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Material Study in Substance Designer: Moroccan Tiles

Massimo Caggese did a breakdown of his latest procedural material made in Substance Designer.

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Read our previous interviews with Massimo


Hi everyone! It’s always nice to be back here on 80.lv!

I am Massimo, working in Valencia at elite3d as a Prop Artist since March 2019.

Funny fact: originally, I studied Archaeology and worked as an archaeologist for almost 10 years before shifting ‘not-so-gradually’ to 3D Art in 2014, first working as a freelancer, then for an Italian local company.

Discovering SD

I have always been attracted to texturing and material creation since the beginning of my 3D adventure: studying and understanding how materials behave under specific conditions of weathering/stress and how they interact with each other has always intrigued me. Substance Designer – which I discovered almost 4 years ago – represents an amazing and powerful tool that gives you complete freedom in exploring and developing all these aspects, always in a clean and methodic way (I love node-based software solutions). This freedom, together with the procedural non-destructive approach, allows you to create/modify/tweak anything you want in the blink of an eye. Even if this software can seem a bit intimidating at the very beginning, the amazing results you can achieve with it are totally worth the time spent on learning and training.

Morrocan Tiles Project: Inspiration

During the quarantine period and while working on several other personal projects, I came across this amazing reference of the Mosquee of Hassan II in Casablanca. The curved lines, the rich color palette, and the nice contrast between the extruded stones and the flat tiles were something really fresh and attractive that pushed me to spend some time working on this material.


Talking about the overall shapes of this material, as you can see, they’re not that complicated. Most of the main elements have been achieved starting from simple base shapes modified through add/subtract blend, then blurred and histogram-scanned, then warped and mirrored if needed. Just for one piece of the ceramic tile, I decided to use the CurveTool by Ilya Kuzmichev: is a tool I already used in some of my previous projects and I really liked its versatility and speed in achieving the wanted result. Each individual main piece has then been assembled with the others to create the floral design: with a reciprocal system of subtract operations, I could always control the gap thickness between parts.

With the shapes done, it was time to move to the detailing step regarding weathering and imperfection in this material. As mentioned above, I usually start thinking about how each different material usually behaves and how it is affected by specific conditions. Stone parts have just slight superficial chipping while the inner ceramic ones – in a non-exposed position – almost don’t show any trace of weathering. At this step, I used the TileRandomizer node by Nyronic on stone and ceramic materials to actually break noises and randomize color/roughness information across individual tiles.

The last step was, of course, setting up a couple of global layers of dirt to get a homogenous and realistic look.


Lighting and presentation in Toolbag were also quite straight-forward. I tried to achieve an outdoor setting using an HDRI, a directional light, and a warmer fill light. In the ‘beauty render’ I wanted to add some nice shadow game by projecting the shadow of a tree on the wall in order to break the repetition of the pattern and to emphasize the outdoor feeling. I tried to place the lights in a way to hide as much as possible the thickness of that hard extrusion, where stretching and shading issues would have been more visible.

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Advice for Learners

Learning Substance Designer was – at least for me – a long and funny trial-and-error process. Before understanding what you can achieve with each single node, you need to do a lot of experimenting… and this can be very stimulating and funny! I always encourage people to try and analyze the material they want to recreate breaking it up to simpler individual elements that would be way easier to replicate in the node-language. You can find tons of step-by-step tutorials about material creation, but also lots of materials where you can study the graph and learn how artists make specific parts that you might need in your future crazy material experiments.

Massimo Caggese, Prop Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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