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How to Texture Mouth-Watering Black Forest Cake

Maggie Chang showed how she created her delicious Black Forest Cake, explained how to arrange assets to make the image "full", and shared why she thinks texturing a cake is like being a pastry chef.

Hello! My name is Maggie Chang, I’m a 3D generalist, focusing on modeling, texturing, and look development. I welcome you to indulge in my dessert scene!  

The original purpose of this piece is to challenge myself to make a scene of food. I desired to explore different materials in texture, and food was a brand-new area for me. I remember I went to the ZBrush Summit last year and noticed an artist called Patrick4D. He is a fantastic cook in 3D. And that became a motivation for me to make 3D food. 

I've always been a fan of desserts. I remember when I was a kid, almost every local bakery store in Hong Kong sold this Black Forest cake. I then began digging into the origin of the Black Forest cake, which was invented in Germany. I always love to include some cultural aspects and storytelling in the piece. 

This piece is a feast of German Black Forest cake, four types of cookies, checkerboard, Linzer, gingerbread, a Lebkuchen cookie, and German coffee. I imagined that a German grandma would prepare a tea party with her friends. Every element in the scene is related to German culture. The cake was originally from a place in Germany called Baden-Württemberg, the types of cookies are often eaten in German households, and the rum coffee called Pharisaer Kaffee is a national drink of North Frisia.


In this piece, Grandma's Tea Party, I wanted to present a food photograph look. First, I made my camera focal length 85mm as how the photographers shoot food. Most of the desserts are shot vertically so the food is more compressed to make the image full. I wanted the piece to also have a forest picnic kind of vibe, so I added some plants like the branch, rosemary, nuts, and some flowers to enhance that natural atmosphere. 

There are a couple of factors that made the elements lead the eye to the center focus of the cake. First is the directional object towards the cake, for example, there are elements like the tree branch and the chair that are pointed to the cake from the top. The cookie and the slice of cake are also pointed to the center. 

Another main factor is to create an S-shaped curve. Everything is linked to each other not only to drag the eye to the cake but also to give a flow to the image and make it interesting. I also placed small objects like cherries, nuts, flowers, rosemary, and cookies all around the scene to support the main elements in the scene, it also helps to give a scale.

Modeling and Sculpting

The cake is the main subject of the scene. And the cake has a lot of elements on it. It has cream with cherry on top, a pile of chocolate flakes, and rosemary on top, and the cake itself is sitting on top of the glass plate. 

The modeling of the cream and rosemary was heavily based on tutorials. For example, I learned to make the cream from the official Houdini YouTube channel:

The cream is a line with points driven in a swirl shape. I had another set of nodes to make the shape of the cake nozzle pipe and combined both with a sweep node to mimic the shape of the line that goes along the shape of the cake pipe to create the volume of the cream.

After I finished the base shape of the cream in Houdini, I brought the cream to ZBrush and made it fit better with the cherry on top. I added a little touch of a fork scraping on the cream to give it more liveness.

The chocolate flakes were also made in Houdini. I found out that these chocolate flakes look like wood fractures. So I fractured a box into wood chips using RBD destruction in Houdini. I put the chocolate flakes around the cake using the Spray Paint node to art direct areas I wanted them to copy on the cream.

Additionally, I piled up the chocolate flakes, smaller ones at the base and bigger ones on the top. I'd like to thank Dakota Smith and Rahul Gupta for their Houdini advice and help. 

The cake and the cream inside are sculpted in ZBrush. The main details on the cake are the variety of holes that give the cake a sponge texture. I used the surface noise in ZBrush and tweaked the values.

Then I used Mask by Noise to create noise on the geometry. Using Mask By Noise gives a base guide of how these holes are formed.

As you can see, adding some noise makes more natural holes than manually sculpting out every area. However, cake naturally has different sizes of holes, so I sculpted bigger and deeper areas to break the repetitive look.

I sculpted the cream outside using brushes like TrimDynamic and DamStandard. It creates a surface look of how the knife would go when the pastry chef layers the cream. I also chose to sculpt the cake and cream separately. There are two benefits to doing it. First, it will be easier to separate the layers between the cake and cream. Secondly, UVs and retopology would be much easier. 

I modeled the glass plate to understand how it works. I had to do the pattern backward. In real life, the top of the glass plate should be on a smooth surface, or else it is hard to wash the crumbles and chocolate flakes.

These are the front and back sides of the glass plate in the modeling stage. 

This is when I apply glass materials. Modeling the glass with a pattern requires the accuracy of topology because when it is smooth, the shape of the pattern cannot form properly and cannot be hidden due to its transparency. 

The cloth around the glass bowl and the kitchen towel is made in Marvelous Designer. Regarding the cloth, I brought the glass from Maya to Marvelous Designer and treated it as an avatar. Then I simulated the fabric around the bowl. It was a process of back and forth between Maya and Marvelous Designer to get the angle I wanted for the cloth to flow. 

Most of the models are custom-made for the scene. Only the branch on top and the little daisy flowers are from Quixel Megascans.


95% of the textures in the scene were done in Substance 3D Painter. Subsurface scattering is the first thing I turn on in the settings before I start texturing. This is because it dramatically changes how it looks while texturing. However, I don’t use subsurface scattering when putting the scene into Maya for rendering.

I am using the VRayFastSSS and VRayAISurface in Maya to give more flexibility in changing the value of how much I want the subsurface to be. So the subsurface scatter in Substance 3D Painter is only for preview purposes. Then, I create displacement noises for the cream to make it look like a knife cut through the cream.

The cake texturing is heavily based on the displacement map from ZBrush. This is why sculpting the sponge cake is crucial. After baking in the high-poly model from ZBrush to the low poly, I retopologized it in Maya inside Substance 3D Painter. After baking the displacement map from ZBrush, I created an ambient occlusion map to curvature out the holes that I sculpted in Substance 3D Painter. So when I added the grunge maps and noises on the cake, they appeared more obvious and detailed in Substance 3D Painter. 

Texturing a cake is like being a pastry chef. A lot of decoration references I saw were a chocolate glaze on top of the cake. So I added an extra layer of glaze only on the first layer of the cake. Another interesting factor is the top and bottom of the cake are slightly darker than the center. It makes sense in real life when the sponge cake comes out of the oven, the top and bottom are the closest to the heat. Additionally, I included some noises to the cake itself to give it smaller holes that I couldn’t sculpt. 

These are the layers that I made for the cake. A lot of them are stacking different grunge noises and generators. 

The color of the jam inside the cream has different variations. The more saturated color is layered between the cake, the cream, and around the cherries. In real life, a pastry chef tends to put the jam in so it gives more moisture to the cake. I used the Smudge brush on the lower saturation color to make it look like the knife was taken out of the cake. Layering the cherry jam inside the cake looks more mouthwatering and ties into the whole cake.

I also put some cake crumbles and chocolate flakes around the cream area. When the cake is cut through from the top, the knife will bring down these crumbles and flakes, and they will stick to the cream.

The coffee itself was extremely challenging for me. I made it entirely from scratch inside Substance 3D Painter. There are several areas I break down into texture: the coffee, the foam, the bubbles, and how they blend in between. I made the base of the coffee with a deeper tone of brown. The lighter color appears on the side of the cup and toward the middle of the foam. Following, the swirls around the coffee use a radial noise and some painting strokes to give a little variety. The radial shape is shorter towards the center.

I also added some cocoa powder on top of the foam so it looks more delicious. The foam appears in different sizes of bubbles. They tend to be bigger towards the cup, and there is a larger bubble in the center. 

The lace mat underneath the sliced cake was made in Substance 3D Sampler. I found an alpha map online and put it in Substance 3D Sampler, tweaked some parameters, and brought it back to Maya. 

These are the cookies I made. They are pretty simple: I textured the base of the cookie and added variations based on the type.

I have to give some credit to the kitchen towel. It is made using Substance 3D Sampler, Photoshop, and Substance 3D Painter. I first painted the pattern in Photoshop, then brought that PNG file to Substance 3D Sampler to make the embroidery flow according to the colors I painted. I brought all the patterns back in Substance 3D Painter to combine them. Finally, I added some custom sewing using the new tool, Paint Along Path. Funny enough, the kitchen towel was blurred due to the depth of field in compositing, which made my heart hurt.


I wanted the project to feel like food photography. One of the key factors is that the photographer tends to like to put food closer to the window so it looks extra delicious and gives off a natural vibe. I keep that in mind and try to make the scene feel like the window is open and the wind is blowing in. 

I had a directional light as my key light of where the sun is coming in. And I had an HDRI lighting for support. The rest of the lights are mostly supports for the subsurface scatter objects, like cookies, cake, coffee, cream, and ceramics. For scattering to work, it requires lighting to support it. The lighting process has to coordinate with the texturing side, and there is a lot of back and forth between.


After rendering, I composited the scene in Nuke with different AOV passes. The compositing side not only fixes the lighting and colors to make it delicious but also helps it to look like a photograph. I added depth of field in Nuke to give focus on the cake and blur on the back.

Furthermore, I included smoke effects on the coffee to make it feel like the coffee just came out of the steamer. Moreover, strengthening the specular passes helps to pop out objects more. Finally, adding a vignette effect also helps to let the eye go to the cake and brings the audience to the mood. 

Before going to compositing, I made sure that in the beauty pass, I did the best I could on the lighting and texturing in Maya. This helps to further push that pretty look in compositing inside Nuke.

This is the comparison between the beauty shot rendered without compositing and after compositing in Nuke. The one after compositing looks much more delicious and lively than the beauty rendered.


Throughout the project, I deeply thank Tran Ma and Miguel Ortega for their guidance, I learned a ton along the way. And I'd like to thank the amazing artists Dakota Smith, Fame Premjaicheun, Rahul Gupta, and Ken Kuroiwa for all their support and feedback.

You can reach me on Instagram, ArtStation, and Linkedln.

Maggie Chang, 3D Artist

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