Creating a Gothic Ornament in Substance Designer

Creating a Gothic Ornament in Substance Designer

Charly Vanlaere talked about getting started with Substance Designer and the production of  Gothic Ornament.


Hello, my name is Charly Vanlaere and I’m currently working as a Junior Texture Artist on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint at Ubisoft Paris Studio. It’s my first experience in the industry since I’ve graduated in September 2018. I came from the north of France, where I studied for five years at a school specialized in the creation of animated movies and video games called ​Pole 3D. ​During my studies, I focused on environment art for video games, especially on texturing and lighting.

I’ve always been fascinated by minimalism and architecture, therefore when I discovered the potential of Substance Designer I quickly tried a lot of stuff like my “Brutalism Study” and other projects that I never published. For me, the association of Substance and Marmoset is perfect, it’s a fine balance between rapidity and experimentation.

Working on the Look of the Material

Every time I start a new material I ask myself a few questions:

  • Where will the material be applied? Wall? Roof? Ground? Object?
  • How is this material made in real life? The same question for organic materials.
  • Under which Lighting condition will the material be put?

It helps me figure out where I need to put all my efforts, especially on surface details.

Also, lighting and composition are important things for me.

Thanks to Marmoset I can quickly iterate on my scene by adjusting my camera angle or lighting, it allows me to spot the issues on my material and easily calibrate my maps to my lighting. I always try to show small details of my material thanks to the lighting.

A correctly placed light will help you illustrate what you want to show, like how the sunlight shows the tiny details on my stone bricks or the big roughness impact on my Brutalism wall.

Substance Designer: How to Start

The strong advantage of Substance Designer is its community, there are tons of tutorials, breakdowns, and tips on a lot of websites such as Youtube, Polycount, 80 Level and more. The thing I really recommend for beginners and intermediate level artists are the Substance Academy videos, they will help to really understand the basics and the best practices of this software.

I recommend also to dig into Substance Source, download the Sbs from the Signature series or others and start to study them from beginning to the end. It will help you create your own workflow, find some good tips and see how professionals use this software. Of course, there are so many ways to create just one thing, so you need to experiment with all you already know to find new things that will help and boost your productivity.

Experimentation is the key of Substance Designer, don’t be afraid to open the software and just mess around with some nodes without any objectives. You’ll find some cool stuff that will probably give you some ideas for larger creation. It was the case for me and my last substance “Gothic Ornament”.

One last thing I really recommend is to try to quickly recreate some simple pattern like this:

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The advantage of this kind of work is that you only focus on the height map, it will force you to test a lot of different ways to do simple things like this, like testing new nodes, a little bit of mathematic, and it will train your brain to experiment, let go, and break your comfort zone.

Gothic Ornament

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I have always been fascinated by gothic architecture and the way they put a huge density of details with a lot of minimalistic shapes, the harmony between all of these shapes is really wonderful. So I’ve decided to make my own interpretation of this style by adding a lot more details and try to keep the feeling of this style.

Everything started with experimentation with the swirl and splatter circular nodes and my main idea was to push the tiny details as far as possible and keeping the readability of my substance. It’s all about swirl and splatter nodes, with a lot of curve node to model my shapes.

I started by making a lot of basic shape by messing up with some swirls, curves, mirrors and basic shapes node.

In the image above, you can see that all my patterns are made the same way and they are the base of all my graph.

After that, I made a lot of more complex patterns by blending those base that I’ve created before.

And it’s where I made all my circular patterns. Almost all have been created from the base except for the center part which has his own specific patterns.

All of these parts needed a lot of experimentation to get the patterns I wanted.

The splatter circular node is a very powerful node for this type of material.

Here you can see a little experiment I did, with the same base I easily could have 3 completely different patterns.

My final graph is not very complex, it’s all about reusability all over the material. But the most difficult part was to make all the ornaments coherent with each other.

Background Details

The background was the last pattern I added to my substance. I already had all the shapes I wanted but the background looked very flat to me, so I tested a lot of things like adding other shapes between the big one that was already there. By testing a lot of things I finally came to this tiny sort of intricate ornaments, and it was very simple.

I simply used the final pattern of the center and plugged it in another splatter circular, and with a curve node and a Height blend. I was allowed to easily control the density of ornaments I wanted.

Once again I experimented a lot to finally have a happy surprise.

Adding Defects

Adding defects was really important as it would make all the material believable and look realistic. The whole process is not complex but it was difficult to be subtle and not break my ornaments.

Basically, it’s all about subtracting things to my main height map.

Here is an overview of what I did to have this effect:

The main goal of this part is to avoid flat areas because, with this kind of material nothing is flat, the surface must be filled with a lot of small details in order for the texture not to look unrealistic and fake.

In this gif, you can see that all I added to my height map is very subtle, so when you come to this part, it’s better to look at your 3D view and try to “feel” the difference when you add some new details.

There is nothing in particular in my graph for this part, I use a lot of histograms nodes on the generator to select and control the number of details I wanted on my texture, like in this part:

You don’t need to have a complex graph on this part, it’s simpler and more efficient to go on small blends like this.

For the other parts, it’s the same things, I spread the flat noise everywhere to avoid flat areas and my crack system is very simple.

The most interesting thing is the edge damage part:

The goal of this was to add a used effect on the top of my ornaments. for the process, the gif speaks for itself, I simply subtract the final result with a blend node.

When you start to add a lot of details like this on your material, don’t hesitate to remove some parts to see if it’s better for your material readability or not. In my case, I added a lot more details like big broken parts which remove big parts of my ornaments. It was good looking but it was not what I wanted for my material. If I had to make a smart material with a lot of exposed parameters, I would probably leave it, but in my case, all I wanted was to make one simple material.


When I started this material, I knew that I would have some trouble with readability and it was the case all along the production. It was very difficult to find each of these patterns, make them complex and not messy.

The rhythm was a difficult thing for me as well, I voluntarily added these empty space on the background to let the substance breath and create a rhythm to it.

But the most difficult thing was to find a balance in the degradation of the material, I wanted my material to be tangible and as real as possible, so when I added those little broken parts and cracks I always kept in mind that it could break all the clarity of the patterns. That’s why a lot of things that I added at the end were very subtle.

Charly Vanlaere, Junior Texture Artist at Ubisoft Paris Studio

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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