Bulk up your motion graphics library with one-of-a-kind textures from the natural world using a few tips on what to look for.

I have a disk drive bursting at the seams with textures and images I frequently use within my motion graphics and VFX. I use them for displacement maps, motion backgrounds, composite elements, or simply to give my solid colors some character. You would be surprised at how often a few texture JPEGs can change the dynamic of a tedious animation.

Given that every creative outlet seemingly gives away textures for free, you might wonder why I would go through the process of acquiring my own. Well, exactly for that reason. Quite like how everyone was using VideoCopilot freebies in the late 2000s, I often feel like I see the same textures, especially when it comes to motion background textures.

Well, with summer right around the corner, I’m sure many of you may be heading to the beach if you live local to one, or at least spending a vacation near a body of water. While I don’t recommend upsetting your family by bringing your work with you on holiday, if you happen to already have a camera with you, why not be on the lookout for textures you wouldn’t usually find back home?

While your first thought may drift towards taking snapshots of sand, let’s take a look at a few not-so-obvious examples.

Shipwreck Remains

The initial thought of having a washed-up boat or ship on your sandy beach paints a detrimental picture of an otherwise serene location. However, when the wrecked vessel is an old wooden ship, it creates an aesthetic that’s hard to find elsewhere. There’s an old shipwreck at one of my favorite Welsh beaches, and the skeletal remains are an integral part of the beach’s landscape.

Wooden Shipwreck on a Sandy Beach
Image by Leighton Collins.

However, while the ship’s skeleton makes for an exciting landscape, up close, the rotted-wood-turned-biodiversity-area makes for a fascinating texture.  Wood that is rotted to the core, overgrown with moss, and aged by decades creates a texture you can’t find elsewhere. And, it would likely make for an excellent displacement map.

Moss and Saltwater Damage on Wood
Image by Artic_photo.

Of course, make sure you only approach the abandoned vessel if it’s safe to do so. In my town, we have an old harbor with several boats that did not sail the seas again; however, you would have to cross quicksand to approach them.

Rusted By Seawater

While the old skeletal remains of a wooden ship may add elegant beauty to the seascape, heaps of rusted metal do not have the same kind of grace. However, they are equally great for obtaining texture snaps.

Rusted Shipwreck on the Shore
Image by Lukas Bischoff Photograph.

Ships constructed from metal and then shipwrecked will rust significantly due to overexposure to saltwater, whether from the tide or the sea spray. As such, the rust formation is going to be different than the rust you’ll find on the side of your garage. The deep grooves and acidic like erosion can somewhat mimic the look of scarred skin, making these perfect for texture snaps.

Image by Johnny Habell.

If your location doesn’t have a shipwreck ( and I mean, it’s unlikely), you can also look for a rainwater drain pipe that will likely have similar erosion.

Rusted Pipes on the Shore
Image by kailim.

If the drain/sewage pipe leads directly into the sea and is in contact with the tide, there will also likely be a buildup of moss and seaweed on the pipe, further adding to the sporadic nature of the texture.

Natural Mossy Growth
Image by gunungkawi.

The formation of the green sea moss on the rusted metal creates a contrast between two elements not often found elsewhere, and as a result, allows you to compose unique designs. For example, in the image below, I’ve applied the CC sphere in After Effects and placed a space background image behind the moss texture. We instantly have a planet that looks different from most planetary designs in media. An overgrown world with a charred desert at its center, land at your own peril!

Rock Pools At Low Tide

There’s an inherent difference between photographing a wet rock at the national park versus a rock that has been soaked from the outgoing tide. Due to coastal erosion and the forever changing environment, rocks are usually a lot softer than what you would find near the mountains, and as a result, their textures are different. Smooth, but still worn and cracked from the various damage over the years.

Rocky Beach Covered by a Flowing Tide
Image by Helen Hotson.

Additionally, they’ll also be home to marine life, adding further variety to possible texture acquirement. Most of the rock pools local to me host a speckled decoration of limpets and sea moss alike.

Running from the planet idea of the moss texture, we can quickly give our alien planet an orbiting moon with a unique rocky texture.

Perhaps we should have titled this article, Unique Textures To Capture At The Beach To Turn Into Planets?

Unique Angles

Before telling you what this texture is, I want you to try and work it out for yourself.

Any ideas? Well,  I took this at 70mm and about 150ft up from sea level. When I look at this image, it often confuses my mind about what I’m looking at because of the angle of view. This image encompasses about 300ft of the coastal floor, but it also looks like it could be a close-up of a rock.

This is the beach from a different angle. In the original photo, I was where the red dot is, photographing directly downward. The first recommendations require you to get up and close to the texture; however, if your coastline has a sprawling array of cliffs, you might be able to find textures from high above that are not always visible to the everyday walker, and as a result, allow you to obtain textures that nobody else likely has.

Whatever the case, I find obtaining these textures useful for the off chance I’m working on a matte painting. Creating something that looks alien can be challenging. In fact, it might be one of my pet hates that whenever we see an alien world in film, it usually has the core properties of the earth. However, when you start to compile textures that seemingly look odd to look at, you might be on the way to create something truly alien.

These are just a handful of ideas and ideas that are localized to me, as I have these elements on my doorstep. But no two locations are the same, so you may find yourself obtaining even greater textures than the ideas listed above. If you have any suggestions that also aren’t as obvious, let us know in the comments.

Cover image by Helen Hotson.

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