Banging Up Your Geometry
By Neil Blevins
Created On: Oct 5th 2005
Updated On: Sept 19th 2013

One thing that will give away the "cgness" of your scene is perfectly straight edges. Any edge, whether it's a table top, table leg, the edge of a box, whatever, won't be perfectly straight. This is most evident on beat up objects, but even clean objects have a little randomness to their shape, and so to achieve realism it's a good idea to bang up your geometry some. The following are several methods for doing so, and some thoughts on the process. This tutorial uses 3dsmax as an example, but it should be useful for any major 3d package.

Here's a picture to get us in the mood. A nice clean truck trailer, but then all of a sudden, a big dent in the center. These are the details that add realism to our models.

Noise as Modifier

So basically what you want is a slight variation to the position of the vertexes in your mesh. One way to approach this would be to write a script that goes through each vertex of your mesh and randomizes its position based on some deviation value. However, there are a few disadvantages to this method. First, you'd want to place the random modifications inside an editmesh or editpoly modifier, and script access for those modifiers are somewhat limited. Why do this you ask? Well, because if you affect the vertexes of your original mesh, and then want to go back and edit that mesh, you now have a messy polygonal mesh to try and modify. It's far better to to have an unmangled mesh, and store your randomization in a modifier that can be turned on and off, in case you ever want to go back to the original clean mesh.

So instead of the vertex randomization method, try the Noise Modifier. It achieves the same thing, but with extra control over the size and scale of the noise, and it's a modifier so you can turn it off and go back to edit your unmangled mesh anytime you want.

Take the following mesh for example, all perfectly straight cg edges...

Figure 1

Then here it is with a Noise modifier applied, and I played with the scale and intensity of the noise a bit.

Figure 2

Remember, if you want your mesh to look badly mangled, consider a smaller noise size. If you want just general variation, a larger one would be better. I've also increased the strength on this test so you can see the difference, in actual production work you may wish to have a very, very low intensity, you don't need to necessarily beat the audience over the head with the damage, just suggest it.

And keep in mind, your mesh needs enough complexity to it to deform properly. Here's the density of my mesh...

Figure 3

If this were a 1 x 1 x 1 segment box, it wouldn't deform smoothly.

Also, if you have several objects, make sure each has a separate and unique seed value, so that the noise doesn't look the same on each object.

Figure 3a

Noise as Displacement

Similar to the noise modifier, but instead it's either a displace modifier, or a displacement in your shader.

Figure 4

Figure 5

The advantages this has over the noise modifier are as follows... you can use any map type, including bitmaps, to displace your mesh (the noise modifier only has a single type of noise). For example, apply a noise set to fractal and play with the high and low clamp, so some areas of your mesh go completely unmodified, and some are heavily modified.

Figure 6

Also, packages other than 3dsmax generally don't have a noise modifier, but do have a displacement shader of some kind, so if you're using a different 3d package this may be the best way to perform this operation.

Figure 7

Manual Placement

There's always the option of manually placing bumps and bangs. Apply an editmesh or editpoly modifier and start moving vertexes, or even add new faces for more specific damage (like chipped corners, for example).

Figure 8a

Figure 8

This has a few advantages, first off, your noise can be very specific. Every set piece has a history, why did it get banged up? Did something fall on it? Was it damages on purpose? Was it neglected? Maybe a specific bang in a specific area can relate to the story your image / animation is trying to tell. Take a look at the example above, I crumpled the left hand ridge on the box. This seems like a spot a character may pick up a box such as this, so if it's crumpled that might infer that the character who picked this up is very strong, so strong he actually damaged the box when he picked it up. And there's a big gash on the right lower side, which suggests maybe the box was dropped. So maybe the big strong guy also isn't very careful. And there are chips off the edge of the cover, which suggests the box may get opened a lot. You see, from a simple prop and a little damage, as well as adding realism, we can also get a whole story which can be used to enhance the story you want to tell.

The big disadvantage is that it takes longer to do, and if you change your mesh later on, you may need to throw away your manual bangs and bumps and redo them after you've modified your base mesh.

Combining Procedural and Manual

One possible strategy is this: only use the manual methods on "hero" objects, objects that are seen close to camera or interact with a character. All the background objects can have more random procedural noise like the noise modifier method.

Another is to combine both methods on the same object, start with a noise modifier, then add a few manual bumps and bangs. The big advantage is you still get a few hero bangs to show specific damage, but you don't have to do as much manual work. Sometimes when the eye sees a few specific bumps, it doesn't notice the ones that are less specific, it just accepts that they must be manually added to.

Volume vs Surface

Another thing to consider is the type of material you're affecting. Every kind of material shows damage in a different way, and you should take that into consideration. For example, a large planar object like say a plastic wall panel will tend to warp and bulge in the middle. So when damaging your objects, damage it like a real object would.

As well as material, consider construction history. Take a box for example, I know we all want to save time on modeling, so if we have a box, we generally use a box primitive...

Figure 9

But notice what happens when it has noise applied to it (again, I have exaggerated the noise so you can see the obvious difference)...

Figure 10

Why does this look wrong? Well, the noise runs through the object in a uniform way. This makes the object look like a solid cube, instead of a shell. That's because a real box is made using 6 panels that are attached together. So when damaged, one panel may receive a different type of damage from the next. Take a look at this image, where I've added a different noise (with a different seed value) to 6 separate pieces that make up my box...

Figure 11

This may be overkill for far away boxes, but if you plan on getting close, this may be required.

Anyways, hopefully this will give you a few ideas on how to rough up your own models.

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