Generating Dirt & Rocks in Substance Designer
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Latest comments
by jenny
3 hours ago

That is really a great thing for us all.

by Jeff
5 hours ago

I just based my landscape material on this. I just wish I could exactly figure out what is going on with normals, ao and displacement here.

by Christopher Buller
7 hours ago

That was extremely helpful! Thank you!

Generating Dirt & Rocks in Substance Designer
27 February, 2018

Chris Cunningham gave a little talk on the way he’s dealing with complex materials with dirt and rocks in Substance Designer. 

Hey guys my name is Chris Cunningham and I am currently working as an environment artist at 2K Visual Concepts up in Novato, CA. I hope you guys enjoy this little write up and if you have any questions shoot me a message at

When starting this project I wanted to be able to create a realistic ground texture using only Substance. I also wanted to make it in a way so I could change it and create texture variants quickly and easily, Example.

I started this material literally from the ground up. First creating the dirt,  I would then look at some reference and think well, what would be next? Add some dead grass and a few variants of them, then add some rocks and have 3 different sizes that I scatter. Its all about being honest with yourself, looking at your work and saying “No, this dosnt look right” and go back and fix it.

The main ground core was done with just a few clouds with levels to control the height. When trying to figure out the height you are going for its all about what kind of material you are making. If you know there is something underneath the dirt then you have to have the dirt at a greater gray value so you can create things underneath. Just think of it as white  is popping out and black is flat.

The rocks took me a few tries to get right. it kept looking too spotty or way to full, so I kept looking at reference and I realised that I needed more size variation. This is not a fast food order, there has to be more options than small, medium and large.

Working with the roughness map here I wanted the rocks to feel dry and the ground to feel just a little damp. When adjusting the roughness I just leveled the rocks so they soak in the light instead of reflecting it. Rocks in real life are usually pretty dead..unless it just rained.

Without Substance I would spend countless hours in Zbrush, baking, then texturing using old school techniques in Photoshop. Substance lets me literally just change the values of my tile random node and its a different texture. I would do this a few times and export them. Now you can load them into a proper game engine and paint some landscapes using different height blends to create a convincing ground texture. Doing it this way avoids the repitious look of tiling textures.

I also want to take the time to let you guys know that I have just released a tutorial using the same techniques I used in this substance but on some square concrete tiles. I hope you guys enjoy that. Also, soon I will be releasing a tutorial that goes through substance and proper intergration into UE4.


Chris Cunningham, Environment Artist.

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.

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