Cooking Lava with Substance Designer
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11 min ago

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5 hours ago

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Cooking Lava with Substance Designer
28 March, 2017
3d artist Javier Benitez talked about his explosive experiments with Substance Designer.


Hello everyone, my name is Javier Benitez, I am 22 years old and I am a freelance 3D artist from Madrid, Spain, where I currently live and work. I have been working for an outsource company, Elite3D, since I was 19 on titles such as Homefront: The Revolution among others that I can’t disclose. Then I lived in Edinburgh until a few months ago when I left my job at Rockstar North where I was working as a Vehicle artist to start freelancing as it allowed me to work on different projects at once. Texture art has always amazed and amused me a lot, that is why I decided to start studying the different tools that are used nowadays in the video game industry, which led me to Substance Designer and this rock material.

Hot Rocky Surface

It is kind of a weird story. A few weeks ago, NASA made an announcement saying that they discovered a new planetary system, so I went to their website to see if there were some good images of those planets. One thing led to another and I ended up looking at Mars rocky surface, which was the main idea behind this project, it was a true challenge for me to create such a complex surface procedurally.

At first I wanted to mimic Mars surface, then it all changed when I started playing with the levels in photoshop. Adding a vibrance mask to what was the sand surface made it pop out a lot more as it made it look like something whas getting really warm in the ground. Then my lightbulb got lit and I decided to add an emissive output to the graph, and started playing with the intensity and color of what is now the ”lava” surface. The material now was not only more interesting but also different from what I had already seen before, a learning piece had become one of those projects that makes you want to go back and look at it all the time. The rocks were just perfect for the composition, so I decided to keep them almost intact as that was as well the main idea behind this project.


I got heavily inspired by Imanol Delgado‘s substances to figure out how to make a base for the rocks. This is the main layout that I used to create the one rock that is then repeated with a splatter to achieve randomness in the final texture.

Then I mixed a splatter using around 5 big rocks with one using a lot of smaller ones, that helped a lot with the tiny details. Adding cracks on top of that gives it that touch that finishes defining the rock surface.

That resulting height map looks really uninteresting by itself, but when going through a couple of warps and plugged into substance designer’s new AO node it results in the following map.

That started to look more like a rocky surface. After that, it was a matter of tweaking the AO mask to get the crevices which allowed me to add a fake ambient lighting to the whole texture.

Cold and Hot

This state changes were actually the simplest thing to achieve in the whole texture. After I was happy with the result of one glow colour, I just added a Hue Saturation Lighting (HSL) node right after the one that was controlling the colour of the emissive. This was not only allowing me to change colours but also the vibrance of them by adjusting the saturation and the glow by adjusting the lightness.

Glow and Reflective Features

Changing from green to purple was done by sliding the hue bar. Truly easy. I also decided to add a levels node to the mask to be able to add contrast to the glowing area, that helped to make a warmer area further from the rocks. The reflections were a mix of the albedo and a grunge mask all very washed out to let the surface normal map do the job. That way I just defined the roughness value I needed and added just a little bit of detail to it with the grunge map. Then the bumpy surface finished giving it the look you see in the screenshots. It is also really important to light the scene properly. It is well known that lighting is what ends up making your images pop way more.


As it has been said a million times, the true key to achieving good results is gathering good references. In this case, watching as many other artist’s substance graphs helps a lot with tackling the different challenges you will face while working with this kind of software. Learn from other people’s workflow.

I would like to thank everyone that I worked with until now, I would not be who I am without them. Thanks to the guys at Elite3D for giving me the opportunity to start my career, they made me feel really comfortable while working with them. Also thank you very much to RockstarNorth’s vehicle and props team, they just were amazing people to share a workplace with.

Javier Benitez, Freelance Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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