I have these assets from a videogame and I want to 3D print them. I am familiar with the general steps (turning the surfaces into a solid volume, slicing etc).

The problem is, videogame models have less resolution/polygons/whatever and they have a texture (image) applied to them to look like they have higher detail.

My question is, is there a way to transform the mesh of these assets by using those textures as some sort of "height map"?

My thought was to subdivide the model to introduce more resolution, and then apply some sort of radial extrusion with the texture file as input, if that makes any sense. Imagine a smooth sphere where I extrude every vertix from the sphere center according to a world map (edited into a grey scale that represents altitude).

However, I am not happy with the results and I am unsure if this would even work, I am missing some crucial previous step, or somebody has a different idea to approach this issue.

I am using blender, but advice from any software is welcome!

  • 2
    Yes its possible. But not nesseserily worth the effort.
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 15:35
  • There's a dedicated SE for Blender questions, maybe you'd get more specific answers there
    – Luciano
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 11:56

1 Answer 1


I've not used Blender extensively in some time - most of my 3D generalist work has been in modo the last few years (though my past includes 3DS, Maya, Viz, Form-Z and a slew of other tools) so my terminology may not translate, but the conceptual workflow should be correct.

The words / concepts you're looking for are: displacement, bump, surface normal, vertex normal, and vector displacement.

These are all map types, which take higher-resolution geometry as in input and bake out either greyscale value information (displacement and bump) or colour-as-vector and amplitude information (normal, vector normal, vertex displacement) so that you can apply those maps to a lower-resolution model which corresponds correctly and is correctly UV-mapped to get the appearance of surface details in lighting, occlusion etc, without requiring the huge polgyon (or subdivision) count needed to support that as actual geometry.

In modo, I can take a model in which there are such maps applied, and "bake geometry cache" which calculates the final resulting geometry including all such maps on that model and the needed polys to support it, and creates a new mesh matching those results; this is of course assuming you have a diffuse map (colour texture), or a metallic spec colour map (if using a PBR workflow) and displacement and/or bump as well as a normal map, all correctly UV'd - this sort of setup would be typical for a low-poly in-game asset.

I'm certain Blender has an equivalent method - perhaps cross-posting this to the [Blender.SE] would help you get the correct Blender-specific answer!

Hope this helps!

  • 1
    Yes but the game model probably only has a normal map. So the displacement maps need to be generated somehow from the file automagically.
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 18:24
  • Well at least in modo, (and AFAIK in Maya too) you can in fact bake the geometry cache from a normal map and regain some level of original detail - I can't imagine there isn't a relevant technique for this with Blender at this point - Blender has become a pretty darn powerful and flexible toolset. Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 20:19
  • 1
    I doubt that it works very well for a lowpoly model. But worth a try i guess. The problem is more that the normal map does not tell where the normal is just what direction its pointing so its a wild guess.
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 3:48
  • 1
    Anyway then you need to edit your answer as it now says you need several maps for baking.
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 4:06
  • 1
    Tested this in maya and doing it only by normal map does not produce anything useful. But if i estimate a bump and use it as a displacement it sorf of works by eyeballing. In either case the claim that it works with just a normal map does sound so suspect that you need stronger evidence. And atleast the decription on how the extra steps needed work
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 4:20

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