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Cafe Ceiling: Creating Complex Materials in Substance Designer

Alex Beddows shared his approach to recreating a cafe ceiling with a complex pattern, talked about planning such a project, shared his workflow with the Curve Draw Node by Ilya Kuzmichev and gave some tips on presentation. 


Hey, guys, my name is Alex Beddows, I am a Lead Artist at Dekogon, and I have recently started at ArtStation as the 3D learning content manager. Previously, working as a Principle Artist at Live 5 Gaming, I have also worked in multiple domains of gaming such as AR, VR, Mobile, iGaming, and indie. I think this kind of broad experience has really shaped who I am as an artist, rounding me out and allowing me to have a broad understanding of different aspects of the games and the 3D industry. This, in combination with the fact I host the GDD Podcast, has contributed to me wanting to further develop my understanding and thought process when tackling anything within a creative landscape.


This material kind of came out of the blue for me, I was in the middle of my Exploration materials series, and Jasmin Habezai-Fekri posted these 2 photos on her Instagram stories, and they just grabbed me, and I knew I wanted to make these materials. ( I wasn’t that out of the blue rude, we were speaking previously). I also like these kinds of architectural materials so to try my hand at something ornate made for an interesting change of pace.

As soon as I decided I was going to tackle this, I knew it would be compared to the fantastic Baroque Ceiling material Jonathan Benainous had created, I am the type of person to be inspired by the kind of bar that sets, not intimidated. Although I’d call his material timeless, at this point, I am still thrilled with how this one turned out.

Planning the Project

So, planning this material out I actually found pretty easy, it is a very linier and easy to break up, also, it is essentially only a quarter of a material I am making since I can mirror horizontally and then vertically. The first step for me was blocking the main areas in and then using a bevel and curve node to draw the rough bevel profile in and determining proportions for the different areas. Each ‘layer’ of bevels I knew would be where I placed a decorative trim, so the type of profile I used was key since some trims I wanted to curve, and some I wanted to sit completely flat.

I broke the material into 5 areas:

  • Centre Octogon
  • Griffin area
  • Small squared flowers
  • Corner Diamonds
  • Raised knots

Once the key areas were decided, it was the case of planning what trims I needed and systematically placing and blending the trims into the original shapes, and this brings me onto what made the project possible, the Curve Draw node. 

Using the Curve Draw Node by Ilya Kuzmichev

So, this node, Curve draw by Ilya Kuzmichev is some witchcraft, it has made what would be a nightmare section on a lot of my projects VERY easy. Any SD artist, I seriously recommend this node, it can make extremely tedious tasks very quick and iterative.

The way I used it mostly was plugging my trim into it, and placing exactly where I needed, placing them on top of the bevels precisely. I can control how much the pattern will tile, thickness, and how rounded corners are, it gives me all the tools I need to create the complex and annoying shapes that were a part of this material, but more importantly, the pattern flows around the corners, there are no breaks, which really helped not break the illusion of the material.

I also got asked frequently about the swirl I made, so placement wise, I used the above technique of curve draw to place it. But creating was relativity simple, I use the curve draw node to create a rough wave, masked the sides off, so it was a segment, then mirrored and height blended together, then the curve draw node does all the rest for me regarding tiling.

This whole project, from day one, I was pretty comfortable with and had figured out….apart from one bit, the griffins. I ended up using the curve draw node to put together shapes that kind of made up the Griffen, I know it isn’t the most elegant solution however this curve draw node made things so quick and easy that it seemed silly not to use it.


Moving onto the presentation, this was actually a bit more of a challenge than usual. Most of my materials have a straightforward process, nice fill light, a couple of key lights of complementary colors, and a neutral rim light…but for this material, that was a lot harder for multiple reasons.

With it being such complex material, I had lots of elements I wanted to show off, however, I wanted a uniform light set up that worked across all of them, so people could see the material elements like for like. Also, I have so much metallic in the material, it was very easy to wash my renders out with bloom and reflections, so that was also a balancing act. Lastly, with all the micro-detail within this piece I couldn’t be so dramatic with the lighting, there was little eye rest within the texture, so I couldn’t really afford to introduce another visual component that would distract from the material.

When studying Jonathan Benainous materials, I noticed the renders were not on planes, but rounded surfaces, this actually really helped me sculpt the lighting and use the surface to my advantage when juggling the metallic reflections. I also borrowed the clay style render him and Josh Lynch use a lot, it helps to see some of the micro-detail that gets lost in the roughness, metallic, and albedo.

Mindset on Complex Objects

These types of materials are a matter of mindset, I know they seem intimidating but, for me, the scary materials are the incredible organic types, not the man-made architecture types. I can look at this and visually break it down into small components, and it is a matter of adding and subtracting shapes. The organic stuff is hidden and incredibly difficult to reverse engineer. For these types of materials, there isn’t a lot of resources out there, the best one I can think of is Jonathan's breakdown on his Baroque ceiling, and the Substance Masters material James Ritossa made. 

Alex Beddows, Principal Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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