Free tool Materialize converts photos to PBR materials
Bounding Box Software – aka game developer Mike Voeller – has released Materialize, a free tool for converting photographic images to PBR materials for use in game engines.
The software converts a source image sequentially into the texture maps required in a metallic/roughness PBR games workflow, and comes with shader packs for Unity and Unreal Engine.
A free alternative to tools like B2M, previously used in commercial game production
Materialize has been in development for some time – the demo videos on the Bounding Box Software website date back to 2015 – and was originally going to be a commercial product.
We aren’t sure how long the current beta has been available, but Voeller tweeted earlier this week that it was available free, at which point it began to spark interest on community websites.
While it isn’t as fully featured as those tools – Voeller says that he uses it “when I want to make something quickly, or … get a quick normal from height” – it has the advantage of being free for commercial work.
The software was used at Bluepoint Games during its work on Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, to generate the new texture maps required to update the environment materials from Uncharted 1 and 2.
As well as Bluepoint Games, Voeller has also worked at id Software and Raven Software, and is currently currently co-developing indie retro FPS title Prodeus.
Convert source photos to the texture maps required for modern PBR workflows
Materialize converts photographic source images to height, metallic and smoothness maps, which can then be used to generate normal, edge and occlusion maps.
Maps can be refined through a simple sider-based interface, with the option to mask out parts of the image by picking colours and adjusting the selection. The image can also be made to seamlessly tileable.
Common operations can also be automated using XML clipboard commands.
The results can be previewed in 3D in real time in the viewport, with the map assigned to a plane or cylinder; and there is a layer wipe effect to display the map side-by-side with the original source photo.
Once created, textures can be exported in a range of common image formats, including JPG, BMP, TIFF, TGA and PNG. Normal maps can be generated in 3ds Max or Maya’s default formats.
Materialize shader packs for Unity and Unreal Engine are available as separate downloads.
There isn’t any written documentation on Bounding Box Software’s website, but the video above shows the workflow in detail, albeit with an older build of the software.
Alternatively, GamesFromScratch.com has posted a video walkthrough that shows the current interface.
Availability and system requirements
Materialize is available for 64-bit Windows only. To install it, you’ll need to generate a licence key, which can be done for free via the download page.*
Don’t hold your breath for a Mac or Linux version: Voeller has tweeted that he has limited experience with either OS, but that he doesn’t think the external libraries used for saving images would be compatible.
Updated 26 October 2018: Materialize is now open source: Voeller has released the source code on GitHub under a GPL licence, partly with the hope that other devs can port the software to macOS or Linux.
*Full disclosure: I couldn’t actually get my licence key to work, so all of the information above is based on the videos embedded in the story. Judging by the feedback online, other people have been luckier.