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Making Realistic Materials for 3D scenes

3d artist Sungwoo Lee talked about the way Substance Designer helped him to create detailed materials to build an awesome realistic scene in UE4.

3d artist Sungwoo Lee talked about the way Substance Designer helped him to create detailed materials to build an awesome realistic scene in UE4.

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Hi! My name is Sungwoo Lee and I’m from China. I’m a 3d environment artist for games.

I was a WarCraft 3 map editor when I was a senior middle school student and I really liked using world editor to make my own story and special gameplay. I used models in WarCraft 3, built some maps and decided I wanted to make some new stories. Kind of sci-fi, fairy tale etc. But the models in WarCraft 3 couldn’t help me with building such a story, so I made my own 3d models. That’s how I started learning 3D software. Now my hobby became my job and I couldn’t be happier.

Unknown Hallway: PBR Materials

Before I started using Substance Designer, I made most of tiled textures in Zbrush. Now I use only Substance Designer to get PBR textures. It’s an incredible tool.


This is the sbs sample in my Free PBR Texture Vol.1. From this picture you can see my workflow. My first step is the shaping, after that I add some surface details, then convert these texture in basecolor and other channels. My workflow always follows these principles: big to small, structure to detail. This principle applies to every CG workflow. For example, when we make a big environment the first thing to do is blocking. So the shaping is my first consideration in material creation.


The material in this scene is quiet simple. This is not a professional way to make game used material, because I didn’t mix grayscale images into one mask texture file. I just multiplied a color or float value to control each channel. So if you’re making gmes, you really have to work a little differently.

Detailing Materials


These are my materials used in the scene. These 3 materials could be found in our hallway and stairway.

When I was observing black paint I found it looked smooth when I get far away from it and when I get closer it was not so smooth actually: there were many bumps. I took a photo as a reference and looked for a grunge map and noise map in Substance Designer which looked similar to these bump. Then I converted them into normal map.

Plastic and Wall are also very different subjects. Plastic is a translucency material so the border of scratches shows a little bit lighter, because border of scratches is thicker, therefore the light will pass through this place. But in realtime engine we can’t make plastic material into a SSS material casually, so I pick a lighter color into these place on my albedo (basecolor) map.

The wall in our houses is not so smooth even our eyes sometimes cannot capture the detail a little when we get far away from these objects, but our brain tells us there’s a little bump on the wall. It just like when you are looking into your keyboard you cannot find tiny noise on surface but your brain tells you they are not smooth enough.

So when we need to make fully realistic material we must observe these materials as close as possible and then we just need to simulate these tiny things.

Lighting the Scene



In this case, lighting is simple. It is achieved by material and composition of this building. The reason why the lighting looks correct is because I don’t have any light information on my albedo (basecolor) map so lightmass could compute correct light bouncing.

Render: Octane vs UE4

Octane is an unbiased GPU render so it’s fast and correct. I really love this render. It’s a high quality CG solution but it also expensive performance-wise. For realtime rendering UE4 is my major choice, The lightmass have great results, Blueprint is very handy. But for now UE4 needs many features to be improved such as soft alpha cutout, full dynamic GI, translucency materials. I also like Cryengine and Unity.

Realistic Graphics for Games

The game graphics become more and more realistic and these big companies always look for more talented artists to achieve better visuals. As far as I known, most AAA companies do not just make games more realistic but also try to make their work more effective, spending less time on the whole production. So if you want to make it into game industry as an artist, gather all your patience and look more into materials around us and try Substance Designer. It’s a great way to make these materials fast!

sungwoo-lee-preview (1)

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Comments 1

  • Ajmal

    Hello, Your Work is just incredible and I really like it. I would really like to know more about how you managed to get the realistic lighting with octane and maybe make a quick tutorial on your pbr material creation. Like why use this node and not that node and just go into depth, if that would be possible I would really appreciate it.



    ·6 years ago·

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