. The penultimate sentence was for a long time, the conclusion to my daily affirmations, which is why it ends on an exclamation mark. I find that when I write the very last sentence, I force my mind to come up with plausible reasons why today indeed could be a very, very good day. Those thoughts are a lovely way to start the day.

Post Script

After a particularly trying time at work, I found myself peppering my affirmations with a new sentence. I was in a position, where I found myself constantly doubting my own abilities and judgments. Things that really should work, just didn't work. So you start feeling like an idiot. Already working as an artist is hard at the best of times - you constantly see flaws in your work; never have enough time to realize your vision; and your mistakes are being sharply pointed out by your peers and supervisors. Yep, it is not for the faint of heart.

So I added this sentence: "Jeg er god nok, som jeg er."I write this in Danish, my mother tongue, to make sure it will hit home as deeply as it can. The sentence means, "I am good enough, the way I am." For an artist, and a working artist at that, to get to that point of simply accepting yourself and trusting, that you are enough - just the way you are - is to be at peace.

What about you? Who do you want to become? What life do you want to script for yourself? Write it down. Every day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Production Proven Shortcuts: Display Borders in Maya

Ever been handed an asset looking something like this?

The Gouraud shading obviously gives away, that there is something not quite right with the mesh. We got a funny border running along some of the faces on the sphere.

Outliner shows us that the sphere is indeed a single mesh, not a combination of intersecting meshes... 
Hmmm. What is your next step for trouble shooting this?

I would normally make sure all the normals are softened. Differences in normals across the surface make such edges in the Gouraud shading, and it is quite a common problem.

So we select all the faces and pick Soften Edge under the Normals menu.

No joy still. Now, may I introduce you to the humble check box for Display Borders (under Mesh Component Display in the Attribute Editor)?

Checking that (and setting the value higher than the default 1), will immediately show any borders in the mesh. In this case, we see that the problem is that our geometry has been combined by two pieces of geometry fitting each other perfectly.

Maybe these parts of the geometry once came from the same mesh, was separated for various reasons and then combined back together.

In any case, we have double vertices along the (now) visible border. So instead of it being a problem with normals, it is a vertex problem, which we can fix by merging the vertices sitting in the same space.


Since the Display Borders option is so fast and simple, I will push that a step higher up on my list of trouble shooting steps, before I start checking normals. This little corner of Maya was pointed out to me by a colleague, after I had been swearing fruitlessly at the normals for an hour.

Nifty to cut a few corners.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Notes from the Underground

"Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself."  

- Pat Conroy

I am told Beethoven filled scores of journals during his life. Apparently they ended in a room somewhere, never to be looked at again. But Beethoven believed that even if his writing was never read again, just the process of writing it down, would help anchor it in his memory.

One of Beethoven's many journals

In addition to anchoring, I also find that jotting your ramblings down in a journal helps free up mental processing cycles - as you are not trying to juggle a million unfinished thoughts in your head; Then there is the process of forcing yourself to explain yourself as you write and the wonderful clarity you gain from looking at your thoughts from the outside in; And of course the useful benefits of being able to painlessly look up what you wrote as and when you need to. 

To this end I keep an assortment of journals grouped into various broad topics.

Various journals focused on other topics
... and have done so for years and years. 

Some of my older journals
But this post is about a special journal of mine.

The Master Journal

Anybody who has worked with me, have picked this book up from my desk and inquired about its nature. This is the book I write all the things I learn about 3D, VFX and art - either through courses, own observations or things taught by more experienced colleagues.

Some of my many, many pages of scribbles
Obviously, this book is absolutely key to my work, but beyond that I have never given it too much thought. Then one day my Executive Producer picks it up, leafs through the pages and exclaims, "One day Marque will publish this book and become and a millionaire!"

Nobody becomes a millionaire from publishing books on 3D and VFX, but I appreciated the compliment all the same. What is more it gave me the idea, that perhaps others could benefit from these bits and pieces I have collected over the years?

Do we need yet another tome on VFX and 3D? I think CGWorkshops, Digital Tutors, Gnomon Workshops and cmiVFX are all doing a splendid job teaching a lot of useful techniques and getting people a good grounding in various software packages. 

But to be perfectly honest, what I find in a lot of courses and training materials may be great for teaching a beginner the basics, but 90% of it I rarely use in day-to-day productions. However in the trenches of actual productions, what is very valuable, are clever little workarounds, that save you time or simplify the work you need to do turn a shot around. These are the kind of things, which I definitely note down in my journal for safe keeping.

So if they help me, they can help others too. I will not "publish my notebook and become a millionaire", but I will share these bits and piece which I have found valuable as short blog posts. 

I think I will call them Production Proven Shortcuts. That's what they are to me.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

MARI: Distressed painted metal texture from scratch - Part 3

"Start with what is known, and what is hidden will be revealed."  - Rembrandt van Rijn


We'll take Rembrandt's wisdom and the approach of building up our textures layer by layer in order create the last of the secondary maps (bump) we need for the jerry can. For the first part of this tutorial, which looks at the diffuse colour maps for our jerry can, please go to and for the second part, which covers the spec maps, please see

Imperfection is key to successfully achieving the ilusion of realism and avoiding that computer generated look, and as such wear and tear is an important consideration for a texture artist. Which brings us to the bump maps. When people use the word "texture" outside of CGI, the meaning they refer to is pretty much what we use a bump map to illustrate: The texture of a surface, in terms of bumpiness, roughness and other smaller topographic details in the surface. The bump map adds lovely details, which are mostly only visible when the object is fairly close to the camera. It helps us to break up specular highlights and many other things. In a bump map 50% grey means that the surface is smooth and has neither indentations nor protrusions. White means details that protrudes out from the surface and black of course means details are recesses upon the surface.

Anyway, let's put together the bump map for the jerry can, using what we already have of information in the diffuse map.

To this end duplicate the Diffuse channel and use the duplicate for our bump map. In the Channel palette, right click on the Diffuse channel. Select Copy from the menu. Right click in the empty space on the Channel palette and select Paste from the menu. Now we have a duplicate of the Diffuse channel. Double-click on the new channel named "Diffuse Copy" and rename it to something suitable, like Bump or BMP.

First things first. When I paint secondary maps I set my Mari viewport to 50 percent grey. This allows me to visually gauge how far I am from my 50 percent grey midpoint. Beats bringing out the Color Picker all the time (although that certainly is useful to double-check values with). So right click on any empty and unused part of your Mari viewport. Select Display Properties.
 Under Display Properties, under Background we have two colour swatches, which combined can create a gradient in the background of your viewport. Click each of them (Top and Bottom) and select a 50% grey, and hit Ok.

If you work in flat lighting mode (F1) then you will always be able to quickly compare the values of your bump map against the even grey background of the viewport. 
Building our layers, we want to work from a 50% grey bottom layer - which in a bump map would represent a perfectly even surface. That wil be our starting point, upon which we will add dents, scratches and all the other goodness a bump map allows us to portray. So start by adding a Procedural Layer - Basic - Color and set it to 50% grey. 

So a 50% grey object set on a similarly coloured background, and your viewport should look like the right side (the flat lighting) of this image:

Let's start adding in our details from the creation of our colour map.

The first thing we want to use is the paint on the metal. That paint would sit slightly higher than the underlying metal itself. More specifically, as the green paint layer was a procedural basic color layer masked out in places, we need to use the mask. So right click on the mask symbol and then Layer Mask - Make Mask Stack. This turns our mask into a proper layer, which we can copy and add other layers to in a regular layer stack style.

Also it changes the icon from the mask icon to the mask stack icon:

Now, if you click on the new mask stack icon, a new layer window will open. Select the layer there in and copy it  (right clicking on it, will give you a copy, paste etc. menu). Paste it into our bump channel above the 50% grey procedural colour layer. Create a layer group for it and drag our mask layer into the group. Now change the blend mode for the layer group to Multiply and the opacity to something like that 0.3. This is what my bump map looks like so far:

In summary, what we have done here is creating a difference in height between the paint on the can and the aluminum underneath. Notice that the rubber spout is darker all over. This comes from our original mask, which of course masked away the paint from the rubber spout. In any case, we can leave it for now, as bumps very much work off differences in values. Globally on the spout we right now have a darker value, but the values of the details we will add on top of this darker value will still have the correct differences anyway. Kinda like adding 2 to 0 or 2 to 2, both will give a value which has increased with 2. That is how I see it. Does that make sense?

Moving on...

Move your aluminum base layer to sit on top of what we have so far. Change the blend mode to Overlay and the opacity to something like 0.25. What that does it gently add a bit of variation to our jerry can. Obviously a used jerry can is not completely smooth even on the big swathes of painted metal. We need to break those surfaces up ever so slightly, and preferably in an organic way. Our aluminum base will do this nicely.

Just as we want to break up the even spaces on the metal, so we also need to add a bit of similar detail to our rubber spout. Let's see what we can reuse of existing layers on the spout.

Your rubber base and rubber detail layers could be useful here. I took the rubber base layer and changed the blendmode to Multiply and lowered the opacity all the way down to 0.043. The rubber details layer I used with the blendmode of Color Dodge and an opacity of 0.07. So only adding these details in very, very lightly, but enough to break up the rubber spout, so it will not look like smooth porcelain etc. Here is what I got so far:

Remember our general dirt layer? We used a nice concrete texture to help paint it. As an object becomes dirty, that dirt will also add to the shape or roughness of the object. Drive your shiny new car through a muddy field, and what was previously smooth painted metal will now have bumpy mud on it. On a much smaller scale, we will use that dirt layer to add the bumps corresponding to the information in the colour map. Of this needs to be on a very small scale. Turn on that dirt layer and change the blend mode to Hard Light (as we want both the light and the dark information). I dialed my opacity all the way down to 0.043. You can barely see these details with the naked eye (unless you got a swanky 4K monitor), but with bump maps, little scratches can quickly end up looking like massive gouges in the render, so subtlety is imperative. Here is my bump map at this point:

Speaking of bump maps and scratches, let's move on to this more meaty subject. For the scratches on the can, I want to both use the general scratches we painted and also use a higher contrast version of those. With the higher contrast scratches I want to create a smaller number of more pronounced scratches. So we need to copy our scratches layer and place it in a new layer group. Add on top of the scratches layer in there an adjustment layer - contrast. Adjust your contrast to fit. Here are my scratches post contrast adjustment on their own:

Then change the blend mode of the layer group to Soft Light and the opacity to something like 0.2. Put together with the other layers, this is what it should look like:

That is a nice subtle start to our scratches. Let's turn it up a notch. So if we go back to our original scratch layer, here we will get the majority of the information, which will drive our scratches' bumps. To make sure the bigger details of the texture come out, I changed the blend mode to Hard Mix and took the opacity down to 0.3. In close up, it looks like this:
 All told, this is my jerry can so far:

Let's bring in the rust details. Make a layer group for your rust layer, and add an adjustment layer - HSV on top, crank the saturation down to 0. Or you could also add an adjustment layer - Luminosity, which does the same job, or if you are an enemy of non-destructive editing, you could run a filter on your rust layer (Hue or Luminosity for example). You get the point... So with our rust detail all converted to greyscale, change the blend mode of the rust layer group to Color Burn and the opacity to something like 0.236. Now our rust details will have a suitably bumpy surface.

Actually. I am still not happy with the way the rust is portrayed bump-wise. I want something more grainy. Rust has that crystalized kind of surface. I am thinking, generate some noise and overlay with the rust bumps we already have to get that grainy feel. Create a layer group and add a procedural layer - Noise - Cellular. Depending on your overall rust look, the noise needs to be quite small. 

Add a layer mask to the rust noise detail layer group and set it to hide all. What I did next was to take a rust texture and using the paint through tool and an organic brush, I painted into the mask where I wanted this noise detail on top of my rust. Here is what I painted onto my layer mask:
Change the blend mode of the layer group to Multiply and take the opacity down to something like 0.227. Up close you can see (compare with the rust bump close up above) the added detail provided by the noise layer:

That takes my bump map to its final stage:

Which rendered out, contributed to this look:

In my final instalment of this mini-series, I will go over setting up our shaders and lighting. Then I am looking forward to seeing your renders of this simple Mari texturing project.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

MARI: Distressed painted metal texture from scratch - Part 2

"Start with what is known, and what is hidden will be revealed."  - Rembrandt van Rijn


We'll take Rembrandt's wisdom and the approach of building up our textures layer by layer in order create the secondary maps (bump and specular) we need for the jerry can. For the first part of this tutorial, which looks at the diffuse colour maps for our jerry can, please go to

The spec map is often considered the most-valuable-player of all the texture maps. When objects are so far away from the camera, that the diffuse map cannot be made out anymore, you can usually still see the effects of the spec map. The opposite end of that spectrum would probably be bump maps, which are the first to go as the camera pulls away from a model. The spec map will simply put control how shiny our object appears; how much of the light that hits the object is reflected back. Black equals the light-eating power of a black hole, where white equals the mirror shine of chrome.

Anyway, let's start putting together the spec map for the jerry can, using what we already have of information in the diffuse map.

To this end we will duplicate the Diffuse channel and use the duplicate for our spec map. In the Channel palette, right click on the Diffuse channel. Select Copy from the menu. Right click in the empty space on the Channel palette and select Paste from the menu. Now we have a duplicate of the Diffuse channel. Double-click on the new channel named "Diffuse Copy" and rename it to something suitable, like Spec.

In the Layers palette for the new Spec channel, add an HSV adjustment layer as the top-most layer of the stack. Take saturation slider all the way down to 0, and now our duplicated diffuse channel is all greyscale as a spec map needs to be.Turn off the visibility (click on the little eyeball icon next to each layer) of all the layers in the channel, and then we will bring them in as need be.

Add a procedural layer (Basic - Color), set the colour to black (don't use complete black, or white in your textures, it messes up the shader math); put 0.114 in each of the RGB channels.

This "black" will be a base for the rubber spout of the jerry can. So why don't you add an empty layer group and drag the procedural color layer into the group. Add a layer mask to the group by selecting the group, right clicking on it and selecting layer mask - add mask. Whether you go for Reveal All or Hide All, paint with pure white or black in your layer mask, so only the spout is affected by the procedural color layer. For good measure, I have added a white color layer underneath to help our spout to stand out.

Other than the procedural layer with the black colour, which we have just inserted at the bottom, your lowest layer should be your aluminum base layer. We need that. Click on the eyeball left of the layer in the layers palette to toggle its visibility on. The aluminum texture will both give a nice neutral base to build upon as well as lot of organic details and variation, which suits a metal can. So far, so good.

Next I want to add a touch of ambient occlusion. In corners dirt and dust will gather automatically due to inaccesability, which makes it more unlikely to get wiped off by regular use. Most kinds of ordinary dust and dirt will lower the shininess of a surface, so using ambient occlusion to make these areas darker works well (darker is less reflective or shiny in our spec map, mind you). A tiny touch will do.

Click on the Add Procedural Layer button in the layers palette. Select Geometry - Ambient Occlusion. Set the blend mode of the layer to Multiply and the opacity to 0.150. If you don't have something like this...

... it might be because you haven't calculated your ambient occlusion yet. In that case, select your jerry can as an object. Go to the Objects menu and select Ambient Occlusion. Mari will calculate for a while, and then you will have your lovely ambient occlusion.

Remember your Dirt layer? Turn that back on (click on the eyeball to the left of the layer name). This is what I have:

Next we want to bring the scratches back into play. If memory serves, the scratches layer from the diffuse map was set to Hard Light blend mode and 0.798 opacity. That should do nicely for the purpose of the spec map as well, so turn the layer's visibility back on.

The spills we added from down the front from the spout and to the base of the can also need to be in the spec map. However, they were set to Vivid Light blend mode before and 0.552 opacity. Change the blend mode of the Spills layer to Overlay and crank the opacity up to 1.0. Which should look something like this.

Onto our Dust_broad group. Therein we painted a broad and generic dust layer, masked by Ambient Occlusion. Turn the visibility of the Dust_broad layer group on. We should be able to use the blend mode (Overlay) and opacity as is. So far, so good:

We also have the Dust_detail layer group, where we added more specific dust around the base of the spout etc. Turn on the visibility of the Dust_detail layer group and make sure the blend mode is set to Overlay and full opacity.

I am looking at our spec map and I would like the scratches to be more pronounced. As light moves across the jerry can, the scratches would be a very distinctive feature. Aluminum has a dull glow, as the surface is oxidized over time, also you have the paint, which obscures metal, but where the scratches are, the aluminum will be naked and in some places freshly scratched - revealing the full extent of its shininess in places. Copy the Scratches layer (Right click on the Scratches layer and select Copy and then right click again and select Paste). We still want all the light and dark information of those scratches cranked up to full effect, so blend mode should still be Hard Light. I further took the opacity up to a full 1.0. 

So that is the scratches. How about rust? How does rust affect specularity? In my experience, rust dramatically dulls the reflectivity of metal. What is least shiny thing you know? From where I am sitting, the carpet underneath my feet has next to no reflection. Rust is pretty close to that. Do a quick google search for rust and you will see that there are a lot of different types of rust, which again would mean a lot of different looks of rust. Of course it not completely diffuse, but close, and so we aim for darkness where we have our rusty patches.

Our rust layer was set to multiply. Turn on the visibility and crank up the darkness it leaves by changing blend mode to Color Burn. It should look something like this...

Zooming close in on the rust, I love the grainy details. Rust is never very even in its colour, density and distribution. That should correspond nicely with the crystalline quality of the surface of rust.

The very last addition to our spec map will be our grime layer. Turn the visibility of the Grime group on and change the blend mode to Color Burn. I want this layer group to help create break-up and variation of the larger metal surfaces, so we need Color Burn's increase of contrast to help with that. Change the opacity to something in the range of 0.25, which gives us our finished spec map:

Now that we are done, going back over the project, a few things could be improved. Perhaps we could add just a touch of noise to the rubber spout base, to further break up the base (apart from what we have done with the layers of dirt, dust etc.). We could also make a differentiation between the exposed metal and the painted metal.

In general it is worth noting most, if not all, of what you need for your spec map, you should already have in some shape or form in your diffuse (colour) map. Also, a spec maps best friend is variation. So if you have large stretches of the same material on your geometry, make sure you consciously look to break it up in your spec map. Unless your object is fresh from the factory, this is a really key point. On a show I worked on, we had a number of spaceships, which needed to appear relatively clean and sci-fi'ey, but as a result the colour maps were struggling a bit to convey the needed realism - solution? Quietly make your spec maps absolutely filthy...
What is left now, is just to create a bump map and setting up our shaders and lighting. That will be the topic of the last two posts in this mini-series. Then you should have a render looking more or less like mine:

This tutorial continues with an overview of creating a bump map for our jerry can here.
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Saturday, November 02, 2013

/Shameless Plug/

Ladies and gentlemen of the public,

Could I please prey on your patience and good nature for a moment:

Remember the stylized KFC commercial, I was using as an example for cartoony texture painting?

Of course you do.

That short is nominated for an award by Animae Caribe. Could I ask you, please, to direct your browsers to vote for "KFC 40th Anniversary"?

I would be eternally grateful and happy to reciprocate with a solid favour, whenever you need one.

Thank you kindly!