Guide to Normals

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We recently published a new tutorial on Scene Relighting using a cool plug-in called Normality (FREE) and so I wanted to gather helpful information on the subject for people who are excited like me.

Like many of you, when I first saw Normality about 3 years ago , the gears in my head started turning with amazing possibilities. However back then, it was not a free plug-in until about 6 months ago when he decided to offer this great tool to the world! This got me excited and this was actually the subject of my presentation in LA as a way to help spread the word.

Normality uses special Normal maps to relate the 3D surface info to After Effects for adding lights and even reflections. Here are a few resources on exporting and generating Normal Maps but be sure to watch our tutorial first, to get acquainted.

Stefan, the developer also posted feature-rich tutorial a couple months ago.
Part 1 & Part 2 (High-Def Youtube)

Exporting Normal Map from 3D Software:
Cinema 4D & Modo plus a quick AE demo with normality. Good stuff!
Cinema 4D Materia
l (works with anti-aliasing)
Maya Normal Maps
3D Max Normal Maps with Script
(Our tutorial also includes export info for 3d Max)
New Blender Process ( TwentyFourBecks)

Normal Map Generating Software:
One of the cool things about Normality is you don’t need a 3D program to do some impressive relighting, you can actually use photographic textures!

Smart Normal Map (Free AE Plug-in CS4+)
($99.00 PC, very intelligent processing!)
Normal Generator OS X (Free)
Nvidia Normal App Win (Free)
Nvidia App Photoshop (Free)
Shadermap ($20 PC)
Enhancing Normal Maps Tutorial @

More exciting concepts:

I noticed a few people confusing the idea of UV texture re-mapping and Normal Map re-lighting so I wanted to make sure people understand both concepts and possibly how they can be used together. In a 3D nut shell, UV Mapping allows texture replacing and Normal Maps allow 3D re-lighting.

Mylenium published a very detailed outline of UV map integration with a plug-in called RE:Map that allows After Effects to adjust texture positions.

Maltaannon demystified this concept and also created a very clever preset called “Youveelizer” ($29 CS4 Only) that also uses UV passes to adjust the bitmap textures of a 3D render in AE.

The Re:VisionFX plug-in Re:Map costs a bit more at $149.95 although it does work with earlier versions of After Effects.

I would hope people appreciate how much work Stefan has put into Normality over the years and especially now as a free tool for the community. Also, if you know of some applications or tutorials for working with Normals or related stuff, please share them, I’ll update the list if I think it’s good!

11 years ago
8 years ago
Wonderful information! I thought I would post a method of generating normal map images from Softimage (2013, but should work with prior versions)...
I have images of the menus, but I can't post them here. If you want them, just let me know.
1. model and texture your scene as you normally would in Softimage.
2. Just prior to rendering, take your render pass and add a new render channel.
3. Select "Normal" as the channel
4. The default normal channel render is in ".nt" format so you will need to change this
5. Select the normal render pass and select "edit"
6. in the pass render dialog, change the output format to .pic (Softimage image format)
7. Now, when you render, two output files will be created, per frame. The "Main" image and a "Normal" image. They will have the quoted text in their file names.

That is all there is to it. You won't find this in the Softimage documentation. I have tested the final rendered files with Normality, in After Effects, and it works great!. After Effects reads Sofimage image files (.pic) without any plugin so that is a bonus. You won't be able to see the normals image file till you import them into After Effects. They are not displayed when they are rendered in Softimage. You actually get no feedback at all from the render UI (I am using the default render, Mentalray).

I hope you, and your readers find this info useful. I know it is somewhat old, but still relevant to all we do. Thanks again for your wonderful tutorials.
9 years ago
Just want to throw out there for future readers,

there is a free beta test Mac version of CrazyBump available at:

It's been around for about a year, I think.

And, since this is my first Video Copilot post, thank you Andrew Kramer and the VC team! Not long ago, After Effects was just a foreign world of much-hyped possibility. But after dozens of tutorials (many from your site) and many a-long nights, I feel right at home and use it daily. Tonight, I'm elbow deep in normal mapping!
John D
10 years ago
I loved being introduced to Normality. I've been racking my brain trying to figure out a way to avoid using .exr and .rpf formats for getting a "clean" anti-aliased normal map. At first I set up positive and negative red, green, and blue lights which worked great, but in 3ds max 2011 a "Normals Make Normal" shader in MetaSL section renders a normals pass extremely fast and anti-aliased. I just put it in a standard material's diffuse channel with the diffuse and ambient color set to white, set the channel amount to 50, then set the self-illumination to 100. If you put that material in the "Material Override" in the "Processing" tab in the "Render Setup" you have a super fast normal pass.
10 years ago
where is the tutorial? where is the Scene Relighting tutorial?.... erased?
10 years ago
oh my god where's the tutorial gone????
Evan Langley
11 years ago
As Normality doesn't support CS5, does anyone have suggestions for a replacement? I'm really sad that I can't use normals any more :(

I'll be reinstalling my CS3 probably just for Normality. Curse you Adobe!
    8 years ago
    Normality does work in CS6. I had to manually put the normality plugin file in the default plug-in directory for AE. Try it with CS5 it should work.
11 years ago
There is a great plug in for Photoshop called filter forge. its mostly a tool for creating filters and some cool textures. It does is create diffuse, gray scale, and normal maps for the texture you create.

I designed a few textures that could look great on Text, Ill run it thru After effects and see how it goes.
11 years ago
I created a free normal map generator for Pixel Bender here:
11 years ago
ey Andrew i wanted to download Normality but when i try it says download dose not exist! pls help
11 years ago
andrew what's up?

listen, I get a free trial of after effects cs4 and i dont know how turn it on it's stupid Im going to my computer's technician because that an awesome program ( i had AE7) and i want to buy it but if it isn't working i will pay for nothing?

halp me andrew!!! ( i not from usa so excuse me if there is some write problams)

you're rocks!
Godfrey Meyer
11 years ago
The image gets distorted in NMG on osx.. weaksauce
11 years ago
Hey Andrew, I already used Normality few months ago together with RLA format for re-lighting extensive 3D scene in music video I created.
Scene was created in 3D Max and postprocess was done in AE where I added timelapse like lighting and jerky flashes. Whole movie could be seen on youtube (sorry for the quality)
11 years ago
Andrew, can you please open up your own Post Production College so we can learn from the genius himself... he he he. You are too much!
11 years ago
What if there was a way to colorize the film footage to make it look like a normal map and then use that as a reference for the plug in? Similar to making it look negative but instead using values that turn it into a Normal map?
11 years ago
Do you know this plugin ZbornToy?

Check it out:

"The ZbornToy has the ability to extract a maximum of information out of simple depth images and allows you to not only light and texture them, but to refract backgrounds, cast caustic reflection back onto the background and a whole lot more."

It seams to be cool.
11 years ago
wow~Andew,It's so cool!
11 years ago
Hey Andrew, I was using the NRM program for Mac OS X and whenever I save the image comes out scrunched towards the bottom of the image file. Is there another Mac OS X normal map generator that you know of?
11 years ago
You can get normal maps and z-depth maps from Carrara 7 Pro by simply adding them in the Multi-pass box in the Output tab when rendering.
11 years ago
Hi Andrew ;)

I am french so i am sorry for my english ;)
Thanks for sharing with us awesome tips & tricks on AE.

You said : "Also, if you know of some applications or tutorials for working with Normals or related stuff, please share them, I’ll update the list if I think it’s good! " :)

So, I use this amazing plugins to create quickly an ICE EFFECT :

Like I said it was made quickly, and i post this idea for people who want to experiment the plugin.

I'll probably make a tutorial on this idea on my website, but if you want to do it, of course I will let you do and I am sure you'll find how make this idea better with more cool, fun and amazing :)
11 years ago
yes thats where i take the idea,the colored ligths is an oversimlification ,so an actor can be recorded .
11 years ago
@joselo: That's certainly possible, but I haven't heard or seen it done on a large scale outside the academic field.

You might want to check this out:
11 years ago
sorry me again.
what i mean was is that a possible way of capturing normal maps of an actor?

not very good. awesome really.

11 years ago
this is my first post,i thank you for your work.really inspirational.
i have one question. can you take a pseudo normalmap of sam by lighting him with colored sources , you now.
top green difuce ligth,side red ,camera blue.
my regards
11 years ago
I did a couple tests using Smart Normal Map and Normality on some video footage. Looks pretty cool as an fx. I will play around with it some more and upload a sample to my website.
11 years ago

I think this link here might be interesting to you, because its about what you just said:
11 years ago
it would be crazy if a hollywood camera can actually generate the real life normals while filming so that the scene can be relit in AE...that would be just CRAZY MIND BLOWING
11 years ago
thanks a lot! i never thought about normal maps, because i didn't know how to use them. i have so many great ideas now based on the "water blob family".

keep it up.

btw, are you still working on this action essentials test movie ??

11 years ago
can you apply the normal relighting to keyed footage? Like a person?
Barry Brimley
11 years ago
Hey Andrew. I was wonder if there are any alternatives to Normality for people using After Effects 7? Unfortunately we're not all able to purchase new software. I understand CS3 isn't that new, but you know what I mean. I'm poor damn it! :-(

Haha. Great tutorial though. I loved it so much I felt like asking the above question!
11 years ago
Very cool. We can use this in the "85. The Ring" kind of logo treatments and enhance it I guess.

Also, is this what is called as 2.5D lighting as they do in Nuke ?
11 years ago
My blog has been updated and the final Blend files are up!

Be sure to check out my Blog if you're using Blender (click on my nickname)


you might want to have a look at the result too :)

It's quick and easy.
11 years ago
very useful information thanks ;)
11 years ago
Not very Good!
11 years ago
waiting for your quickmatte tutorial....
11 years ago
Mudbox 2010 has a plugin by 3d guy Wayne Robson that automates the process of all passes needed into Afterfx for use with normality.
11 years ago
'Your the best around...
nothings gonna ever keep down'.
11 years ago
For generating normal maps out of images (photos, heightmaps and such) you can also use a free app called xNormal (Windows-only, though).

I personally prefer it over CrazyBump.
11 years ago
Hey Andrew great post here but 2 questions though...

1. Why wanna press on normal maps when u can render them in multiply passes in ur 3d application?
2. Is it any different from MaltaAnnon's youvilizer preset in AE?I've been following him and it gives cool results(makes AE a little 3D application indeed)
11 years ago
now the only thing left is talking about motion vector pass
for adding motion blur via after effects
using the very cool plugin
ReVision ReelSmart Motion Blur
PablichZZ (Argentina)
11 years ago
You´re AWESOME Andrew!!

Did you know that?
11 years ago
Hi!Andrew kramer Normality is really Cool plug-in. we can make 3d Text in 3d program and create Cool realistic effect and we also create maya fluid effects in after effect now! I thing so
11 years ago
Thanks Andrew, I'll take a look.
Andrew Larson
11 years ago
something else to think about is using the OpenEXR format for exporting your normal map, ambient occlusion, and flat diffuse map. It also includes the alpha channel and dose not have the anti-aliasing problem. might be worth having an updated tutorial for using OpenEXR.
SkyFall Productions
11 years ago
Thank you SO MUCH for posting links to the Normal generators, I was having difficulty finding one for Mac OSX.
11 years ago
Well, I would put that into Tips & Tricks, useful enough!
11 years ago
You Scrooge!
11 years ago
It was a pay product back then...
11 years ago
To all Blender Users:

I just have declared the article on my blog as a WIP since there seem to be many ways to achieve a correct normal pass in Blender.

Every version seems to be useful, and you'll definitely find one that suits your needs. Nonetheless, we're still searching for a final and accurate solution.

Be sure to stay tuned. Thank you.

Alan Tonn
11 years ago
WHAT? you have been sitting on this Normal Mapping thing for 2 YEARS? What have you been waiting for... ( JK ) :)

Great stuff Andrew, can't wait to start using some of this stuff!
11 years ago
Hm, i think another option, especially for the guys and gals into GameDevelopement, but also for everyone else looking for a quick and easy way to create (procedural) Textures for 3D / AE (of Course including NormalMaps) is MapZone, which is free in the basic Version and can be found here:

It is a nodebased, completely procedural Texture Generator (i dont know if you can Import imagefiles, but its GREAT for creating Textures on the fly, once you got used to it, especially tileable textures are generated fast and easy!) And sicne its procedural, you can basically upscale your TextureMap Resolution ANYTIME without loss of definition or blurring.

Ive seen some really cool stuff made using this application, just browse the gallery on the site!

And since the BasicVersion is free, i think its worth to check out and maybe add it to your arsenal.
11 years ago

Thanks for that, I've been trying to figure this one out in Blender since I saw this tutorial!
Ben Wotton
11 years ago
Cool post Andrew, very helpful.

You haven'y by any chance discovered a way to do it in DAZ studio have you? DAZ is the free version of Smith micro's Poser.
11 years ago
Thanks for the link to the Blender tutorial Andrew you are a life saver!
11 years ago
If you'd like a free texture replacing plugin, and don't mind a low number of features, I developed a simple one just for the task, called YY_UVmapper (CS4 only I'm afraid)
11 years ago
Hey Andrew,

what about the Shape normals - Plugin made also by
Re:vision ?
It is reacting quite nicely to one or multiple lights!
The full version is only € 89.95.
Greetings fron Berlin

11 years ago
Hey Andrew,

I just finished writing a tutorial on how to render a Normal Pass out of Blender and how to tweak/fix it so it will match with Normality.

A Blend-file can also be found at the bottom of the tutorial.

Hope this will be useful.


11 years ago
You're the best!!!! keep going like this.
Best Regards From Colombia...
11 years ago
Hey Andrew i want ot know if you can create a normal map out of a video is that possible? i have scene in my movie where 2 people are in a cave and are using flashlights to look around but the flashlights we had arent very strong so any help here? is it possible to make videos normal maps?
11 years ago
I just watched the tutorial an hour ago and just want to thank you for it. I will be using normals in almost every project I do from now on because of the way it just helps to integrate the light and the element in the scene.

And thanks again for the links!
11 years ago
...really very good.
11 years ago
Thanks for the tuts and info! :D
11 years ago
not very good...
11 years ago
Thanks for the post!
11 years ago
Good post.
Jens Christian
11 years ago
It sounds like there are a lot of possibilities in that normality-plugin :)
11 years ago
You could use these tools in the future 3dsMax tutorials and show some tricks and tips when bringing the stuff in to AE. Keep up the awesome work, and can't wait for QuickMatte!
11 years ago
What about mapping in 3d compositing programs like Combustion and stuff?
anthony breslin
11 years ago
Thanks for this Andrew, I think its great that you go the extra mile with this stuff!!
Diego G.
11 years ago
Good! I think I'll try the "Smart Normal Map (Free AE Plug-in CS4+)"
11 years ago
First a jam-packed tut and now a jam-packed blog post.
Thanks Andrew (and Stefan).