Making a Burger Material in Maya & Substance 3D Designer

Louis Martin told us about the workflow behind the Burger project, talked about creating individual ingredients, and explained how the final product was assembled.


Hello everyone! My name is Louis Martin, I'm 25 years old and I'm a French Junior Texture and Material Artist. I studied 3D animation for 5 years at ESMA (Ecole Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques) in Toulouse, France, and I got my Master's degree in September 2020. I finished my training by co-directing a short film at the end of my studies – Sauve Qui Pneu.

Last year, I was finishing school and couldn't get a job, with the Covid crisis and lockdown, I had some time on my hands and decided to practice in Substance 3D Designer which I always wanted to learn to create a stronger portfolio. More recently, I got to work for a small company in Toulouse, France – Le Mas Toulousain – that builds detached houses. I made different materials for them. You can find a part of the project here.

Since childhood, I have always been passionate about Disney/Pixar movies and Ubisoft/Ensemble Studios/NCsoft video games. I like to watch a movie or play a game and stop for a moment to observe the work done on the textures which is more and more amazing over the years. I really wanted to understand how 3D worlds were made, it always amazed me. That's what led me to study animation and specialize in texture creation.

I first discovered Substance 3D Designer at school during our short film production. We had a city to design and the need to create a lot of stylized materials. So I had to learn Substance 3D Designer on the job, and at the beginning, it was really hard, I followed tutorials on YouTube without really knowing how to use the software. Unfortunately, the school didn't teach us how to create textures, they taught us how to edit textures in Photoshop, how to connect different maps in Maya and RenderMan but for the rest, we did what we could in Substance 3D Painter or Mari. I thought it was a shame to systematically use existing textures, I wanted to create my own textures but I didn't really know how to. 

So after my training, I started to learn how to create textures on Substance 3D Designer, and this time I did it right. I started by looking for the best material designers' portfolios and I came across Daniel Thiger's portfolio which had 5 basic tutorials that are great to start with and to learn the basics. I continued to follow Daniel's other tutorials and I also learned a lot from Levelup.Digital and other talented artists, like Pauline Boiteux and Vincent Dérozier. Of course, I also recommend the 25-tutorial series Getting Started with Substance Designer.

The Burger Project

I'm always looking for new ideas to create my materials and enrich my portfolio. While searching, I realized that there were very few food materials projects. Some time ago I came across a paper by Pixar talking about the difficulty of making 3D food on their movie Ratatouille and making it realistic, and I challenged myself to make a project totally made with my hands, with textures entirely created in Substance 3D Designer. But why a burger? I love to eat well, I love burgers, moreover, it speaks to almost everyone. As far as I know, no one has tried to make a fully textured burger in Substance 3D Designer, so here it is! 

Getting Started

At the beginning of each project, I get a very basic pipeline template, which I designed based on a part of the pipeline from our graduation short film, to structure my work and save time. 

To start with, besides eating and photographing a lot of burgers, I did some research on how burgers are made for advertising, how they make them look so appetizing compared to the ones we eat. You'll find plenty of videos on the internet, if you don't know the principle, here's one right here, it's pretty amazing:

I always like to go to ArtStation to find inspiration, for example, I was inspired to make the steak for the burger by Daniel Thiger's work on meatballs in his Spaghetti and Meatballs project. I also make a list of the different materials to work with and research each one on photo sites, such as Shutterstock.


Then I started modeling, in parallel with the creation of materials on Substance 3D Designer. I like to alternate, it allows me to take a fresh look at my work. Modeling the burger in Maya was a logical choice for me, it's the software I learned to master during the 5 years of school. Since I started creating materials, I try to model as low poly as possible to give detail with Normal and Displacement Maps.

Modeling was not very difficult to do except for the salad, which was the biggest modeling challenge for me. To reproduce the curves and volume of the lettuce, I tried planes with many Divisions that I deformed with Curves, Lattice, Wire, Non-Linear Bend, Wave Deformers, and Texture Deformers, none of which really worked.

After several tries and searches for 3D salad references on the internet, I thought: why not consider the salad a fabric and try in Marvelous Designer? Strangely enough, it worked the best and much faster than in Maya. After importing my burger pattern into Marvelous Designer, I created a star-shaped salad pattern. It wasn't easy to find the right shape, I needed to be able to have enough points to move around and create dips and bumps. I increased the number of divisions of the plane and then ran it through a quad. In the 3D view of the burger, I then placed the star-shaped plane between the burger and the tomatoes. I touched a few parameters of the default material, I didn't want the fabric to be too light or too elastic, the goal was to try to get as close as possible to the way salad moves. 

The next step is very simple: I used the Tack on Avatar tool which allows snapping points of the plane on the burger. So I snapped the points of the tips of the plane sometimes upwards, sometimes downwards in order to create the wavy effect of the salad that I was looking for. 

Finally, I added a few more dots to the inside of the burger so you can't see through it, and that's it, all that's left to do is export the salad back to Maya!


In Substance 3D Designer, I always start by setting my template scene based on the fourth video in the "Getting Started with Substance Designer" tutorial series. Here's what my version looks like:

For the burger project, I created a new graph for each material to make it more readable and easier to export later. Each material is customizable with as much control as possible, the goal is to export them in .sbsar in order to use them in Substance 3D Painter on our burger model as Base Material.

Buns Material

I'm going to introduce you to the three materials I was working on. Let's start with the burger buns material. I thought of its construction in two parts: one side, with the seeds we will talk about, and the other side – the inner part, with bread crumbs.

The base of the material is quite simple, I started by adding a Moisture Noise and then I added cracks using the Tile Generator, the Histogram Scan, and the Distance node, which allow me to recreate the equivalent of the Cells 4 node but with more control. I added an Edge Detect to recover the edges of the cells and I had my first cracks. I often like to add Flood Fill to Gradient or Flood Fill to Random Grayscale to add variation.

For the seeds, I started with the Shape node in the Ridged Bell mode. After applying some Transforms and getting my seed shape, I created six variants of the same seed by adding variation with the Swirl Grayscale, Perlin Noise, and Slope Blur Grayscale nodes. The six seeds are connected to the six inputs of two Tile Samplers in the Pattern Input mode to distribute them randomly. The first Tile Sampler with a lot of seeds would be used to add the seeds to the base of the buns, the second Tile Sampler, which has fewer seeds, would be used to create holes to simulate the absence of seeds that might have come off the burger buns.

For the Base Color, I started with my Height Map and applied a Gradient Map with color shades that are close to burger buns. I then added a blend of Moisture Noise and Gaussian Spots 2 in another Gradient Map to create details. I also added small spots of color with the Dirt 2 node that I blended several times with itself so that there is much more of it. I then added a mask of the seeds with the Flood Fill to Random Greyscale, this way each seed has a slightly different shade. I also have a parameter that controls the level that allows me to contrast the height, and I have a mask of the area that could correspond to a change in the cooking of the burger buns. I often finish my Base Color by adding the Metal Edge Wear and Dust node to add the final level of detail and bring up the shadows around the elements.

Finally, I used the version of the Cracks Weathering node I modified, which helps me to add some extra cracks to the burger buns very easily.

Steak Material

Let's look at the steak material. 

To make our steak round, we start from the Shape node in the Paraboloid mode. We add Blur on the edges and then add Slope Blur Grayscale which will make the shape more interesting by breaking the round shape of the circle.

Then we add Grid Footprints, I used the Brick Generator node to create the lines, we add Directional Warp and Slope Blur Grayscale which have Intensity Input of Perlin Noise and Cloud to twist the lines. We have two types of lines, one wider and shallower, the other smaller and deeper, we blend the two and we have our Grid Footprints.

For the meat, I use Cloud 1 in the Grayscale input of Slope Blur Grayscale and I add Blur to the Cloud that comes in the Slope input of Slope Blur right after Blend in Foreground Cloud 1 to mitigate the Slope Blur effect we got earlier. With the  Cells 3 node and Edge Detect, I add cracks that I will Blur and Slope Blur afterward, which allows me to break the pieces of meat from each other.

For the pepper, it's quite simple, after contrasting the Dirt 5 node with Histogram Select, I repeat it several times to increase the amount of dirt, then I blend it to the first Dirt 5 in the Subtract mode to decrease the amount of dirt and have smaller spots.

For the Base Color of the Steak, it's the same principle as for the burger buns, I start from my Height Map, I blend the Grunge Map 007 and the Gradient Map in the Subtract mode to add details. I then add the Grid Footprints, the little spots of pepper. Again, I use the level to contrast the height and get a mask of the burnt areas of the steak. I finish the Base Color by adding the Metal Edge Wear and Dust nodes.

I finish by adding the Water Level node just before my maps are released. I have one Water Level that works when my steak maps are in a circle and the other that works when my maps are in a basic square format. I have a Normal Blend that allows me to reduce the strength of the Water Level only on the Normal Map giving the feeling of having a wet effect on the steak.

Tomatoes Material

And finally, I will talk about the construction of the tomato material.

We start with the Shape node in Disc mode for the basic shape. To create the pieces that will hold the seeds of the tomato, I use the Polygon 1 node with 3 Sides in which I vary the Triangle Size to create the shape of the piece with an if/else function depending on the number of pieces I want, here I wanted 3 to 6 pieces.

Once my Polygon 1 is configured and my 3 pieces obtained, I only want to keep one piece, so I hide the others, allowing me to use Splatter Circular which will have its Pattern Amount parameter which will also vary from 3 to 6. So I control the shape of the piece with Polygon 1 and the number of quarters – with Splatter Circular. I then use the Slope Blur Grayscale node which only works on the outer edges to make the edges imperfect.

I then tackle the inner part of the tomato wedges. I use the same Splatter Circular controlled by the same parameter to vary the elements from 3 to 6. I also use the seed mask to create the roots of the seeds that start from the heart of the tomato. I add more Slope Blur Grayscale to make the shape of the tomato more organic and I apply Blur that serves as a gradient on the central part.

To create the seeds of the tomato, I start with the same idea as for the seeds of the burger buns, I make 6 variations of the same seed that I then place by hand with 2D Transformation nodes according to the shape of my different pieces. I add Flood Fill to Random Grayscale and Flood Fill to Gradient to add more variation to the seeds.

I also take the opportunity to create a mask of seeds in the shape of a circle which will be used later in the Base Color, the idea is to represent the seeds that are barely visible in the flesh of the tomato, unlike the others which are in the liquid part.

I now add a layer of detail to the tomato with Gaussian Spots 2, Grunge Map 007 that goes into the Non Uniform Directional Warp with the tomato. I add some small dots and the circle seed mask we saw above to create pits and bumps at the seed locations.

Finally, for the Base Color, I get the Height Map, I apply a Gradient Map and I use the masks that I used previously – Blend with Grunge Map or Flood Fill to Random Grayscale which will be used to place different colors on each element.

On the same principle as for the steak material, I add the Water Level node which allows having liquid in the tomato quarters, where the seeds are the most visible.

From Substance 3D Designer to Substance 3D Painter

Once my materials are finished in Substance 3D Designer, I just need to publish the .sbsar file one graph at a time. To do this, I select the graph I want to export and set the Exposed parameter in SBSAR to Yes. I then check that all the other parameters of the other graphs are set to No. Then I right-click on the Burger_SD package, which contains all the materials, and click on Publish .sbsar file. I check that there is only one graph to export and click on Publish. In my project folder, I end up with one .sbsar file per material.


Now I will tell you about my working process in Substance 3D Painter. After importing the smooth version of my .obj from Maya, I import my .sbsar materials created in Substance 3D Designer into the project as the Base Material. To do this, I drag and drop the file directly into my material library.

Then let's take the example of the tomato, I just have to drag and drop my tomato material from my library back into my tomato model and make some adjustments with the parameters I created in Substance 3D Designer before.

To make my material only affect a specific area, for example, if I don't want the same material on the top and sides of my tomato, I apply a mask to my material. I then use the Polygon Fill tool in UV Chunk Fill mode and I just select the elements on my UV board that are going to have the material.

I adapt my material to my UV board by managing the scale and offset if needed. I repeat the process for each new part of the model.

For the application of the other materials on the model, it's the same principle, the burger buns required a little more work because each part is different and requires changing the material. For example, we don't want the seeds to be applied to the whole burger bun on top. I made some color adjustments and managed the transition between different materials to avoid seeing seams.


After exporting my maps from Substance 3D Painter, I can open my Marmoset Toolbag 4 template scene which I use as a base for all my projects to save time. For all those who make materials and want to start with Marmoset, I recommend another tutorial by Daniel Thiger which helped me a lot.

For this project, I made one scene per material project, it saves me crashing problems by making my scenes lighter if, for example, I need to increase the SubDivisions. I have a scene for the burger buns, for the steak, for the tomatoes, a scene with the burger alone, and another with the burger and its decor.

I start by importing my .obj low poly mode, then I select my model and go to the SubDivision parameter, I change the mode to Catmull-Clark, check SubDivide, and increase the SubDivision level until my object is smooth enough. Sometimes I increase the SubDivision level much more depending on my Height Map and the size of the details.

Once the materials are created and my maps are connected, I apply the materials to the model, I only have to adjust the strength of displacement and some other parameters, like Refraction or SubSurface Scattering. SSS plays a major role in the realistic rendering of translucent materials, like food.


For the lighting, I start with a basic Sky Light, I choose an HDR according to the light ambiance I want to have, then I make 3-points lighting with 3 Directional Lights: the blue one (Back Light), the yellow one (Fill Light), and the orange one (Key Light).

To have more convincing rendering, I activate the Ray Tracing parameter, it really improves the quality of the shadows, global illumination, scattering, and thus the quality of my projects.

Before launching the render, I always activate the Depth of Field in the parameters of my camera. I click with the mouse wheel on the area I want to focus, this will directly change the Focus Distance parameter. I then adjust the Near and Far Blur according to my intentions.

When I present my materials in my portfolio, I also present the maps I made in Substance 3D Designer. If you want to present your maps side by side on your material, I recommend you to get the Free PBR Breakdown Shader by Jonas Olesen. It can be added to your Marmoset Toolbag scene very easily and will save you from wasting time with your maps in Photoshop.


And here we are, at the end of this project. This is the first time I made a project with so many materials made entirely in Substance 3D Designer. I learned a lot about how to create food materials, how to make them appetizing, and also in this project I switched from Marmoset Toolbag version 3 to version 4 and discovered Ray Tracing, today I don't work without it anymore.

For beginners like me, don't get discouraged, it can take you a long time to make something you're happy with. Get inspired by other talented artists, read great articles on 80 Level, don't hesitate to disconnect from your screen to take a step back from your work, and especially go out to see the real world, it's a great source of new inspiration.

To finish with, I would like to thank the 80 Level team for giving me the opportunity to give this interview, and thank you all for reading it, I enjoyed sharing this with you. I hope that, despite my junior level, you could find some useful information.

If you have any questions, comments, or if you like my work, you can contact me or follow me right here.
Also, I always look for Texture/Material Artist or 3D Artist jobs in the video game, film, advertising, or architecture industry, and I'm open to any opportunities that could be offered to me in France.

See you soon!

Louis Martin, Texture/Material Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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Comments 1

  • Kozin Vladyslav

    Nice work! Looks delicious.


    Kozin Vladyslav

    ·3 months ago·

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