Cosmic Experiments in Substance Designer 
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Cosmic Experiments in Substance Designer 
5 November, 2018
Environment Design

Bram Zwikker talked about his Cosmic Sky series made in Substance Designer, experiments with nodes and more.

Some time ago we’ve also talked to Bram Zwikker about his rocky environment made in UE4. Read the article here:

Stargazing: start of the Project

Recently, I’ve been working on multiple things both art-related and private-life/career stuff. One of them was a desert-themed material for which I wanted to make some sort of grain to add some detail to the sand. At one point, I blended 2 outputs together and the result resembled a starry sky. So I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make a sky full of starts within Substance Designer? Something space-related.’ I already wanted to learn more about the program so I thought if I use the software solution for something it’s totally not meant to be used for, wouldn’t it be fun to see what problems I’m going to face and how far I can push this? It will also be procedural so I can change anything at any time with just some sliders/settings. So with that in mind, I started a new project and began experimenting with different noises and nodes.

General Approach

I started off with experimenting with different nodes I never really used before. Since the main idea of the project was to do something different with Designer and learn more about it I wanted to see what effects those nodes gave me and how I could use them in this project. I also started with gathering lots of reference for what I wanted to make.

The fun thing with space (and the creation of art related to it) is that you will never get the same result which you have in your mind. Especially with Designer. You will get a bigger picture in which the details will always be a bit ‘random’. I really like this fact because you generate an infinite amount of variations.

Also, a lot of slopes and masking was used to create these skies. I first started with the main generation nodes and from there I tried to create a straight line of ‘stardust’.

Directional warps and custom warp nodes helped a lot in this project, but the pieces really started to come to life when I added color to them (which was also one of the most fun and tricky parts to do).

Key Nodes for Stars

‘Waveform 1’ node helped me a lot with this project, though I never used it before and always thought it was a bit random to have in Designer. I experimented with some other noises as well but this noise gave exactly the result I was looking for. From there I used a lot of Slopes together with Clamp, AutoLevels, Levels, and Blending.

Also ‘Dirt’ and ‘Clouds2’ helped a lot with making the stars for the background. In the end, I was basically making different parts of the piece and blending them together to form one final picture. This gave me more freedom when adding color since I could color a lot of individual pieces. Of course, at the same time, I was still making sure everything was connected correctly so the sky could be randomly generated without any weird mistakes happening.

Black Holes

While I was experimenting with different nodes I was also thinking about how I was going to tackle the task of creating a black hole twirl. To my surprise, there was literally a node called ‘Twist’ that gave exactly the effect I was looking for! So that node became an important node in the production of the big black hole. I tried to combine it with different nodes to get various and interesting results and see how far I could go with this. Masking also helped a lot together with colors. I tried to aim for a more fantasy/artistic look rather than a realistic black hole since it would be more interesting and I had more opportunities to experiment with different kinds of stuff in Designer.

The fun thing about the red black hole (shown at the start of this article) is that it wasn’t supposed to be a black hole. I wanted to create some kind of space rift, and it started as an experiment. But during the progress, I noticed that it slowly started to look more like a black hole. So I added the hole in the center and it already felt 10 times better! Like I said, It’s a fun thing to experiment and see where these experiments lead you to. You definitely learn a lot from it in an enjoyable and creative way!

Skybox Production for Games

I can’t say for sure if this approach can be used for game skyboxes production, but I would love to see if it is possible. I think there are better ways of doing it but who knows. Maybe I can try it out in one of my projects and it will definitely be interesting to see how far you can push Designer. I think the hardest part is going to be to make it really realistic and flawless since I tried to make mine more ‘painted/artistic’ like something you would normally make in Photoshop.


Throughout the development of these pieces, I slowly but surely started to create a pipeline for myself and get a feeling on how to make the things look nice and correct. And of course, some research and references helped a lot. I think these 2 are the most important points in the production of something alike: reference and experimentation.

There are so many things in space and so many possibilities, and in the future, I am planning to continue further experiments. I would personally love to see people taking inspiration from this project and making some neat space artwork.

Thanks to everyone who followed along! 🙂

If you found this article interesting, below we are listing a couple of related Unity Store Assets that may be useful for you.

Bram Zwikker, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev


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Iven V. Holt
Iven V. Holt

Love seeing people just play with stuff to push it into new territory!

Really cool project! It’s nice to see people push programs to their limit to see their capabilities.

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