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[Oblivion] Say Cheese: Making Paintings For Oblivion

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Or, how to make a painting to import as an Oblivion mesh.

Step 1: Obtain a good screenshot somewhere. Left as an exercise for the reader, but do yourself a favor and make sure the interface menus are off when you take it. Also if you plan to upload the screenshot you just took, do that before you go through this process, and if you want to keep the untouched shot, do all this on copies of your images.

Step 2: Gather your utilities. Since this is my way of doing it, this is what I needed: GIMP, Paint.NET, and the NormalMapsPlus plugin for Paint.NET, Nifskope.

Step 3: Find yourself two suitable painting meshes. I forget exactly which ones worked best for me, but you need one that does rectangles and one that does squares, and if you play your cards right you'll be able to use the same source imagine in both meshes.

Step 4: Open GIMP. Scale the image. You want to make sure the shape is rectangular. Something like 1024x512 or 512x256. Stock painting textures are 256x128. As long as the ratio is maintained you'll be fine, except that you can't use oddball sizes like 384 or 768. Oblivion will hate you for it. Also, if you're resizing something from a wide screen format, you'll need to make sure the chain next to the size input boxes is broken so it won't try and maintain the aspect ratio.

Step 5: With the image resized, go to Filter->Artistic->Oilify. For landscapes, a mask size of 6 seems to work best. For screenshots of people, try something smaller like 4 or you'll lose too much detail to even tell you have someone in frame. Don't mess with the exponent figure. If you don't like the result, undo and try again.

Step 6: Now you want it to look like it's been painted on a canvas. Go to Filter->Artistic->Apply Canvas. Bring the depth setting down to 1, otherwise you'll end up with something that looks like it got barfed onto burlap sacks.

Once you're satisfied, save your image and exit GIMP.

Open the updated image with Paint.NET.

Step 7: Go to File->Save as, and save the file as a DDS, DXT1 compression, generate mimpamps. Do this before touching anything.

Step 8: Go to Effects->Stylize->NormalMapsPlus. Move all of the sliders down to 0.05 and then click OK. Check the results. It should be somewhat subtle. If you get something that's extremely bumpy, go back to the menu and bring the sliders down some more. Otherwise you end up with a painting that has large indentations that look funny.

Once satisfied, go to File->Save as. Add a _n to the filename, save as DDS, DXT1 compression, generate mimpmaps.

If you've done this all right, you should have one texture called painting.dds and matching normal map called painting_n.dds.

Step 9: Generate copies of the two source nifs you're using for the paintings, with filenames that match up to what you're working with. So if you have painting.dds, name it paintingsquare.nif and paintingrectangle.nif. Each nif needs to point to the proper data path for where you're going to store painting.dds in the Data folder for the game. I'll leave how to handle that to you.

You've gone to a lot of trouble, it's time to go pop this into the CS and see how it looks. Good luck!

A bit of explanation may be in order for why this is being done in two different image editors. GIMP and Paint.NET both have good "Oilify" filters, but so far it seems only GIMP has the "canvas" filter. GIMP does have a normal maps plugin, but I find it has too many options and often generates crud that's hard to sort out. The Paint.NET normal maps plugin is fast, and about as straightforward as it gets. GIMP can also handle DDS files with the proper plugin, but I find Paint.NET's options for saving those a bit less messy. Which is why I switch programs midstream. If Paint.NET had the canvas filter, I'd cut GIMP out of the loop entirely because the guys behind it need to go back to UI Design 101.

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To repost my original GIMP-specific commentary on this:

Commentary for the curious, since I use a slightly different process:

1. As it happens, all of the middle and lower class frame meshes are configured to use 256x128 painting textures by default. Once you get out of those, anything goes, and check the source textures to be sure you're getting the right size. The Anvil castle stuff in particular is weird.

2. Hate the ginormous frames on the middle class paintings? You can fix that. In Nifskope, click the outer part of the frame and remove the branch that highlights. You can also resize the collision if you want, but for paintings it usually doesn't matter.

3. Instead of breaking proportion to rescale my widescreen images, which would look terrible with my resolution, I like to take cropped parts of my screenshots. Since I work with 512x256 painting textures, I make sure that my crop is some multiple of that (anything even, so long as the proportion is the same), then resize it down to 512x256.

For stuff that started out life as a non-widescreen image, things get a bit trickier. First, you go buy a widescreen monitor because this is 2009 almost 2010. Then, resize the image to 256 high, enlarge the image to be 512 wide, and use the selection tools and paint bucket to add colored borders to the image. In theory, picking a color in the midrange of what your painting uses will help prevent normal map issues later. Same technique works for making high resolution textures out of widescreen shots. 4. I use GIMP the whole way through. It works pretty much the same as with Paint.NET, only in Step 8, Go to Filters/Maps/Normalmaps, pick something like 4 sample at 4 scale, generate, and save as you would with Paint.NET. If you find that you have a lot of bumpiness, back it off and regenerate with a smaller scale. Save it like the man says, and go do your thing in Nifskope to change the texture. This should not be taken as an endorsement of the GIMP UI, because oh my god, but this way works a bit faster for me, so.

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