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Smoothing and Normals

Fundamentals, Theory


Everything you ever need to know as an artist about the topic of low-res smoothing and how normal maps work.

We cover the following:

  • The surface vs the geometry of an object.
  • How to understand and manipulate vertex normals.
  • What the colors of a normal map represent.
  • The impact of surface smoothing on a bake.
  • Diverse tips to ensure an excellent normal map bake.
  • Hard and soft edges.

One of the references used for the video:

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  1. wings.of.gray says:

    This is information I’ve slowly learned on my own over time. In one of my first projects we didn’t even bake meshes due to the large use of repeating/modular textures and whatnot. So we’d rely on editing/locking normals with actual bevels built into the model itself. And we’d even hand draw normal maps in certain parts. I think this really helped me understand normals very well, compared to when I was a student where it was some magical doohickey with a lot of superstition surrounding it. My lecturers were not very useful here, they were like JUST MAKE A HIGH POLY AND BAKE!

    I do find that a lot of newer artists treat normal maps rather superstitiously – it’s a magical thing that you can only create from baking and nobody really knows how to manipulate it, correct it, work it etc. Whenever something goes wrong, a lot of “hacking” occurs where people just brute force mess around with geometry and bake settings until an acceptable result emerges.

    Right now I’m in a position where I want to convey this information to newer artists, and I have tried to explain it in my own awkward way with my own awkward file examples. I find your tutorial very helpful in helping me articulate it, and I’ll probably force some of the new hires to watch this video.

  2. Tobias Krause says:

    Wow… I never found a description about what a normal map actually is and how all this works. This lecture is just awesome, thank you for that!

  3. Daniel says:

    Hi Laura,
    so do I understand that right. You triangulate your character before you give it to rigging? Right now I bake a triangulated version and for rigging we use the quadmesh which also ends up in the engine (Unity). So far in our project everything looks fine (while bakes from quadmeshes looked wrong). But this has always been a question that I could not answer. Why does it look fine? Since the engine triangulates probably different than the bake.
    The only way to make sure it is 100% the same would be to give the riggers the triangulated baking mesh. But I know already that they dont want to work like that.
    Thx for your help 🙂

    1. Hi Daniel, best to triangulate on export from the DCC app (like Maya). Character is triangulated on export to the normal baker but the mesh is given to the riggers in its original, quadded form. The riggers rig and skin the quadded mesh in the DCC app and export it themselves as triangles to the engine. The engine does not triangulate because the mesh is already triangulated by the time it is imported in the engine. Hope that clears it up!

      1. Daniel says:

        Hmmm. That sounds promising. Thx 🙂

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