I started another thread which actually brought up issues about how to make proper normal maps. Ive started to question if my system for making them is proper because it's not the usual way. My system is cobbled together from several diffrent tutorials. Up until now no one has complained but it would be good to make sure this way 'works'
Okay, so below I made the normal map for this crate. Yeah, it's not the sexiest crate on the planet but it works for this example.
1) I make a low poly cube and add some bevels to the edges of it to help in the transitions in the normal map when light rolls across it.
2.) I lay out my UVs (it's a cube so i'm just using the default Uv's because they work for this example.)
3.) I make a 'Mid-Poly' version of my box and on that one I model into it so i get nice edges and creases on the big forms. I'm also carefully setting the hard/softness of the polys and edges so i get edge detail from lighting. Usually this Mid-poly object can be as high as your computer can handle but honestly your just trying to get big forms to read proper.
4.) I bake a normal map from the mid poly box onto the low poly box and check to make sure it looks okay. Do i have nice gradients on the normal map? do my edges and seems look okay? etc.
5.) I make high poly wood plank(s) in Zbrush and use the NormalRBG Materal on it when i drop it to canvas ( this works for things that are relatively flat like the box. If this is something complex i would just bake out my normal maps through zbrush with the UV's I set up earlier.
6.) I open photoshop and I open the 'Mid level' normal map and the high poly detail normal map from zbrush. I lay the High over the mid and i blend it using 'hard light' mode. sometimes other modes but hard light usually works the best.
7.) I merge them and apply the normal map to the low poly object and check for errors.
and there you go. I use this system because my computer is kinda old and it can't handle a high poly mesh of over a million triangles being brought in to maya to bake out a normal map. (trust me, I would love to do it that way but my com just freezes up and dies when I try) so I basically broke up the level of detail into two passes and then merged them together in photoshop.
again, it's worked okay for me and no one has complained really. the only big pitfalls I've had so far is you have to be really careful of your edges and pad them out in photoshop because they don't always sync up perfectly. also you sometimes have to color correct some sections like that dark plank on the box in the second image. that's caused by the overlay being too "blue". but other then that it seems fine. it works in game and no body screams bloody murder LOL!
Is this a proper way to do it or no?