Approaching Materials with Zbrush and Substance

Approaching Materials with Zbrush and Substance

Etienne Boisvert did a little overview of the way he builds neat materials with a combination of modern 3d tools.

Etienne Boisvert did a little overview of the way he builds neat materials with a combination of modern 3d tools.


Hey! My name Etienne Boisvert, I’m an environment artist from Quebec, Canada.

When I was young, around 12 years old, I used to play a lot with map editors. Slowly moved to real-time engines like Cryengine then Unity and Unreal Engine using other people assets. When I got older, I realized that I could do so much more if I knew how to make my own models and textures. So I started an epic quest to learn Blender and Gimp.

Early 2016, I took an AEC at College Bart in Quebec, a year and a half program that covers pretty much all the aspect of 3D Art. From 2D animation to 3D animation, modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering and rigging. I had the pleasure to learned from teachers that have a lot of experiences, shoutout to Charles Bernadet and Jean-Michel Theriault, the best teachers I ever had. At College Bart, they had a really good way to teach and the most important thing IMO, is that they prefer to show you the fundamentals rather than taking your hand and show you how to play with a specific tool or program. This is here that I was introduced to Maya, Zbrush, Substance Painter and Substance Designer.

Recently, I thought it would be a great idea to do one Substance Designer per day as a challenge. I posted the highlight of my studies on the private Facebook page called ”Ten thousand hours”. I was blown away by the number of people that liked my work.

Few days after that I received an email from ”80 LEVEL” asking me if I would be interested to do an interview. For a second, my brain turned off, I just couldn’t believe it, as all my favorites 3D artists, Clinton Crumpler and Mike Marra, for example, to name a few, were interviewed in on this website. So, indeed I said yes and here we are now.

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Mixing tools

For most of my high poly assets, I will use Maya for 80% of the work and then bring it to Zbrush to sculpt small details. You are right, they both have different approaches and a lot in common. I’d say the pipeline is exactly the same, you start to sculpt good heightmap, working on larger forms and slowly dig into smaller details. The only differences are the tools used.

If I need a texture, something really specific, that I will probably use once, I’d take my time to sculpt it in Zbrush. I mostly work for my own personal project so having the flexibility of Substance Designer is sometimes priceless. One Substance with nice controls can easily turn into multiple different variances. I see it as rigging my textures.

Stylized materials

The pipeline stays the same. Working on the heightmap, large details to small. The only differences are that in the stylized ones, I don’t put micro details, I try to keep a somewhat clean, not too noisy heightmap. The real challenge is the diffuse work and trying to get a good looking highlight on edges that don’t look procedural. I found a quick and dirty way to make highlights on edges by using an inverted version of my ambient occlusion, adding a gradient, a blur and then blending with the main diffuse color gradient (Blending Mode: Max Lighten).


Searching for a perfect noise start

I always start with large noises, especially, clouds and Perlin noises. Those are really my favorites noise to play with at the starts to define large shapes. For the stylized roof tiles, I use Grunge Map 005, this noise is really epic, with a 2D transformation to make it a bit bigger and with a level node, it’s a really good large curvy detail. You could even wrap it with other large noise to get even crazier.

I also like to dump all the noises in a substance designer project and experiment with differents blending mode, warp etc. to find accidental cool discovery. I always learned by breaking stuff apart, experimenting and I think Substance Designer a nice tool for that. Believe me, that time is totally not wasted.

PBR values

PBR values really do help but when I make stylized materials like the Roof Tiles, I tend to ignore them until the very end. Your goal is to make the material look good, real-life values are a good start but at the end of the day, the material is the hero here. If for some reasons adding a little bit less roughness helps sells the material better, why not!

Rendering and presenting

I mostly just used Marmoset Toolbag to render the final material. I think it is a really good real-time rendering program for single asset. I mostly spent more time doing lighting setup in it to get the best look for my materials.

This is the key here. Even turds can look good with the best lighting setup. This is also here that I will modify my roughness values to sell the material even more. At this point, I don’t care if the roughness values are off or not legit, my only goal is to sell the material, so if for that I need to break the law of physique, screw it, I sure will. Once I’m happy with the Toolbag render, I’ll bring my render into photoshop and do some final small work on it.

I also liked to mention that I don’t think I’m a pro when it comes to substance designer. I have a lot to learn. I see a lot of people doing crazy materials with it, materials that probably took few days to set up but some of them took a quick render and the render doesn’t do justice to the work that was put into it.Remember that the material is the Hero here and have fun when you work !

Etienne Boisvert, Environment and Texture Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 4

  • Anonymous user

    Well done brother, keep doing your impressive work & I'm pretty sure you have a great future in the industry.

    P.S: The guy who wrote those bellow comments is.....not well and his comments should be blocked for that matter.

    Good luck,



    Anonymous user

    ·2 years ago·
  • KillYourSelf

    Actually, the notion that gender should be a norm in North America is only being reinforced by White Male privilege patriarch. The world is white and slowly dying of ignorance!



    ·2 years ago·
  • Destiny2 is BORING



    Destiny2 is BORING

    ·2 years ago·
  • ViergePrude & Cotton-Fluff Association

    WOW! 5/10: No microtransaction! @IGN


    ViergePrude & Cotton-Fluff Association

    ·2 years ago·

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