The role that Materials and Textures play in CGI

I once had a friend, who had asked me what the difference was, between a Texture, and a Material, in CGI. And as it was then, it’s difficult to provide a definitive answer which is true in all cases, because each graphics application framework, has a slightly different definition of what a material is.

What I had told my friend, was that in general, a material is a kind of node, which we can attach texture-images to, but that usually, the material allows the content-designer, additionally, to specify certain parameters, with which the textures are to be rendered. My friend next wanted to know what then, the difference was, between a material and a shader. And basically, when we use material nodes, we usually don’t code any shaders. But, if we did code a shader, then the logical place to tell our graphics application to load it, is as another parameter of the material. In fact, the subtle details of what a material does, are often defined by a shader of some sort, which the content designer doesn’t see.

But, materials will sometimes have a more-powerful GUI, which allows the content-designer to connect apparent nodes, which are shown in front of him visually, in order to decide how his texture images are to be combined, into the final appearance of a 3D model, and this GUI can go so far as to display Nodes, visible to the content-designer, that make this work easier.

My friend was not happy with this answer, because I had not defined what a material is, in a way that applies to ALL Graphics Applications. And the reason I did not, was the fact that each graphics application is slightly different in this regard.