Vasilina Sirotina did a full breakdown of her procedural Cobblestone material: stones, ground, and vegetation creation, work with Height, Normal, and Roughness, and rendering in Toolbag.
Greetings! My name is Vasilina, I am a 3D artist from Tomsk, Russia. I got into this industry in December 2017. After I'd finished university I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. At some point, I accidentally stumbled upon 3ds Max courses, and that’s how it all started! I began studying with the basics of modeling, the same as everyone else. In the first year of studying, I tried my hand at texturing and even made a level in UE4, but I was having a strong feeling that I lacked the knowledge to do something really impressive. Then I understood that textures are really what makes a game feel so alive, so I decided to learn this aspect of 3D as thoroughly as possible. That’s why I signed up for the procedural texture course made by Anton Ageev and XYZ School. And that’s how I got into Substance Designer and now it is my favorite type of work!
I've been always inspired by nature, it is incredibly beautiful and I want to capture every aspect of it on camera all the time. But it seems too easy. I want to make something with my own hands, create magic, and at the same time test my own skills.
I made this material for the course at XYZ School mentioned above. I had full freedom, so I spent a lot of time on Pinterest, looking for some inspiring ideas until I found some cool pictures with stones and greenery.
I liked the original idea, but I wanted to modify it. So I added some moss and clover, changed the colors, and made the stones a bit simpler to get more space for everything else.
I started to work on the material from its most massive part – stones. In general, I used a classic, so to say, scheme of Tile Random + Distance Node, to acquire a simple draft version of the stones. I modified the form with Slope Blur and Mosaic Grayscale, and changed the surface of the stones by mixing two different Noises. Flood Fill node helped me to add some variation in height and incline.
At this point, I remembered one great video from Casper Wermuth where he described an interesting method of creating a cliff:
I decided to partly implement this technique while working on my stones to add some chipped and recess textures. It turned out to be effective and pretty simple!
Next layer – ground. Here, I mixed BnW Spots 3 and Moisture Noise and diversified the height with the help of Clouds 2.
I mixed ground height and stone height with Height Blend node and went to the most interesting part – the greenery!
Since the remaining components of the material are quite small relative to the stones, I decided not to work them out in detail, because small details will simply be lost in the background.
I started with moss.
In this work, I used the method shown by Javier Perez in his River Bed tutorial. Every aisle of moss is created separately, then they are collected into the composition and only then I add them to Tile Sampler to get detailed “carpet” of moss. Then I add the base to provide the required form and relief for the material.
Finished moss was added to the stones the same way as the ground.
Clover is the most tender and graceful part of this composition! I really wanted to create a feeling of a young, soft, just opened leaf. I wanted it to add freshness to this whole texture that is why I decided not to complicate it with too much detail.
First I created the clover leaves, and then gathered them into the composition. I ended up with 4 types of clover.
Then I added them to Tile Sampler to acquire clover “carpet”. I added height variations in Tile Sampler with the help of Luminance Random, so that leaves covered each other and then thinned out the layer with Mask Random, so that it didn’t seem too lush and didn’t cover the whole texture.
In the end, right before connecting the clover to the rest of the texture, I took the stone mask from the first Height Blend, inverted it to acquire the ground mask and connected it to Tile Sampler as Mask Map. This way, I made the clover to spread exactly on the ground. It made all the future blending with general texture much easier because I ruled out the possibility that clover would grow through stone or hide beneath the ground.
In general, all the parts of the composition were connected with the Height Blend node. I love this method because you acquire great height and masks that are comfortable to work with at the same time.
So, we have our greenery and it looks fresh and nice, but it seems that something is missing… I decided to add some dew drops to liven up the texture with light.
The drops were made with the help of Plasma node. I spent some time playing with Histogram Scan setting to acquire a good drops pattern and then with Safe Transform I divided the drops into two categories: bigger and smaller. Mix them up and voila! We got our drops.
The only thing left was to add them in the general texture with an ordinary Blend and clover mask.
Height and Normal
After the main Height was finished, I needed to modify Normal and polish the Height until it was ideal. This way we can be sure that there will be no geometry extrusion artifacts on render. That is why I balanced Normal so that small texture parts did not stand out too much and stones did not lose their detail level.
Then I turned my attention to height: I added Blur HQ to moss to make relief look softer. Then I added the same Blur HQ to clover so that its leaves bent down a little.
The rest was easy – colorize the texture and work with Roughness.
Base Color and Roughness
Color and Roughness are the finish line of the texturing process, which means that I could relax and watch the material turn alive, acquiring its color and glares. Every color layer was gathered with the help of masks from Height Blend. Here you can work by the standard scheme: Gradient Map + Blend.
Then I finished the Roughness Map and added some spray on the stones. You can’t just have drops on the clover with dry stones all over the place, right?
Our material is ready!
Before sending my work to render, I created a simple Scattering Map for the vegetation with a small gradient, so that I could set up Subsurface Scatter in Marmoset Toolbag 3.
Rendering is a whole different type of cuisine! With my passion for photography I love close-up and bokeh effect. That’s why in my renders I try to create an illusion of real object photo. In fact, render can be considered a special kind of photo camera in your hands, with the ability to put the sun where you want it to be and add as much Fog as you want.
I wanted to create a sense of soft summer sun, illuminating the stones. That is why I picked one single Spot Light with yellowish color as a source of light (the rest of the light was made by HDRI map).
I have put this light source opposite to camera. That’s how I got these nice glares from drops and shadows under the leaves, which create the effect of “emptiness” under the clover and a feeling that it really is hanging over the ground.
Now the only thing left was to slightly correct the camera for more contrast and saturated picture. I added a bit of DOF to acquire nice blur, spiced it up with some light fog and that’s it. Our atmospheric fairytale-like picture is ready!
That’s it. I hope you found something useful for yourself in this article.
In addition to the artists that I have mentioned, I also found a lot of useful techniques and tips in Substance Masters tutorials made by JRO as well as in Daniel Thiger's, Jacob Norris’s, and other artist’s articles and videos. You can find their courses on Gumroad.
I also want to express my gratitude to 80 Level for the chance to share my work here and my great friend Yaroslav Mandryka for translating this article for me.