god i wish that were me
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3d artist Curt C. Smith gave a breakdown of his ‘Concrete Floor‘ material and discussed the way he fell in love with Substance Designer.
Hey I’m Curt C. Smith and I’m currently an Environment Artist at Raven Software. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2004. I started my career out in 2005 at High Voltage Software working on numerous licensed titles, I then worked for a year freelance working with Disney. After that, I continued my way to Raven Software where I’ve been working on Call of Duty titles for over 4 years.
When I first started out not only was I making models, texturing, and world building, but I also was doing all of the lighting and even simple animations. Environment Art sometimes encompasses anything and everything you see in a game. And depending on how big the studio is, sometimes they can’t afford to hire specific talents for each aspect in a game, so you end up doing quite a lot more than you thought you’d ever do. However, just like most artists, there’s a tendency to drift towards a focus and for me, that’s world of material creation. At Raven, I’ve been working very closely with my fellow environment artists William Petrosky, Sean Thurler, Jorge Corona, and David Hauptman. Having several artists to bounce ideas off of is a huge key to succeeding since you’ll be getting that much-needed feedback to make your work even better. Always make sure to surround yourself with people who are willing to give you real feedback. If you don’t have a local group of people to get critique from, places like the Polycount forums and the Facebook groups like Ten Thousand Hours, & Environment Artists of the Game Industry are great places to talk with professionals and students aspiring to be in the industry.
I still remember the first moment when I loaded up Quixel NDO & DDO and being amazed at how quickly I could texture up a model. In this day where the bar for quality is set very high, having tools that expedite the process is a necessity in AAA game production. I don’t think the tool changed the where the ‘bar’ was set, it just helped us get to that quality bar faster. Nowadays I personally prefer Allegorithmic’s way, but it honestly doesn’t matter which tool you use, it’s whatever you feel the most comfortable with.
Studying Substance Designer
2 years ago I was talking with Joshua Lynch, who at the time was at Raven Software, and he was really pushing Substance Designer. I think at the time a lot of people were still very, I’d say, almost afraid of how SD worked. A lot of people can see the barrier of entry to be intimidating and hard to find a nice starting point. However, once you get over that initial learning curve it becomes the most rewarding program I’ve ever worked in.
For me, the biggest draw to SD is that I can make any material I want and it’s not set in stone. Previous workflows are much more destructive in nature and don’t allow for easy iteration and quick changes. For example, if I had sculpted out a rock material and all of a sudden want half of the stones or pebbles on the material, now I need to go back to ZBrush, alter, rerender and then paint up new masks and that can be very time-consuming. In SD, I just need to alter a couple of nodes and I’ve done that change in less than a minute. The time you can save on material production can be cut so drastically by using SD, to me it’s the only way to make world materials now.
I really think the key to making great materials is having great reference. If you’re starting out without reference you’ll find yourself struggling the whole way. We all have a “mind’s eye” of what we think dirt or grass looks like, and it’s always just best to have the actual thing there to reference. Also, when working in SD make sure you’re layering details. Think back to when you’re making a material in photoshop, most materials would take a lot of layering to get a material looking realistic, the same applies in SD, you need to understand that even on something you’d consider to be a clean surface there is always some level of dust or micro grunge. So don’t be afraid to subtly layer in nodes into your materials.
Photogrammetry is simply another tool in the toolbelt. I think there is a definite time and place to use it because of its limitations. If your studio has time to travel places and create models and textures from different biomes then it can be an incredible asset to speeding up production. However, the limitation is that if you need to tweak or alter a baked in photogrammetry asset you’re going to run into a lot of headaches getting that asset to work in a specific situation you need. And that’s when you can lean on creating assets the normal way. Overall I think photogrammetry helps out production, but it’s not the silver bullet some may think it is. At the end of the day the results are what matters and I’ve seen some incredible things come from using this technique. Personally, I’d like to have more specific control over how everything looks and comes together for this to be my primary way of creating environment art.
Using Marmoset Toolbag
Marmoset Toolbag has become the industry standard for showing off work. I’ve looked into things like Keyshot, but I’ve felt like Toolbag fits all of my needs to show off materials and models. There really isn’t another product that does what Toolbag can do.
Looking at materials inside of Substance Designer and Marmoset is great for beauty shots, but you really will never know how something looks until you put in a game engine and see it being used under several lighting conditions. To me, something can look amazing in the tool or Marmoset and end up not looking the best in the engine because of compression and other factors. In production this should always be the first place you see test out the strengths of your material because at the end of it all it only matters how it will render in the game engine you’re utilizing.
Hex Concrete Floor Mini Breakdown
Once I set up my base hex pattern, I added a mid-level gray so that i’m not working in extreme black and white values. I don’t always do this, but in this instance it really helped. Next I wanted to add some warble to the edges of the hexs so I used the Mosaic Grayscale Node combined with the Cells 2 node to achieve this. To get large chipping I used the Slope Blur Grayscale Node combined with the BnW Spots 1 node. You’ll find that Slope Blur Grayscale is one of the most powerful nodes, but want to mix it with other techniques to break up the procedural feel that it can sometimes have.
Building Up More Detail
Now that I’ve created a nice base with Warble and Large Chipping, I need to add some micro detail to the hexes. I do this by using the BnW Spots 3 Node, and Adding in a Blur HQ Grayscale node in there to make the chipping not so harsh. There are many ways to help create a soft bevel, and one of my favorites is to take the existing height and doing a Blur HQ Grayscale node on it and blending it into itself with the Blend set to Overlay. By doing this you’ll get a nice soft bevel to the hex. Next I take the Grunge Map 001 node and blend it into itself so I get more even detail coverage, then I blend that into the existing height information to give the hexes some surfacing detail.
Most of the time the best way to create cracks is to start with a cellular base. In this case I used the Cells 1 Node and combined it the Fractal Sum Node using the Directional Warp Node. Doing this helps break up the very even look to the cellular pattern. I then used the Edge Detect Node to get the fine lines out of the cellular pattern. I then wanted to make sure my cracks weren’t going to show up everywhere so I blended in a Grunge Map 008 node. Lastly I added a Slope Blur Grayscale node mixed with a Clouds 2 Node to get the chipped more natural feeling to the cracks.