Material Study in Substance Designer: Coffered Ceiling

Material Study in Substance Designer: Coffered Ceiling

Yann Esparbié discussed step-by-step how he created the procedural Coffered Ceiling Material in Substance Designer: shape and details generation, metallic/roughness maps, and tips for rendering.


Hi, I'm Yann and I'm 21 years old. I'm a student in game development, specialized in 3D. I went for a bachelor’s degree in video games at Lisaa Paris going straight to the 2nd year after a traditional drawing preparation, so I've been learning 3D for two years now. I'm still attracted by many things and I don't know yet what to specialize in. I feel like I still have a lot to discover and learn, that's why I'm continuing the studies and getting a master's degree in the same school.

Discovering Substance Designer

I began to learn SD thanks to a lazy lighting teacher whose teaching was incomplete (he showed us SD in order to kill time but wasn’t really involved in teaching us). He didn’t stay in our school long enough anyway, only a semester...From then on, I continued to work on little projects on a weekly basis. Now I can see how I’ve improved in this software since then.

Right now, I spend a lot of time in Substance Designer while waiting for my Master’s degree courses to begin. I chose Designer in particular because I did not have a lot of skills in it and I am very enthusiastic about this software.

I really like architectural and man-made materials, I'm not really into organic or natural textures. Coffered Ceiling was a good challenge for me compared to my current level, I liked the design very much, that's why I started this project.

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Coffered Ceiling Material: Production Steps

Base Shape

It begins there, simply with a Polygon 1 having the gradient option On. Then with a Curve, we can start to create the main shape of the material.

To summarize the node curve, it allows you to take each grey value and assign a new value to it. It is a node that we rarely use when we don’t know much about Substance Designer because it can be very counter-intuitive, but with practice, it becomes very useful.

Acorn Detail

To create this detail, I started with a Paraboloid Shape node, then Trapezoid Transform in order to get the embed acorn. After that comes a Curve to add details. I then put a Ridged Bell to create a leaf, and a Directional Warp to define the shape, then I give it volume with A Gradient Linear 3. I just have to put it in the right place and give volume again to the general shape with a Gradient Linear 1. To finish with this part I use a Splatter Circular.

Small Flower

You can achieve this kind of result simply by playing with some Transform 2D, Warps, Curve, and Blend.

Wave Detail

For this particular shape, I used a Weave Generator, that I added in a Blend with a mask where I wanted the detail to be. To obtain the final piece, I selected the zone with a Histogram Select that I redefined with a Curve.

The final aspect can be modified simply with the Weave Generator’s tiling.


Before talking about metallic/roughness, I must warn you that these maps stayed simple in this particular project, only because there was already a lot of information in the normal and height map.

In the beginning, I went and got all the details in my graph that I wanted to be metallic. I simply selected them one by one with a Histogram Select and added them one after another, then re-used my first Tile Sampler.
I started by setting roughness values with my previous mask and uniform colors to break apart metallic and stone parts. Then, I simply used a Dirt node that takes the curvature and ambient occlusion as base to add smear.

To make the rock more interesting, I made small white dots on a black background to create dots of brilliance.

When I Thought I was Going to Give Up This Project

There was a moment when I thought I was going to give up and move on to something else (which would have been a terrible mistake). I had the idea to work on my details in only a ⅛ of the octagon and to reassemble it at the end but this method brought a lot of bugs and errors. I did everything I could to fix them but I couldn't get away with it... 

Result (Height > Normal > Albedo > Metallic > Roughness):


The rendering is very, very important, and it requires practice to get good results. Without exaggerating, renders are at least half of the final quality of an artwork. Good renders can save bad 3D, but good 3D does not save bad renders.

Marmoset Tips

When I start a new project in Marmoset I first choose a skybox that enhances the object. I raise the brightness enough to see my object clearly, place 3 or 4 Child-lights in the skybox, sometimes an external spotlight, then I lower the brightness of the skybox because as the light comes from all sides, it erases all shadows. That's why I replace it little by little with external lights.

A little trick, you can add a shadow catcher with the opacity of the shadow set to 0 under your object, it will not be visible but if you have checked the local reflections option, it will add reflections of your extra lights to your object. It can really make the lighting more beautiful.

Half-Sphere Tips

If you want to make a render of a material on a sphere, using a half-sphere can improve the results a lot (sometimes, more or less depending on the material) as it limits stretches and distortions.

If you make an image, I strongly advise you in any case to go back to Photoshop and adjust values such as contrast, saturation, etc. and add some effects, easily with the layers blending modes.

Learning the Software

Personally, in order to progress in Substance Designer, I started by following Youtube videos (e.g., Karalysson, 3d ex, get learnt...) and copying them step by step. Often, after the first half of the video, I started to play with the parameters and modify the material to my liking. I also bought some graphs from professionals on the internet to analyze them but it is not compulsory. Then I made my own projects from references and after many failures and monstrosities, I managed to produce some correct materials.

If I had one piece of advice to give, it would be to start making renders before you are satisfied with your work, because it takes practice to learn it and if you start doing it the day you manage to produce a beautiful material or prop, you will have a problem.

Yann Esparbié, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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