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Iacopo Antonelli gave a little talk about the way you can use Substance tools with Unreal Engine 4 to achieve incredible effects.
I am Iacopo Antonelli, 22 years old from Rome, and I had my first experience in the gaming industry as a programmer. I studied Computer Science at “La Sapienza” in Rome, but most of my skills are in Games Arts due to the intense study I made by my self since the age of 13.
When I was 20, after some years of 3D Application Development in Unity, as a freelance 3D Artist and programmer, I joined Indiegala and Ghostshark Games to develop Blockstorm, a first person shooter voxel game, that then has been released on Steam.
My role in Blockstorm was to develop and design the UI System, this required me to be really flexible, because I continuously used to switch between programming in Unity with C#, to 2D/3D graphics in Photoshop and Vue for skyboxes: in the end. this experience lead me to a full artist job, working then on a couple of commercial AR projects.
Actually I am working on the project “Die Young” at Indiegala as Environment and Technical Artist, I lead the Vfx, Shading and Lighting sectors of the studio on Unreal Engine 4, and I collaborate with other artists in the team to create high quality game assets.
Building a Scene in UE4 with Substance tools.
I started this project to end with a little, simple and inspiring environment which could be cool at a first look, expecially thanks to the lights and the effects contribution to the scene mood. Lights, colors and Vfx are the core of the scene, I made a study on them to achieve this result, dividing the scene in three main colors: orange, cyan and green, to give a warm, cool and creepy aspect to the room.
It all started from the floor texture I made in Substance, this had to be the core of the scene, everything else came out after with the help of the references I choosed before starting. I used just Substance for texturing in this project, I created my props materials in Designer and textured them in Painter with additional touches. When I finish a material or a prop, I tend to take some shots in Marmoset to preview it. I find this software really cool, it can give you an excellent render in a really small time, and testing props with different light situations can be useful sometimes.
Sometimes, in Substance Designer, if I don’t have a reference, an exact object or a texture to reproduce, I just go ahead and try with random tests.
Trial and error to me is the most important way to learn things, and sometimes it can lead to a good base for something. This time I wanted to create some kind of magic effect on the ground, like an energy under the floor that comes out slowly.
I began creating a simple tiling texture for the floor pattern, then I made the starting point of the crack.
The cracked emissive part has been thought as a long vertical texture, it has been merged on the floor by subdiving it for each floor tile until the end of the crack, masking top and bottom sides of the textures to avoid seams, so the crack doesn’t have any interruptions and seems like a unique entity.
The emissive effect was very important and I achieved that through an emissive map in UE4 and a lot of bloom. The floor has a displacement map too, it has a great impact on the total effect because if you look nearly, you can really sense the depth of the cracks.
Substance and UE4
I used to work with Photoshop and Quixel before using Substance tools for game assets production, and in my opinion Substance solution has the fastest tools and the better integration with UE4 at the moment.
Making Substance working with UE4 has been easy and fast, but sometimes it can be tricky, it depends on what you are trying to create.
Substance Painter has an easy UI, magic tools and excellent export settings which let you to directly optimize your textures channels withouth passing through Photoshop, and this is really important in game productions.
For example I usually set the AO in Albedo Alpha, or a single RGB for Roughness, Specular and Metallic assigning each texture in a 8bit channel. In some extreme cases I use to make a texture with Normal in RGB and Height in alpha (for terrain textures for example), but this is really tricky and expensive to manage in material editor so you have to decide if you want to lose memory or frame rate in that case.
On the other hand, Substance Designer can be more difficult to learn if you never used a node based software, but when you get it, it works with UE4 is a charme and you can create everything you want.
In “Die Young”, the project I am working at Indiegala, I’m trying to avoid ton of texturing tweaks through material editor to have less charge on GPU, but there are cases that needs complex and advanced materials, like with the foliage or the water, and you can’t do a lot with this stuff except handling it directly in the material editor: color, scattering and normals for example are really important in foliage, and you will have to setup a shader to make them working appropriately.
If you are making a texture in Substance, and you know which lights and postprocesses the scene will have, you can reach a good result without a lot of tweaks in Engine, on the other hand if you have a Day/Night cycle situation where the lights and the postprocesses rapidly change in your scene, everything can be harder to manage, forcing you to handle colors and other aspects in the engine.
This problem can be solved using Substance Plugin for UE4, which can provide you all the parameters you need to handle your textures, but if you can’t use it for production reasons you will have to find a workaround.
Benefits of Substance
I think it’s a bit longer to make a Designer material which works with all the engines the same way, instead of a material for just one in particular, but it’s possible. If you are using Substance Plugin with a fully procedural material, the process will be easier. The plugin will allow you to handle every single aspect of the material and the procedural texture directly in the engine (Normal map format, colors, output maps…) , but if you export bitmaps the story can be different. For example a normal map has different formats, and not all the engines use DirectX like UE4, Unity has OpenGL, so as a first operation if you want to use the same texture on UE4 and Unity you have to switch the normal map format. The other factor could be PBR method used, Unreal has Roughness/Metallic, but you can find Specular/Glossiness too, which means you need other textures to make your materials work with all the engines.
The power of Substance Designer is that you can handle all of the things I said until now in your graph. You can set tons of output based on your needs, your graphs can be ready for engine switching or not, it depends on you.
Substance doesn’t work well just for games, it works well for every average digital production, you have tons of settings which help you to manage projects and templates for each of them, libraries, custom export settings (this is one of my favorite functions in Painter, it seriously saves hours of production), custom materials: for example you can give to your studio art a total homogeneity making a library of materials for your project, which will be used by studio artists to make textures, so them will feel in the same way along the experience. Substance is so good for games for several reasons, one of them, in my opinion, could be the possibility on painting a low poly asset in Painter, with an awesome material manager based on layers (like Photoshop), or a nodes based software, which is Designer, which allows you to change everything withouth losing hours. Nodes based software are really useful for productions, they allows you to make fast tests and changes, and graphs are obviously reusable, and this is a big pro for a production and one of the reasons who made me choose Substance for my work pipeline.