Kat’s Toolbox : Knald

Now and then I try out new pieces of software to see how they can fit into my workflow. Most of the time this means that the wreckage of dozens of apps I’ve tried and discarded pile up in forgotten corners of my hard disk until I go after them in a fit of mad space reclaiming and delete them, usually along with a handful of files I really needed and have to spend the next few hours recovering.

Some of the time the new app makes its way into my toolbox, even sometimes gaining coveted space as an icon on my desktop or perhaps (hushed tones…) on my Rocket Dock. Thus, a hierarchy of tools forms – they know how much they are loved by where their icons live.

Knald is hovering in no-man’s-land at the moment. I like it, I really do, but it’s still in its open beta phase with no price announced, so at any moment the hammer may come down and it might turn out that I can’t afford it. That said, while I’ve got it, I’m using it.

What it does is fairly narrow, but it’s no worse for that because what it does do it does very well. It’s basically a tool for going from a height map to a normal map (or vice versa) with all of the number crunching done on your graphics card via OpenCL which means that you can lean on your hundreds of CUDA cores in your shiny new nVidia card to make playing around with your maps a real-time operation.

It can also do some cool extras like generating ambient occlusion, concavity and convexity maps from your original height or normal map. The ambient occlusion in particular is very useful for adding some dimensionality to a diffuse map to give the surface even more life.

KnaldUI

In the picture above I’ve fed Knald the height map from my previous tutorial Materials for Dummies and it’s made me a nice ambient occlusion map (along with a normal map that’s not shown). It’s also showing me a nice 3D preview so that I can see how things look as I fiddle with the sliders. The preview window in Knald makes use of Tesselation, a feature on current-gen 3D cards that converts normal maps into extra geometry detail. It’s not something SL is doing right now, so for the SL-compatible preview you need to slide the Tesseletion setting down to zero in the preview window.

Taking the ambient occlusion map from Knald and blending it with the original flat diffuse texture produces something that’s already got some feeling of depth to it – match this with a normal map in SL and you’re really going to be pushing some life into your surfaces.

KnaldNumPad

Knald is much cooler looking than xNormal, but nowhere near as powerful. It’s not made for someone who has high poly and low poly models and is using one to generate normals for the other; Knald’s all about your textures and doesn’t care too much about your models, but if you’re not a 3D modeller (or are taking a break to just make some nice textures for general use) it’s definitely useful.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have anything for the person bringing a few OBJ files to the party. Knald can load your models and calculate some ambient occlusion for them along with the existing texture functions.

KnaldUIDress

This kinda feels like a bit of an afterthought, though. Knald really just wants to make you some textures really quickly and then let you mix them up in Photoshop.

I’m using Knald for the moment, while it’s free. When the beta period ends I’ll give serious consideration to buying a license, depending on how much it costs. For now, though, it’s the best value you can get: free 🙂

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