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Cargo Spacecraft Interior Made With Substance 3D Designer

Material Artist Alexey Kirsanov discussed the working process behind the Cargo Spacecraft project, explained how materials for the scene were made, and shared some advice on mastering Substance 3D Designer.


Hello everyone! I have been working in 3D for three years since I was 16, and now I’m working at Lesta studio. I started by creating simple scenes from ready assets, and then I began to slowly study all the industries related to 3D art. I have never taken any courses, studied according to available information from the Internet, and asked for feedback from people from Discord servers. All the projects I have worked on in companies are now under the NDA, but from their development, I gained most of the experience that I use in my personal work.

Becoming a Material Artist

Before working as a Material Artist, I was an Environment Artist, and in addition to modeling environment objects, my work also sometimes included the creation of materials and shaders. In my opinion, Material Artists are to have a huge mixture of technical knowledge with art, often they come up with pipelines that are technically cheap and visually beautiful and they directly affect the visuals of the game, this is what hooked me in this direction. Also, the process of creating tiles is somewhat similar to programming, but you immediately see the result, which is obtained in real-time. Among the artists who inspired me are Ben Wilson and Daniel Thiger, it seems to me that in addition to their vast knowledge, they have their own unique thinking and approach that distinguish their work from others.

To create materials, I can use any program, it depends on how it will be better and faster to get the desired result, for example, there is no need to make fabric directly in Substance 3D Designer when it is possible to get it better and faster through Marvelous Designer. There is no rule to limit yourself to one functionality of one software. Getting used to SD is quite difficult because the node system is completely different from the usual modeling. Personally, it took me about a couple of months of sitting for days at Substance 3D Designer to fully integrate and learn the entire library and several combinations.

The Cargo Spacecraft Project

Initially, I came across James Ritossa's portfolio and thought to make something like this. Then I started searching various photos of spaceships and their interiors and came up with an idea to make a Kibo airlock from the ISS, located in the Japanese module. Initially, my plan was to make only one material, but after making a hatch, I decided to fit it into some kind of mini-environment. So, I came up with the idea to make a cargo spacecraft. The idea of the bags was also inspired by the Japanese module.

I usually collect some general details to find something interesting, it can be the environment or a small and interesting detail, the idea of going from general to special. Then, I start looking for various details that will help me fit the hatch into the frame of the material, in this case, it was a transition in the form of stiffeners, various fasteners, and fine detailing.

The Workflow

I started making the hatch from large shapes and gradually moved on to small ones. In Substance 3D Designer, I had a set of nodes that I used in 60% of cases – Shape, Transform 2D, Curve, Gradients, Levels, and Corner Shape. The main pipeline is kind of similar to the Boolean modeling pipeline, you just do it in SD using Subtract, Multiply, and Max Lighten blend modes.

Curve has become a very important node because with it you can get anything from Gradients. When I work with it, I imagine an object from the side, what happens in my curves window is the silhouette of your object from the side.

For example, I did the main part of the hatch through (shape > disk), subtracted with (square > trapezoid), and subtracted two paraboloids with curves and that's it, the main shape is ready, only details and polishing remain. That we can do the same way.

The transition in the form of stiffeners was quite interesting to do, I took gradient linear 2, scaled it with transform, Cartesian to polar, and then did a bunch of subtracts and unions (max lightens) with forms that I’d already had.

I decided to use standard space colors – orange and white. The choice of orange color was more of a warning and highlighting the main part of the hatch, and white is the main one. The pipeline here was to use masks that I’d created before and slightly different color tones so that there was variability.

When I applied colors on top of the hatch, I started adding details to it, there is a classic technique to take Curvature Smooth from the Normal Map and add it with Blend Overlay, this will highlight the details on the base color and add depth. After that, I started adding a little weathering in the form of metal edge wear and dirt, as well as subtracted metal edge wear from the heightmaps a little, and in the end, I added a couple of grunges with a very little overlay so that the color seemed more interesting.

I made Roughness very lazily. I just took the grayscale conversation node from the base color, and then added little details with Grunge Masks that I had already used with the base color. And so, my advice when working with a Roughness Map, I would always look at it on the final render or in the place on the map where your texture is used, because there is a high probability that you overdo it with contrast, and everything will shine or vice versa, everything will seem matte without any special details.

The main challenge was in the design. I couldn't put everything together to make it look beautiful and functional. In this case, I decided to look and collect more references. Also, if you are not sure about the design, it is always better to ask other people, it helped me a lot. 

So, at first, I did a transition element between the rim and hatch with rubber that is usually used with trains or entrance to planes but it was kind of debatable with functionality and I didn’t like the visual of it.

I came up with the idea to make the transition with those metal stiffeners that I found on the ISS.

And here's the final render:

The idea of using Marvelous Designer came to me when I noticed cool bags in the Japanese module of the ISS. Then I thought, "Why not just make them quickly in Marvelous?" because this is an ideal program for working with fabric. The steps were pretty simple there, just creating shapes and sewing them. After Marvelous, I baked everything on a standard plane in Substance 3D Designer. And then added a few details with fabric patterns. The base color process was similar to hatch, just masks and colors.

The final render:

Lighting and Rendering

Initially, my idea was to put the camera below or above the horizon line, as it seems to me this gives additional dynamics to the picture. As you can see from the breakdown GIF, I could not decide for a long time on the best position for the hatch, which was the main one in the composition, but in the end, I found a good enough place for it and added extra direction with a pipe. Also, a very important element was fog, which gave a very necessary depth.

As for the light, everything was quite simple, I used only two sources and low-intensity light from HDRI. In Marmoset Toolbag, in which the entire rendering took place, I added contrast and sharpened the picture.

Mastering Substance 3D Designer

The whole difficulty of Substance 3D Designer is understanding the behavior of the nodes. Looking at your reference, you need to understand which grunge and which node will work well in certain places. The moment of mastering SD, in my opinion, is when you can look at a reference or concept and already assemble an approximate graph of the material in your head. I would advise you to study Substance 3D Designer more on your own, in addition to tutorials, because this is how you can better integrate and understand this program.

Alexey Kirsanov, Material Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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