3D surfaces on a flat plane

Recently Iv been getting various articles showing how someone can create 3d images within a flat plane. Ive been trying to figure how these techniques are being made but Im running short on how they are creating them. Here are two examples I found that best show what I mean.

3d card
It seems to be made with a unity shader package

and on twitter a Japanese artist has done the same but for eyes on 3d characters.
3d Plane eyes
The artist even offers the shader for unity (which I cant use yet)

after seeing these examples Im really would love for someone to help me understand how this is being done, I would like to make some 3d cards for tabletop simulator or blender unity/ vrchat creations.
Does anyone here know how this is being made?

Not seen anything at that level, but the addon DecalMachine does use 2d planes to provide 3D details, so my guess is it revolves around normals and light paths.


Yes, this is most likely done via parallax, which is very easy to do in Unity. The Amplify Shader editor provides examples for a simple parallax effect (like the default one in Unity) and a more advanced stepped parallax. Parallax is in essence a UV offset along the normal that’s multiplied by a height map. That’s how different parts can seemingly recede further than others.

Parallax in cycles is a bit harder but has been done. This thread documented it, but seems to have been lost by the recent forum switch: https://blenderartists.org/forum/showthread.php?314083-Cycles-parallax-step-mapping-with-nodes

I’m uploading the cycles parallax blend file originally shared in that thread by Vsevolod Ochinskiy here.
DECALmachine uses the same node tree with permission.

cycles_parallax.blend (6.9 MB)

In a blender video about eevee some time towards the end of last year, it looked like parallax for eevee was on the roadmap as well.


One keyword to look up is light fields. Light field data provides a way to not only make pseudo-displacement or parallax effects but it allows true perspective change in “look behind objects” style. The bad thing about light fields is generating the data, although for 3D content it is relatively easy (render multiple viewports). The good thing is that light fields can be pretty nicely represented in UV ST images (think tiled sets of images). Light field shader then does a lookup into the texture based on view normal relative to surface normal direction.

I made a rudimentary light field material in Blender some time ago, I’ll try to find it again.

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I think method from answer here: How to make a holographic reticle shader in cycles should be exactly what you are looking for.

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So many great sources from you all, Thank you! I get the concept from these blends and will do some experiments in mixing them about to see if I can get something similar. Thank you all again :slight_smile: will report back when I get some good results.