Overview: Terrain Erosion in Substance Designer

Environment Artist Bohdan Bilous put into action the capabilities of Substance Designer and created a fully procedural Terrain Erosion Generator.

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Terrain Erosion Generator: Inspiration Behind the Project

I got the inspiration for this project from my last summer trip when we were flying over the Alps. The weather was favorable so the view was majestic. After that, I started to look at references and other projects done in World Machine

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At first, I tried to quickly create height maps for one of my Unity projects. I wanted to produce simple forms in a couple of minutes, just to have a silhouette on the horizon to add a sense of depth to the scene. But then I discovered that it was not so easy to create simulations procedurally and that there was more to it than that. From that moment on, I was really fascinated by the idea of what I could achieve using Substance Designer and thought about how long it would take to make realistic-looking procedural mountains.

Generating Terrain in Substance Designer

While Substance Designer is not a typical program for creating mountains, I enjoy working in SD and was curious to find out what could be achieved there. I started researching the layouts I wanted to create with my terrain generator. 

Creating mountains in a procedural way gives me control over the graph, the shape formations, slope distances, masks, and so on. With this approach, I am able to quickly import prepared .sbsar files to many different programs and create terrains with just a few clicks. Additionally, with a masked-base input noise and alpha stamps for manual sculpting, the workflow becomes very flexible. 

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The whole project was quite challenging for me since there aren’t a lot of materials on erosion done in Substance Designer. I had to do a lot of experimenting to find new techniques of my own. The hardest thing was to make the mountains look natural. I tried to analyze the overall look and move from general form to small scale features. I categorized objects and structures based on their range of attributes. 

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It was also important to select the appropriate parameters to expose in order to strike a balance between resemblance and performance, all the while keeping the graph optimized. Most of the parameters in the graph actually have really small values, but they significantly affect the final look of the mountains. Lastly, it’s worth noting that Substance Designer has no limitation when it comes to exposing parameters, which can sometimes make the final polish difficult.

Learning Substance Designer

For the artists new to Substance Designer, my advice would be to learn from other people. There are tons of tutorials and references online. By just following along, you’ll start to get a grasp of the software. Usually, these resources are not expensive or are entirely free, so it’s the motivation to learn that’s needed. Also, constant experimentation will help you find the best solutions and new techniques for your materials. You don’t necessarily have to spend Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to master the program, just start by spending 15 minutes or an hour on regular exercises.

If you want to learn the technical side of the project, check out Bohdan's Terrain Erosion Generator using Substance Designer tutorial on Levelup.Digital.

Bohdan Bilous, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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