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Breakdown: Mediterranean Sea Material in Substance

Zahar Scherbov was kind enough to share a breakdown of his Mediterranean Sea Material in Substance Designer and the animation behind it. 

Zahar Scherbov was kind enough to share a breakdown of his Mediterranean Sea Material in Substance Designer and the animation behind it.


When I finished my fruit materials series, I had no idea what would be my next challenge.

Then I saw a series of paintings devoted to the sea. It was oil on canvas. The author of those masterpieces had only brushes and an exquisite talent. I was so deeply impressed that I decided to do at least something similar to these works of art. Besides, I have a powerful instrument called Substance Designer.

It was the first idea for my new series of liquid materials.

Mediterranean sea

Actually, when I just started, I had absolutely no idea of how to do it. There were so many questions and no answers. How should I work with a transparent material without transparency? How should I convey the dynamics of water? The list was endless.

By the way, this is one of the reasons why I really love my job!

To begin with, I divided the material into four independent elements: water, foam, rocks and underwater details.

I started with a height map of each element. If you asked me why I’d say that I always start with a height map in an unclear situation.

Sea Waves

Short summary

I can divide all the details into large, medium and small pieces.

My recipe for large details would be like:

Simple gradient  + Tile Generator and a pinch of Warp.

Now let’s have a look at medium and small details:

Linear Gradient + Noise Clouds 2 with Gradient (Dynamic) gave me this peculiar effect.

After some careful manipulations with Warp and Vector Morph, I blended it with the main Heightmap. Voila!

Water Waves height map is ready.


Main Shape

Ok, Cube 3D + Directional Warp + Bevel + Gradient
This dangerous node set helped me to get the result I intended to achieve.

Further, I started to work with the details.

Different Noises  + Slope blur + Directional Warp and a couple of extra hours of work with the settings, and here you go!

Let’s talk more about the details. I’ve always been sure that in 3d and 2d graphics all the elements in a scene should have the same level of detail. Well, I’ve changed my mind. All objects and material elements in a scene can be divided into two groups:

  • Elements with many details. They usually draw all the attention.
  • Elements with “comfortable” detailing, which give a rest to your eyes.

However, an interesting fact is that the elements with a high level of detail are not always the major ones in a scene. It means that you can keep a focus on one object by increasing the level of detail on another.

That’s why my stone elements have a little bit more details on a height map and a base color.

Stone cracks

It’s quite simple. Two Tile Samplers, two patterns “Polygon 2”, Warp, Slope Blur, blended with a height map of stones. That’s it.


Water waves base color

It took me a few minutes to create the sea water base color map. Further, I tried to improve this result once or twice, increasing the level of detail, but it just got worse.

Sea waves base color map. Original version.


Can anyone imagine sea waves, crashing on rocks without a foam? I definitely can’t.

The most challenging was to make a mask of foam. At first, I couldn’t understand the “rules” of foam diffusion on the surface of the sea. Well, after some careful observations, I got them.

Rules of foam mask diffusion:

  1. On the crest of a wave
  2. Near the rocks (I called it a border mask)
  3. Between the waves


A peculiar fact about the Base Color of my material: all underwater details were made only with the Base Color and AO maps.

The last step was to get all the elements together.


To tell the truth, there is an element of luck here. When all the elements of my material were finished, I started experimenting with a position of the Water Waves height map. I was really surprised, but everything worked as it should. It means that when I started transforming the waves height map, the foam mask, for example, adjusted to the new rules. It was amazing. Therefore, I changed only the position of the Waves height map gradient, one of the first nodes in my graph.


The idea of liquid materials was a hard challenge for me, from the first steps to the final render.

I like to solve puzzles when I know what I want, but don’t know how to do it.

I think it’s the only way to get to the next level.

What’s next

I want to finish my Liquid Materials series. Then I have some interesting ideas about the animated materials. I’d like to improve my materials to 4k, and, of course, challenge myself with some complicated experiments and new graphs.

Zahar Scherbov, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Artem Sergeev

Join discussion

Comments 4

  • eddy




    ·4 years ago·
  • Luke Van

    All I can say is wow. Thank you for inspiring me.


    Luke Van

    ·5 years ago·
  • stolecki stoleckipawel98

    Looks cool,what's the method for rendering animated substance?(Flipbook?)


    stolecki stoleckipawel98

    ·5 years ago·
  • doe

    Good but the Pattern of the foam doesn't change, very disturbing.



    ·5 years ago·

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