Using detail textures for extra realism close-up

Checked with version: 4.1

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Difficulty: Intermediate

A detail texture is a pattern that is faded in gradually on a mesh as the camera gets close. This can can be used to simulate dirt, weathering or other similar detail on a surface without adding to rendering overhead when the camera is too far away to see the difference. This lesson explains how to use detail textures with Unity.

Obtaining the texture

A detail texture is a greyscale image that is used to lighten or darken another texture selectively. Where a pixel has a brightness value between 0 and 127 the image will be darkened (where zero denotes maximum darkness) and when the value is between 129 and 255, the image will be lightened (where 255 denotes maximum brightness). A value of exactly 128 will leave the underlying image unchanged.

A sample detail texture in Photoshop

If the detail image has an average brightness greater or lower than 128, the whole image will appear to be lightened or darkened as the camera gets close, which gives the wrong effect. It is therefore important to make sure that the brightness levels in the image are roughly symmetrical around 128. You can check this is the case in most image editing software by looking at the image histogram or the Levels adjustment (which typically also shows the histogram). If the histogram shows a symmetrical "bulge" that is slightly to the left or right of the centre, you can bracket the bulge with the min/max input level arrows to get the brightness centred on 127.

Photoshop levels for detail texture

To avoid visible boundaries where the detail texture wraps, you should ideally use an image that tiles perfectly. If the image is created using the image editor's noise function, the results will typically tile without artifacts. Also, filters such as Difference Clouds often have setting to make the resulting image wrap. Simple effects like this can make quite effective detail maps when simulating dirt, grainy surfaces or weathering.

Unity import settings for the detail texture

Once you have saved your image to the Unity project, you can select it to see its import settings in the Inspector.

Detail texture inspector

Set the texture type to Advanced and then enable the Fadeout Mip Maps setting under Generate Mip Maps. You should see a range control for the Fade Range; the numeric values for the range aren't specified but the defaults are suitable for most purposes. For distances below the start of the range, the detail texture will be visible. The range indicates the distance values over which the detail texture will gradually fade before eventually becoming invisible.

The detail material

To use the detail texture, you should set the material to use the Diffuse Detail shader using the menu on the Material Inspector.

Detail material

In addition to the base texture, you will see a second sampler box to receive the detail texture you have just imported. Typically, you will want to set its Tiling values quite high (maybe about 10).

The detail material can now be applied to any suitable object to show the detailing effect.

Graphics

  1. Introduction to Lighting and Rendering
  2. Choosing a Lighting Technique
  3. The Precompute Process
  4. Choosing a Rendering Path
  5. Choosing a Color Space
  6. High Dynamic Range (HDR)
  7. Reflections
  8. Ambient Lighting
  9. Light Types
  10. Emissive Materials
  11. Light Probes
  1. Introduction to Precomputed Realtime GI
  2. Realtime Resolution
  3. Understanding Charts
  4. Starting the precompute process
  5. Probe lighting
  6. Unwrapping and Chart reduction
  7. Optimizing Unity's auto unwrapping
  8. Understanding Clusters
  9. Fine tuning with Lightmap Parameters
  10. Summary - Precomputed Realtime GI
  1. Lighting Overview
  2. Lights
  3. Materials
  4. The Standard Shader
  5. Textures
  6. Using Skyboxes
  7. A Gentle Introduction to Shaders
  8. Using detail textures for extra realism close-up
  9. Frame Debugger
  1. Cameras
  2. Image Effects: Overview
  1. Meshes
  2. Mesh Renderers and Mesh Filters
  1. Using Cameras
  2. Using Lights
  3. Fun with Lasers!
  4. The Particle System
  5. Cinematic Explosions - PIT
  6. Cinematic Composition - PIT
  7. Image Effects: Overview
  8. Fun with Explosions!
  9. Exploring the Blacksmith Environment
  1. Turning it up to 11: Making Unity 5 look Awesome!
  1. Substance - Introduction
  2. Substance - Understanding PBR
  3. Substance - Working with PBR in Unity
  4. Substance - Using Substance materials in Unity
  5. Substance - Optimization for Substance materials
  6. Substance - Creating rock shapes
  7. Substance - Creating rock material, Pt 1
  8. Substance - Creating rock material, Pt 2
  9. Substance - Creating the dirt ground material
  10. Substance - Creating the rock ground material, Pt 1
  11. Substance - Creating the rock ground material, Pt 2
  12. Substance - Publishing the Substance
  13. Substance - Creating a blocking scene
  14. Substance - Creating the ground model
  15. Substance - Modelling the rock assets
  16. Substance - Texturing the upper body
  17. Substance - Exporting textures from Substance Painter
  18. Substance - Creating a scene in Unity, Pt 1
  19. Substance - Creating a scene in Unity, Pt 2
  1. Introduction and Goals
  2. Flame Particles Overview
  3. Particle Emission and Color
  4. Adding Movement To Particles With Noise
  5. Creating The Ember Particles
  6. Adding Lighting To Particles
  7. Creating Sparks With Particle Trails
  8. Particle Question and Answers
  1. Introduction and Goals
  2. Adding a Second Camera
  3. Adding Minimap Icons
  4. Render Textures and UI
  5. Adding A UI Mask and Border Image
  6. Questions and Answers
  1. Session Introduction
  2. Rendering In Unity
  3. Anatomy Of An Unlit Shader
  4. The Vertex Function
  5. The Fragment Function and Color Tint
  6. Making A Transparent Shader
  7. Displacing Vertices and Clipping Pixels
  8. Questions and Answers
  1. Introduction and Session Goals
  2. The VideoPlayer Component
  3. Texturing Objects With Video
  4. Playing and Pausing
  5. Playing A New Clip
  6. Displaying Current Time and Clip
  7. Animated Playhead
  8. Questions and Answers
  1. Overview and Goals
  2. Tonemapping and Color Grading
  3. Camera Movement & Animation
  4. Post Processing Volumes
  5. Timeline & Cinemachine
  6. Questions and Answers