Texture and Props Artist Micro shared the workflow behind the Nike and Adidas shoebox material and described the rendering process done with Substance 3D Stager and Marmoset Toolbag.
Hello! My name is Cyril, but quite often the English pronunciation turns it into “Cereal,” so you can call me Micro. I am a 24-year-old artist from Switzerland and before becoming a Game Artist I was simply passionate about video games. Therefore, without really knowing where to step in, I started studying Game Art in a small school in Geneva. Luckily for me (the school was already paid for), I fell in love with 3D creation and happily graduated in 2020. Nowadays, I am working as a freelance Texture Artist and love 3D challenges but still open to working in a company if the offer is fair.
Substance 3D Designer
My studies were focused on the environment art profession. I still feel like it was a chance to study environment art because you have to know a little bit about all the aspects of video games' visual creation. So, we learned a lot of different software, and Substance 3D Designer was one of them. Not many of my friends liked it, but I absolutely loved the software. I remember doing some material challenges with a few other students who liked it too.
Although I am happy with my schooling, I must admit that I have learned a lot from the internet. Even though our era of social networks is strongly decried, I am still amazed at how much we can learn from the internet. Whether with paid tutorials or all the free stuff you can find on YouTube, it's impressive.
I’d say the school gave me the basic skills and enough confidence to keep learning by myself. Special thanks to Daniel Thiger and his Substance Designer Fundamentals tutorial. Great way to start with material creation!
I genuinely appreciate the procedural approach. You have to be logical and creative with the way you use your tools. It really changes the way you see things and once you’re addicted enough to the software, you cannot see a beach without thinking, “How would I
make the sand with Substance 3D Designer?” In fact, my friends kind of make fun of me because I always take pictures of everything to use as references. My vacations are not the same anymore.
The Nike/Adidas Shoebox Material
For this material, in particular, I wanted to make something different, something more clever. I have to say I am kind of a sneakers addict and I think the Nike box is very recognizable. The color and the legendary Nike icon give a strong identity to the box, so when I had the idea of turning this shoebox into a material, I was so excited and for the first time, I just started a Substance graph without thinking how I was going to do it, I was just doing it.
What I did first was a basic shape of a shoebox from the side. I like reproducing industrial stuff because you have to think with shapes more than “warp” or “slope blur”. Keeping the box in its simplest form allowed me to easily switch its style afterward.
Then, I multiplied the box with a Tile Sampler but I had a little issue with all the empty space my input had. I avoided it by having a different number of boxes between the X-axis and the Y-axis, plus by tweaking the size of the input.
As simple as that, I had a fairly good basic height for the rest of my material but, as always, I added some subtle variations such as a little random rotation or a bit of directional warping. I think that these small types of detail are as important as the rest. Even if they do not jump to the eyes at first glance, in the end, they help with the credibility of the textures.
Like I said earlier, what is recognizable with the Nike shoebox is its color but also the fact that the box is really simple: only the logo and one label. For the logo, the icon is so famous you can quickly find it on the internet. I only had to put it in Photoshop and turn it into an alpha before sending it to Substance 3D Designer.
I reproduced the label using Photoshop and a few references I found on Google Images. What is written on the tag isn’t that important (in fact, that’s often where I place some easter eggs). The most important thing is to give it the same appearance based on the reference. The color of the text, the font, the placement, etc., this is what matters.
Also, I chose not to put the shoe size directly in the picture to keep that aspect procedural. I linked the label’s bitmap to the Tile Sampler while changing the global offset to place the tag in the right place. Some parameters are linked together in order not to break the tiling when tweaking the material.
For the shoe sizes, I duplicated four Text nodes and wrote a different number in each of those. Then, once again, I linked everything to the almighty Tile Sampler. This time, it will help me to randomly choose between my four previous numbers and put them on the labels. Maybe it seems unnecessary, but the shoe size is the only noticeable thing on the label and if every box had the same number, it would look disturbing.
In order to have a second type of box in this material, I just had to redo the process I did with Nike, just changing some details (color, label, etc.) Then, to randomly decide which boxes to swap, I turned my initial Tile Sampler into Random Grayscale, and the Histogram Scan would choose for me. To be precise, the Histogram Scan node will select from Random Grayscale a range of grayscale (obviously), and this selection will become an opacity map for the Adidas boxes.
On another note, the cardboard wears out easily and keeps very clear impact marks. To mimic that effect, I applied a “cell noise” that I inverted and made it more visible with Edge Detect before beveling the map. It is a simple effect, but combined with a directional warp (to cut the seams between the boxes) and grunge as opacity, it works like a charm!
In the end, my main parameter is the one switching the boxex brands. But while detailing the material, it didn't hurt to add a parameter to these details so I could tweak the final textures. As you can see, there is a parameter for the offset, the height variation, the “damages”, and obviously the brand of the boxes.
For the rendering, I am still attached to Marmoset Toolbag. I think this is one of the easiest software to learn and now with ray tracing, you can do some marvelous renders. With that being said, I also appreciate the new member of the Substance family – Substance 3D Stager. Especially the fact that you can send your material so quickly from Designer to Stager with the “send to” option. This time, I used both of them.
I have done my materials renders on Marmoset Toolbag since the third version and that’s why I am so comfortable with its workflow. Also, I like how Marmoset treats lights and how everything is so easily tweakable. Because of that, I did all my spheres renders in Toolbag 4.
I don’t know if it is pretty common or not, but I have a special sphere for rendering. A common UV from a sphere will bend the top of the material and I have always found this too eye-catching. Therefore, I cut the UV from the sphere in half, reducing a lot (not all) of the distortion. In this case, if I want to make a turntable from the sphere, instead of rotating the mesh, I will use the material’s offset.
With Substance 3D Stager, I rendered my textures with a plane instead of a sphere. It is always interesting to showcase your materials with more than one 3D object. What I fell in love with is how quickly you can add depth of field. With the option “set focus point”, you just have to click where you want the focus to be and Stager does the rest. Most of the software can obviously do depth of field, but it is often way more tricky to settle it.
When I showed this project to one of my friends, she said, “That is so you!” She didn’t know anything about material creation but she was right. Honestly, I only have Nike shoes at home and I love sneakers. The fact that I tried to mix two of my passions was what motivated me to create. Maybe for those who are not into it, material making seems boring. But trust me, you can be as creative as with any other 3D profession.
So if you’re starting to learn material creation, don’t be afraid of Substance 3D Designer. A good material is more about observation rather than technique. Honestly, with a simple shape, the Tile Sampler, and a Slope Blur, you can already do so many things. Also, mistakes with Designer are sometimes occasions to find something awesome. So be curious and try to connect weird nodes together!
Thank you very much, I hope you got something out of this interview. Peace!