Baking is a popular ‘technique’ to flat down your shading work into easy to use images (textures) that can be applied to your 3d models without any concerns with lighting calculation. This can help game development, online visualization, 3d printing, archiviz animations, and many other fields.

bake-koro

Koro, from Caminandes project, fully baked

Since last September I’ve been working part time for the Blender Foundation to help implementing game related features in Blender. So far I worked on bug fixes and a few nice features such as: improvements in the Triangulation Modifier, Photoshop PSD support and Walk Navigation System. Then comes December, and with it the possibility of tackling something new. We decided it was time to give baking a go.

Supported Maps

The Cycles renderer is based on physics based lighting calculations. That means the passes we can bake in Cycles are different than what you may be used to in the Blender Internal renderer.

Data Passes

  • Normal
  • UV
  • Diffuse/Glossy/Transmission/Subsurface/Emit Color

Light Passes

  • AO
  • Combined
  • Shadow
  • Diffuse/Glossy/Transmission/Subsurface/Emit Direct/Indirect

koro_AO

Koro Ambient Occlusion Bake Map

koro_COMBINED

Koro Combined Bake Map

The above maps illustrates Ambient Occlusion and Combined baking. Ambient Occlusion can be used to lit the game scene, while combined emulates what you get out of a full render of your object, which can be used in shadless engines.

The character baked here is Koro from the Caminandes project. Koro was gently made available as CC-by, so while I take no credits on the making of it, I did enjoy supporting their project and using Koro in my tests. Koro and all the other production files from Caminandes Gran Dillama are part of the uber cool USB customized card  you can buy to learn the nitty-gritty of their production, and to help supporting the project and the Blender Foundation.

Open Shading Language

Open Shading Language (OSL) is a shading language created and maintained by Sony Image Works and used by them in many blockbusters already (Amazing Spider Man, MIB III, Smurfs 2, …). It’s a great contribution from Sony to the industry, given that it was released in a permissive license, free to be implemented, and expanded by any interested party.

Blender was the first 3d package outside of Sony to officially support OSL, and since November 2012 we can use OSL in a “Script Node” to create custom shaders. Blender uses OSL via Cycles. The “Script Node” was implemented by Brecht, Lukas, Thomas and … me (:

Thus, with baking support in Cycles we get for “free” a way to store the shaders designed with it. In the following example you see the Node Cell Noise sample script from OpenShading.com. So even if your game engine has never heard of OSL, you can still benefit from it to make your textures and materials look more robust. How cool is that?

Open Shading Language Baking

Open Shading Language Baking

I Want to Try It

There are no official builds of this feature yet. However if you are familiar with git and building Blender, you can get it from my github repository. Clone the bake-cycles branch from the blender-git repository. Once you build you need to UV Unwrap the object you want to bake, select it and run the following script:

import bpy
bpy.ops.object.bake(type='COMBINED', is_save_external=True, filepath="/tmp/baked.png", width=512, height=512)

If you can’t build your own Blender get a build on GraphicAll.org. You can also follow my Blender Foundation Weekly Report to learn about the progress of this feature and to be informed on when the work will be ready and merged upstream in the official Blender repository.

Missing Bits

There is still more work ahead of this project. Cycles Baking is actually a small part of a big planned baking refactor in Blender, which includes Baking Maps and Cage support. We only decided for Cycles baking to be a start point because the idea was to use Cycles to validate the proposed refactor of the internal baking API.

That means Cycles Baking may or may not hit Blender on its own any soon. There are bugs to be fixed, loose ends to be tied, so it’s not that I’m spending time anxiously wondering about when this will land anyways (;

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Brecht van Lommel for all the help along this project, and the Blender Foundation for the work opportunity. I’m glad to be involved in a high impact project such as the Blender development.

Last but not least. If you work professionally with Blender and can benefit from features like this, consider donating to the Blender Foundation via the Development Fund page.

Best regards,
Dalai Felinto