Substance Designer for Organic Materials

Substance Designer for Organic Materials

Gaëtan Lassagne from Allegorithmic talked about new features in Substance Designer and shared some of his production secrets.

Gaëtan Lassagne from Allegorithmic talked about the recent new features of Substance Designer and shared some of his production secrets.


Personally, what were the most notable changes and updates which were issued to Substance Designer, since we’ve last talked?

One important feature (at least for me) is the “Curvature from Mesh” baker. We noticed that in some cases the classic Curvature baker (that uses the GPU) can create some discontinuities, for example when you want to get a continuous line that goes over UV seams. It allows you to get a correct result without having to make changes on the baked map.

Linux support is also a great thing as it opens the tool to new users.


High DPI support is also a nice addition (even if it doesn’t affect everyone) as it allows users to work in a more comfortable way with Substance Designer.

Some user experience things (reorder tabs in the UI, listing order in the space bar search menu, etc.) New content (always useful), for example HDRI environment maps, non-square transform nodes, etc.
Substance Designer now supports the camera import for the 3D view, it can be useful to setup renders (/homogenize previews).


The MDL editor, based on a new nodal system, is also a big feature. Even if it doesn’t affect directly the texture creation process it’s definitely an extension to it. It’s interesting for surface/rendering artists (in order to prototype or create ready to use MDL materials). For now you can use them with Iray but it will be extended to V-Ray, Octane, Redshift and Adobe software.

You’ve most recently shared some very exciting organic materials, which were built with Substance Designer. Could you talk a little bit about your approach to the organic material creation? Are there some specific elements, what you consider to be most peculiar?

Regarding skin materials for example, if you look at different references, you’ll notice there are a lot of variations. It’s possible to get some really different skin patterns from a single person based on where the skin is placed on the body.

I’ve mainly focused on “SciFi” things lately, so basically some “Alien” skins. It means I had more freedom, but the idea was to get something with similarities compared to human (or animals, depending on the asset) skins.


As for every material, the idea is to get all the interesting frequencies that define the surface.
I usually start with the relief : if you get your Normal/Height maps right, you’ll have a very good base to create the other channels. It’s also one of the nice things about Substance Designer: the nodal aspect (reuse things easily between the different channels).

In this case I wanted to have a “medium scale” skin material : something that contains fine details (skin pores, etc.), some medium details (veins, etc.) but that can tile easily without being too basic. This way you can imagine using it to texture a character and add some additional information (really high frequency grain using a detail Normal for example) if needed.

Here is a preview to illustrate some steps of the Height creation:


And here are some realtime previews of the materials with different settings (based on the parameters I created in the substance):

Organic materials in nature do tend to have a lot of math in them, how does that math influence the way you work with the materials in your production? How can you use this peculiar nature of the texture to achieve better results for your projects?

As for a lot of materials, the important thing is usually to try to interpret the material in order to detect the different “noises”, shapes and patterns in the surface we want to reproduce.

For each channel (Base Color, Roughness, Height,etc.) we need to find the kind of noise we want to create in order to obtain the effect we want.

In most cases you can use the wide variety of noises available in Substance Designer’s library window, we tried to provide as much interesting things as we could.

They are -for most of them- based on the “Fx-Map” node but you don’t really need to do math to get something interesting in Substance Designer, even for skin materials. You still can go deeper in the procedural approach and create your custom nodes but usually it’s still based on basic math.


We also created some functions in order to easily do math operations without having to “recreate” things our users may need.

Those who used Substance Designer 1 (or MapZone ? ) know we improved a lot on this side by providing the necessary things to create materials in good conditions.

Here is a small preview of another skin grain creation (more “creature” type this time) without advanced knowledge needed (Height creation and neutral 3D preview with Normal only):



What changes to the design of the materials do you think can help achieve a better stylistic look and would work better in games? I mean in terms of achieving a better visual effect for the whole look of the texture, without sacrificing too much of the realistic look.

I guess it depends on the target (what exact visual style you are looking for) but -while we still create assets “by hand” (and not rely on photogrammetry only)- it will always be more or less stylized.
By doing something based on several references/ideas you have, you’ll sometimes do it in a way that tends to also be “how you see it” and not necessary a classic reproduction.


Something I like to do in textures (as a lot of people I guess ? ) is to add some “life” to the material. You always have to keep in mind the material type and environment (to be coherent) but by adding some dirt/weathering it will allow you to get something more interesting than a pristine material. By adding some specific details you can also get something a lot more interesting (/good looking).

You’ve also done a lot of work with photogrammetry. Could you talk about the way you are using 3d scanned materials with Substance Designer/Painter? How can you modify them, what is the best way to use these kind of textures in your production with modifications made by Substance Tools?

It’s mainly some tests I did over the last months to get a better overview of the current workflow and how and where we can improve it.

As it’s something interesting I wanted to iterate around this and try some things. It’s sometimes difficult to find time to get a perfect overview at work (as for every one, we have several projects/things to deal with).

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Get a better understanding (by testing on different objects with different lighting conditions) and see how custom delight (/details enhancement) filters behave (based on the different sources) were things I wanted to do (to test the sturdiness of things I worked on at Allegorithmic).

You can already use some features to quickly get nice results using Substance Designer for the baking process (/delighting) for example and Substance Painter to do some local adjustments using the clone tool.

On the tree picture for example I made some small changes to get what I wanted, in fact the steps are very similar to what a coworker recently published on Allegorithmic’s blog (except I didn’t use a smartphone as mine is pretty bad ? ). Feel free to take a look at it for more details.


Could you talk about the way you are building the amazing leather material?

For this one the preview helps a lot: when you look at a material, the lighting is as important as the textures themselves in the final render. Take a good material with a bad lighting (/shader setup), it will maybe be as good as inaccurate textures with a good lighting.

By using a special model and suitable lighting it definitely helps to make something more believable.

By adding variations in a material, you also make it more interesting. Even if you have nice regular grain (procedural, scan or whatever) for a clean material, if you add roughness, color or relief variations (more subtle/smooth on some areas) it makes it more convincing.


We saw you published some rocks images, can you talk a little about it?

Nothing crazy but I like natural environments and rocks (/ to look at the dedicated Polycount thread for example) and wanted to get some practice. Regarding the workflow it’s quite common: 3ds Max/zBrush for the high and low poly, then Substance Designer to create a base “rock” material and I used Substance Painter for the final texturing (base material + additional details based on other materials/baked information).


Gaëtan Lassagne, Technical Artist | Product Manager at Allegorithmic

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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    Substance Designer for Organic Materials