Tutorial:ZBrush displacement maps in 3dsmax, metal ray

I already posted these settings last year on http://www.3dhype.com but the explanations are in Dutch. So on request I will post the settings for rendering ZBrush displacement maps in 3dsmax v8 with mental ray. As example I am going to use the test head from ZBrushCentral.

Download the test head

Import the test head and convert it to an EditablePoly, set the number of subdivisions for rendering at 2. You can also use a TurboSmooth or MeshSmooth modifier to get the same result.

Then apply a material to the mesh and add a displacement map. The UV coordinates are flipped in ZBrush set the V Tiling to -1.

The displacement map is positive and negative in ZBrush, 3dsmax has default only positive displacement. To solve this go to the Output panel of the displacement map and set the output curve to -1…1. (You can also use -0.5 … 0.5).

Set mental ray as renderer and check that the displacement is on. Default the edge length is set to 2. This however causes loss of detail. Set it to 0.5 this will subdivide the mesh to tiny triangles with an edge length of a halve pixel. Of course this will have impact on the rendering time but it results in the best displacement mapping results.

Now you can render the mesh.

Good luck.

This is the render for the test sword the same method was used.

This is the render for the troll.

Hi CvH,

Just wanted to pop in and say “thanks” … your info is helpful
and much appreciated :slight_smile:


This is a long awaited tutorial that I have tried several times to figure out myself. Simple, quick and worked everytime! I appreciate the time you have taken sharing this info!

Thanks man!
Upham :slight_smile:

This is great! Didn’t even have to wait for the Max pipeline…yay!

Thnx a bunch =)

If anybody is wondering, you can also use this technique with the Turbo Smooth and Mesh Smooth modifiers. You don’t have to use the NURMS subdivision that is built into your Editable Poly base mesh. This method would be useful for those who need displacement without sacrficing their stack and losing the functionality of such modifiers as Morpher and Skin.

Hope this helps somebody =)

Anybody has trouble with it let me know…

Yes the results are the same. I will edit the text in the tuturial.

jueves test 472skintexture.jpg
I resolve the question i asked at pm: was that the dispmap i exported in PSP file not TIFF, i exported again as TIFF and work fine.
Here is the example: the model is from zsphere 472 poly exported to show the wireframe to Silo and the render is in 3DMax Mental Ray.
ps: the value in this case was the default 100, all other parameters were the same you show for us.
This is the first time my setup at 3DMax wprk so fine. Thanks very much



Thanks so much for the tutorial… it really helps!


Thanks CvH.

I did this in 7 . It seems like the main different in the instructions between 7 and 8 is MR shadows and displacement has a smoothing check box in 8. I have 8 on another computer so I’ll give it a try later.

I have these little parallel lines in my render. I don’t know if they are part of the original model or something on my end. There are little artifacts on opposite sides of the lip but overall it looks good. I’d been using the displace modifier until now.


I was supprised to see you render, because I did the first test renders with 3dsmax v7.5. To check this I did some test renders. The artifact shows up in 3dsmax v7.0 but after V7.5 its is gone (it contains mental-ray v3.4 that solves the problem)





Here is my version 8 render. It still has some artifacts on opposite sides of the outer lip but the lines are radically reduced. I still see a few tiny lines on the shoulder but they are farther apart and very faint. Overall, 8 clears up alot of problems. I don’t know if anyone else has had the artifacts on the lip.

Thanks again, CvH.


Im the artifact also shows up in the render I made today. The lines you see are caused by the subdivision level. I don’t know what subdivision level they used to generate the displacement map. If you set the number of subdivisions to high 3dsmax will suffer memory problems.



Memory problems, I’ve been getting them ever since I started using the Displacement modifier in addition to MR and the SSS Shader. My next computer will have 8 GB of RAM. Lack of RAM is too much of a headache.

The artifact on the lip is caused if you set the output range of the displacement map to -1…1 and leave the output level of the map to 100. If you reduce it to 50% the artifact is gone. It is probably a numerical overflow.

If you have memory problems try using normal maps which are much more effecient. http://www.zbrushcentral.com/zbc/showthread.php?t=32119

CvH, the 50% displacement output level solved it completely.

I started using ZBrush bump maps just a couple of days ago but have yet to do a normal map. I’ll give your normal map tutorial a try tonight. That thread looks like an interesting read.

Your tutorials and help are greatly appreciated!

Is these setting are only for still image or i can use them for an animation ???
If its suppose to work with animation where i must put my skin modifier in the stack under or over my meshsmooth ?

Yes, it works with animation.
Your Mesh Smooth or Turbo Smooth modifier needs to go above your Skin modifier.