Enrico Tammekänd shared his personal take on Substance Designer and Substance Source, talked about his experiments, coloring, presentation, and gave some tips.
Hey! My name is Enrico Tammekänd and I am a 24-year-old self-taught environment and texture artist. I am from a small country of Estonia, Pärnu, and currently living in Spain, Barcelona. I moved here almost a year ago when I got a chance to come and work at Ubisoft Barcelona as a texture artist. I have worked on multiple indie projects and right now I’m on my first AAA project: Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.
There’s actually a funny story behind how I started in the 3D industry. My cousin and I randomly challenged each other on who could learn 3D modeling the fastest. We didn’t think much about it at that time, it was just something to pass the time and years later, it has become my career and passion. Especially material creation on which I stumbled across in a similar way and in the end, it worked out so much better than I could have ever imagined.
Discovering Substance Designer
From the first time I opened up Substance Designer, I was interested in how I could create all aspects of environments on my own. After 30 minutes of using the software, I got so hooked into it. I watched all the tutorials halfway through and started to experiment with my own ideas. And that was the selling point for me. I wasn’t limited to my “brush strokes” anymore and had the possibility to quickly test out ideas and change anything I wanted. I never saw it as a scary workflow but rather saw the opportunities that the software can provide. And from that day forward, I have been testing myself on different types of materials, learning on how each material reacts to light and how to effectively apply those ideas and techniques into my environment creations.
For those who are not so familiar with Substance Designer, it has a non-destructive workflow where you can kitbash your ideas very quickly. Everything is done procedurally, where each noise is generated and that means that we can have thousands of variations to our material graphs. Substance Designer eliminates the struggle of sculpting e.g. 20 different ground materials where we can just create one base setup graph which is going to generate thousands of variations based on your preference and we can always go back and change everything if the materials don’t fit exactly as needed.
Substance Source & Online Libraries
The Allegorithmic Substance Source material library is growing exponentially each day and I am really happy to see that happening. It provides artists the freedom of not worrying about how to paint their 3D assets. They can just go and check out materials to their liking and if there’s something that looks interesting but requires some changes, they can just get the .SBS graph file and tweak everything to fit the needs. Also, having the procedural mindset, it will be very rare that people will be using the exact copies of the same materials since anyone can add random seed to the materials and get the same style, but just a little bit different.
Regarding online material libraries, I do think that even though having huge internal and online libraries, studios will still need specific materials to fit into the right art styles, environments, and characters. While having these kinds of online material libraries, it will be hugely beneficial for indie studios while it covers every essential need to paint 3D assets. But every game has its own artistic direction and every artwork has to be followed on the same line in order to keep consistency within the project.
Of course having a library like that, which gives you the power of tweaking the actual graphs, is going to be very essential in material creation pipeline. Users can learn more and more each day when new content is being released in order to speed up their projects and tasks.
Experimenting with SD: Advice & Tips
One of the best ways to experiment with Substance Designer is to actually experiment with it. As simple as it sounds, people often get stuck in their comfort zone and therefore they do not use workflows that could give them new results. I think it is very important to find a new node for example and even if it’s not going to be very efficient to use in your material, then at least try to fit it there anyway. That way you will get more comfortable with using other nodes in your toolset and expand the mindset of utilizing Substance Designer to its fullest.
In my opinion, one of the most important things in material creation are micro details. Whenever I build the materials, I start out with big shapes that define the overall look and step by step reduce the circle of having smaller and smaller details until I get to micro detailing. What that includes are small bumps, surface noises and dents in the materials that are so subtle that even I couldn’t see them unless I look at the surface on correct angles and very closely. But those details will give the natural feeling of the material which the eye can pick up and helps the viewers to actually feel the material.
For sure there are so many different aspects of what is more important than others. Like building a material that contains sharp shapes has to be built with keeping in mind the falloff. Because we are limited right now with using only grayscale displacement maps then we need to “fake” those angles in order to get rid of the distortions. Here’s a small breakdown of my Sweep Profile Generator to show how I dealt with those issues:
You can also get the material free from my Gumroad to go through it and see how it was built.
Along the way of material creation, I started to notice that very rarely there are plain uniform colors in the real world. It might seem to be like that, but in reality, the natural wear and environmental factors change each surface over time. So, my color selection usually contains tons of gradients, mixed with different grunge maps and often there are colors that are way out of the range of what the material should contain. But these kinds of mixtures of different color values help to sell the realistic look of the materials. Even if those subtle additions are hard to pick up when you are looking for them, the eyes can catch them and makes it feel closer to what we can perceive in the actual world.
References play a very big part in the overall material creation and therefore also on the color creation. Even though I don’t use the references exactly 1:1, I tend to use them as close as possible. With references, you can see what has been built in real life, the possibilities and techniques in order to get the correct heightmap that then impacts the creation of every other map, including the Base Color.
Also, just recently I released a Substance Designer Material Pack that includes 10 organized and commented on projects if anyone is interested in seeing the process of my materials first hand. Here’s a small example of Base Color creation and how the colors evolve into something that looks much more natural than few simple uniform colors mixed together:
Just recently I began to understand the mistakes I made on how I presented my artwork which was a great way of learning. I think that the best way of understanding how to build your skills is to not be afraid of making mistakes and learn not to make them again. One thing that I learned is that if anyone wants to show their material artwork, it’s usually done on spheres. It has started to be a common language between artists where when you see a crazy looking sphere, you know that it has to be a material. And that idea is used throughout the industry nowadays. Of course, anyone is welcome to show their works as they see them fit, but as far as I have seen then having your materials shown on sphere tends to be the most effective way on presenting that this here is a material. I also always use a plane render as well so I could have a mix of curved surface and a flat one. And the tricky part is to make the material work in both cases which is why I think it’s also necessary to show the materials on different meshes.
Making the sphere renders I started to see that it is very important to actually increase the light intensity a lot. The lighting brings out all of the characteristics of the materials, the roughness, normal map, surface details, height scale, etc. Therefore, in order to show off as much as possible with only a few images, the basic understanding of lighting principles plays a key part in it. Because in the end, the way you present your work is going to be 50% of your whole project.
There are some common principles of photography like the rule of thirds and the golden ratio which can help out on how to position the lights and do the composition to be pleasing for the eyes. These rules can, of course, be bent and the presentation should be more based on how the artist actually wants their artwork to be shown. But some of the key elements I have found are shadows, highlights, and support lighting. This can be interpreted into having a Directional Light for the shadows on a specific angle, a really bright light from behind the sphere for the highlights and finally a subtle supporting light from the downward angle that gives the impression of having multiple lights bouncing off from the environment that it is surrounded by.
A while ago I started to do Twitch streaming on Substance Designer and there is also a stream about “Material Presentation in Marmoset Toolbag”. All the videos are up there for free so anyone who is interested can check them up and hopefully, it can be helpful to anyone seeing them.
Enrico Tammekänd, Environment & Texture Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev