maya sss on darker/african american skin


Hey everyone I’m working on a African American character and I was wondering if anyone has any tips for darker skin. I’m comfortable with the sss shader and have gotten great results on lighter toned characters. However I wasn’t sure what kind of color tones I should be aiming for on the subdermal and epidermal layer. I’ve tried using familiar settings as texturing lighter skin, using orangish hues in my subderm and reddish varation of my color map in the back scatter but the character usually ends up looking much much lighter than intended.

So I’m really just more or less curious on peoples expierence on using the sss for lighter and darker skin and any differences they have encoutnered between the two.

Thanks so much!


I have never made an African (black) person, but I did make a green elephant… using SSS. And the only attributes that I changed were diffuse and epidermal.

There can be quite a big difference in skin colour of an African person, ranging from relatively “light” colour to a very, very dark colour.

But anyway the only skin layers I would change would be diffuse and epidermal.

The diffuse, I would test to set the weight to under .300, to make the underlying layers show through better. I would make that layer/attribute a greyish brown colour. Relatively light (white). I’m thinking that the diffuse layer is the very top and very thin layer, that has no real skin colour.

The epidermal, I would like to think of as the skin layer. This is where I would put the skin map with the correct colour. About the weight for this layer, I am not really sure how much light very dark skin blocks out from the underlying layers. But anyway I would set the weight higher than light coloured skin.

The Subdermal layer, I think of as the flesh/muscle layer. So I would set that and the backscatter layer as I would for any character with “red flesh”. Orange and red.

It would be interesting to see if anyone else has any other ideas on how to set-up SSS for a black person.

Hope this helps!


Hey, thanks alot madart. I didn’t think of trying to set the diffuse to a very light color and setting the epid to my main color map. One of the problems I was encountering was having the dark skin with a higher weight on my diffuse, and losing my sss in result. I think by keeping that much lighter and balacing it with my darker epiderm layer I should bet able to find some better results.

thanks a bunch!


ah man…where was it that i read this? i wish i could remember so i could quote it.
anyway…the main idea was that both epidermal layers on whites and blacks have a greyish/blueish hue…and the colour variation lies on the subdermal level.

try a rough approach on this if you feel like it…i hope it helps. :slight_smile:


cool stage, sounds like it could def give an interesting result. I’ll let you know how it goes. thanks!


the main idea was that both epidermal layers on whites and blacks have a greyish/blueish hue…and the colour variation lies on the subdermal level.

I’m very interested to know where you read this. To me it doesn’t quite sound right. If you can find the source for this, I’d like to read it. I made a very quick test and to me it didn’t look right, but it was only a quick test.

I also made a quick test to make a very dark brown skin colour. I had to make the diffuse colour a dark desaturated brown. And with a lower weight. And the epidermal to “almost black”, a very dark, desaturated brown. And increase the weight.

The Subdermal I would still make orangy and decrease the weight.

I have tried this without maps, but this is what I would start with.


I tried the method as well, I ended up having to turn the subderm up so high to get color that the subderm sss effect just mad him look hallow.

Thats basically exactly how I’ve been doing it. I’ve tried all different methods and it seems like that having the extremely dark colors gives the best result, though I’m sure there is still the better way to approach it. Which on just a head it can look pretty good, but its still feeling weird on an entire body though it may be my lighting!


It could be the lighting or maybe the scale factor. Or the radius on the different layers.

It’s interesting you came to the same conclusion as me…


I agree its actually kind of funny, if I get a chance to post some pictures, you’ll see my diffuse and suberm almost exactly as you explained.

definitely interesting!


you’re gonna make me look really hard for that cause i am now dying to find it again…:argh:

In the meantime take a look at Max Kor’s epidermal layer colour palette on his night elf picture (post #238) …See how blueish it is? Even though the guy mentioned a light toned blueish/greyish map.
And Max Edwin used a pretty much desaturated (almost white) epidermal map for his Korean actress image…I am using these images as references cause of their very realistic result and by defining colour on the subdermal level…
damnit!! now you’re gonna make me run test renders too!!!:wip:


Thanks for finding it!

I have seen Max Kor’s work before. And I’m a great fan of his! :slight_smile:

But he does say in one of his posts #238: “if I’ll make her skin color more pale - she’ll look more human than a warcraft elf, and she has to be very violet”. The skin of his elf is totally amazing, the skin looks to be very fine sensitive skin. Quite thin and translucent, and I suppose that is the intention. And that I would think is why the epidermis layer is violet.

Maxedwin also made a really good looking skin. I think what you have to take into consideration is the weight and radius of all the layers. And what kind of skin you want to create.

I put the colour of the skin in the epidermis layer, because I think of that layer as the pigment layer and the subdermis layer as the flesh layer.

But this certainly has started me thinking of other options. Who knows, maybe I will have reevaluate my way of thinking. After all it is the result that counts.

If you use the subdermis as the pigment layer, you would have to have a lower weight setting to the top layers and a higher weight to the subdermis, so that it would actually show through. Right?

If any of you come up with some interesting results, I’d love to see them!


Hi there folks, I hope I can revive this conversation a bit even though it’s late. I stumbled upon this thread in my search for some of the same info.

In the testing I’ve done I’ve found that the color value (ie value from black to white in HSV) you give for any given SSS layer seems to have exactly the same effect as lowering the sss weight for that layer. For example: I’ve found that by taking sss maps that worked well for a caucasion character and simply adjusting the entire image to half the “brightness” I get the same result as I would get by reducing the SSS weights by half.

This seems inevitably problematic for doing really dark skinned characters, for the following reasons: In my research I’ve found that the epidermal layer of skin is where the pigment (melanin) is. Skin can range from almost black (due to very high concentrations of the dark brown pigment melanin) to nearly colorless (See this link: The link I just directed you to states that nearly colorless skin appears reddish white due to blood in the skin, however another sources states “The epidermis is avascular (contains no blood vessels) and is nourished by diffusion from the dermis” (see The maya documentation on the sss_fast_skin shader states that the subdermal sss layer is supposed to represent collectively all the layers that lie below the epidermal layer. I’ve found that the dermis is very distinct from the epidermis ( and so one would expect that the dermis, which contains the blood vessels of the skin is intended to be represented by the subdermal sss layer. However, I have a feeling that this is not the case, that in fact the dermis is intended to be represented in the epidermal layer, and that mental images has simply failed to mention this conflicting detail in the documention that we have. My suspisions are due to my observations of how the subdermal layer shows through, but I wont detail those here.

I’m getting off track… back to the topic - since the darkness of the color you use for a sss layer acts as the weight of that layer the result is that the darker you make the “pigment”, Ie - the epidermal layer of your skin the less influence it has, or rather - the more transluscient or trasparent it is, allowing the subdermal layer to show through more. To me this seems closer to the inverse of what one would expect. The first link I quoted states that black skin is a result of high concentrations of dark brown melanin - this suggests that light skin is a result of low concentrations of Lighter colored melanin. One would expect therefore that lighter skin has less influence or is more transluscient, and that darker skin has more influence because it is more opaque. But, when you increase the weight of the epidermal layer the effect is as though you had simply turned up the “value” (HSV) of the epidermal layer color, effectively turning your african character caucasion, when you’d expect the epidermal layer to take on a more lambertian effect instead. Personally I’d prefer if the color of the layer had no influence on the apparent weight. I kind of expect though that there are some deeper reasons for this, and I keep hoping that I’ll find the “intended” solution.

Right now it seems like the mr sss_fast_skin shader may have been optimized for lighter skinned characters, while the requirements for truly dark skinned characters may have been over-looked. Having said that, I have seen some black characters using sss that look good, but I expect the result is achieved by “cheating” (probably unknowingly), and personally it bugs me when I have to resort to that (though inevitably you have to somewhere or other).

I’ve a few options to explore still such as using the diffuse weight to effectively bring back the influence of the epidermal layer, and a few other things, but I’m out of time to write about those theories.

Anybody else have some thoughts to contribute?


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