Microscope Materials
By Neil Blevins
Created On: March 27th 2005
Updated On: June 19th 2005

Go here to read this tutorial in Russian.

The basic electron microscope material is a deceptively easy material to make, I've used it now and again, such as in my Spore I image. Michael Spaw has done some spectacular work in the area, well worth checking out. Since I've had a number of email requests, here's a tutorial on how you may wish to go about making your own electron microscope material. My example is done in 3dsmax, but the theory can be used inside any 3d package.

The basic ingredients are as follows:

Here's a reference pic to show the effect...


This image is from the Rippel Electron Microscope Facility.

And here's the material I created...

Figure 1

First off, Self illumination is set to 75%, so it's mostly self illuminated, but will accept some minor lighting from max lights.

Next, a falloff is placed in the color, set to perpendicular/parallel, with dark grey and white. I also manipulated the Mix Curve underneath to achieve the exact balance of white and grey I was after.

Figure 2

And last, I place a noise in the bump slot. This is just the most basic of noises, for your work I highly recommend mixing several noises with a mix map, or perhaps using some other more interesting procedural noises like the ones that ship with Darktree for example.

Figure 3

Here's a max file that made the image above, max5: microscope_materials.zip

Another thing to try is adding some ambient occlusion to your image. Someone asked about achieving the following look...


Go here for the original picture, this is beer yeast.

Here's an image of something similar. It uses a variation of the material above, is shot from above with a single omnidirectional light just to the right of the camera.

Without Occlusion

And here's the same image, this time with the omnidirectional light off, and skylight (which includes ambient occlusion) turned on. Notice the nice depth you get with further objects getting darker, whereas the first image is kinda flat. (Note, to get more of the skylit effect, your material should have a lower self illumination value, for this image I used a self illumination value of 40%)

With Occlusion

And here's a combination of the omnidirectional light and the skylight, to get general darkening and also some directionality to the light.

With Occlusion and Point Light

Add a shadow to the omnidirectional light for even more darkening (in this case, I added a very soft shadowmap). This is gets you something much closer to the reference image than just an omnidirectional light or skylight alone.

With Occlusion and Point Light and Shadows

Here's a list of some really good microscope image reference sites. Remember, look at the real thing, and then tweak this technique to match your reference as well as your own personal taste.

Some other things try try, adding color to the image (see the links above for some examples of color images) and also, the more complex your geometry is, the more interesting your material will look, so I highly recommend placing it on models more complex than spheres. :)

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