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Working on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Ubisoft Quebec Studio decided to use Substance Tools at a large scale for producing amazing intricate materials of high quality. Jonathan Benainous kindly shared the details behind their pipeline.
For the little recap, I started in the video game Industry about 13 years ago. I had the chance to work on AAA production such as Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost Recon Wildlands, and more recently on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at Ubisoft Quebec Studio.
Today I live in Montreal where I recently joined the Team at WB Games Montreal as Senior Texture Artist on a very exciting unannounced project.
I had the opportunity to work on great projects all along my career and I’m really thankful for that.
When I was in my 3D Art School 16 years ago, I could not imagine being part of huge AAA Games one day but it finally became a reality. Having the chance to work with extremely talented people years after years helped me push further my skills and develop my eye for details. The real click happened when I was at Guerrilla Games. I was surrounded by incredibly good artists like Ben Erdt, Ryan Spinney or Amir Abdaoui and I felt that I needed to work more on the side to level up.
Since that time, I just tried to keep this rhythm by making new personal project regularly. This routine helps me to stay on track, challenge myself as an artist and develop my technical knowledge.
Working on Assassin’s Creed
I really had fun working on the latest Assassin’s Creed! My role as Senior Texture Artist was mainly to make materials for Architecture Kits like the Minoan Palace or the first civilization areas and to provide support for some Biome materials, like riverbed rocks or pavements for the cities.
I also had the chance to be the owner of the Present Day Environment and in charge of the modeling, texturing, props integration and level art aspects.
Additionally, I’ve been helping out the Character/Props Team to make weapons for the main game and the incoming DLCs.
You can check the Artblast Recap with all my works here.
AC Odyssey: Texturing Workflow
For the sculpting part, the way I created my height map in SD was usually always the same. For a stone wall, a ceramic tile or a wood floor, I start by creating my patterns and make them tile. I then work on the silhouette of my shapes, adding an organic flow and damaging the edges, then on the surface itself. To finalize the sculpt I add mud or dust here and there, pebbles (large/medium/small) or nails in the corner of my wood planks.
I mostly used the default set of tools in SD, some nodes available on Substance Share are pretty useful though. For instance, I massively used the EZ Splatter node in my graph. It’s a sort of simplified tile sampler, light and efficient. This is a very handy generator to quickly spread elements around, create erosion effects, damages, etc.
As for the height, I really try to think about it as a 3D volume. Interpreting shapes out of 2D greyscale information can sometimes be tricky, so the most important thing to keep in mind is that white and black are nothing more than your peaks and valleys.
Visualizing your displacement all along the sculpting process is key in keeping balance in your shapes. Focusing on the large volumes first and then slowly going into details.
To achieve my Baroque Ceiling materials, I applied the same recipe except that here the shapes created were more complex than for a simple wall stone. Still, the process was the same.
Frescos in Substance
For the frescos, I made tile my patterns out of Bitmaps in Photoshop and converted the image into an 8bit image to get a Color ID Mask.
I then used this Mask to build my material in Painter combining Paint and Gold to get the wanted effect.
For the sculpting part in SD, I focused more on the medium and large shapes than on micro noise and small frequency information.
Based on historical references, photos, and painting we tried to recreate this massive temple respecting the key elements such as the colorful columns, the frescos, the painted ceilings, the throne room, etc.
I think for Rocks, in general, this is all about shapes understanding. Pavements were supposed to be used on the floor of the cities, so not to interfere too much with player navigation by adding too much volume in the displacement, I had to focus more on the silhouette, the surfacing and on smaller details such as pebbles, dirt, etc.
On the opposite, rocks and stones used for the river bed or field walls needed to pop out. Here, I specifically had to enhance my volumes to get shapes that are more interesting in the displacement of the terrain and get some nice hooks with the lighting.
I really didn’t use any magic tool for making my rocks, most of the time I simply used primitive shapes, warped and damaged with multiple Perlin noise and Slope blur.
Using AO, Curvature, and World Space Normal, I created various masks to help me combine my materials together.
While focusing on storytelling, adding directionality and aging to my surface, I added more variations in my tints by slightly lightening my concave and darkening my convex areas. Of course, it was important to keep these effects subtle to have a balanced and correct albedo range.