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Jason Gullion did an interesting breakdown of his sinister scene inspired by Bloodborne and talked about awesome materials created in Substance.
Hello, my name is Jason Gullion and I am a Vancouver based Environment Artist currently working at Electronic Arts. I’ve been working in games now for four years and have had the opportunity to contribute to great products like Mechwarrior and FIFA.
I found my start in games when I was working in Graphic Design back in 2012. Some of my coworkers had some experience in other forms of digital production and, when they heard about my passion for video games, recommended I check out some of the schools in Vancouver. I moved to a new province and began grinding.
Start of the Project
The Nightmare Cathedral found its start while I was doing weekly Substance materials to refine a texturing specialty I’d been working on in the last year. I was thinking of the scenes I could work on and wanted to create an interior that really meant something to me.
In the scene, I wanted to redesign the Nightmare Cathedral or Grand Cathedral lamps from Bloodborne. As the development continued I leaned more toward the nightmare aspect for its greater contrast and highlights.
For me, the importance was to maintain the atmosphere of Bloodborne. I didn’t want to damage that original integrity of the product, but to add to it. I wanted to bring the eerie forlorn scene and empower it with Unreal and Substance Designer working in tandem.
I tried a new pipeline for working on this piece. As I wanted to really focus on texturing I established my textures first, then using those forms and shapes I developed my grey block.
This is most noticeable regarding the stained glass as I procedurally developed the whole wall face, then modeled over top of the texturing almost like a trim sheet.
This pipeline can work well when working with a lot of tiling textures or when developing a systems library. The extra framework made visualizing a final product a lot easier when it wasn’t just random grey geometry. This also assisted lighting as I could anticipate the behavior on a more refined final material.
Working on the Assets
Regarding reference and forms, my primary goals were to isolate the key assets in the scene: the altar, upper balcony, back dome, and central floor design. And then to redesign the surfacing on them to add individual visual storytelling.
Ash piling in between stone tiles as it falls from burning tapestry and curtains.
Fine ironwork theological art pieces scuffed and dirtied from the passing horrors within the city.
A divine altar to worship a now morbidly disfigured vicar, who in his beastly form has shrouded his presumed resting point with a thick burning tapestry to create a makeshift throne.
Gestural symbolism within a stained-glass illustration, eluding to the guests from the cosmos, the burning of Yharnam, and the soft light of the pale moon.
The scale was a matter of many-many screenshots. I walked around the Grand Cathedral in Bloodborne for hours to really get a feel for it. I then set up a base human model and began modeling based on these reference points.
Altar & Throne
My work process for the Altar really links back to my work within Designer. I was able to leverage a lot of horizontal tiling geometry to string along a box modeled structure because I lead this project by developing materials and tiles.
For the Throne, I created a sculpt in ZBrush to really nail the primary folds. I then projected some of my fabric heights for minor details.
A trip through Substance Painter allowed me to freely place and rotate several layers of my tapestry substance while blending them between one another to get an organic feel to the seams and design rotation.
My processes for texturing is driven by Substance Designer. Be it props or tiles I’ll start off by creating a base system in Designer and then take it where it needs to be for final output. This includes smart materials, layered work in Painter, or custom painting.
Iteration is the key here for me. Being able to develop a system, then change it modularly to create a whole new piece is very exciting. This is evident in the layered spiral system as its interior and exterior spiral designs were made in separate subsystems then combined with geometry.
This synergy within the Substance toolset enables refined and iterative control over an output. Once you have a strong library to tap into for designer you can really move quickly to iterate upon a final product.
The most challenging aspect of this piece was getting saturated detail into the colors. Bloodborne is quite a desaturated reference. The bricks and architecture colors are quite bland, and the flames and skyboxes are really where the color comes in.
Flames are used quite well in Bloodborne so I decided to leverage the notion by really going the full mile when implementing ash and burning embers.
I then contrasted these colors with a very cool atmosphere like the night phase of Bloodborne. I tried to pull this color into the stained glass to create a secondary focal point.
An example of exterior night phase in bloodborne and reliance on color from lighting:
I created approximately 6 base material systems for the Bloodborne scene. These base systems like bricks, tiles, ash, and roof ornaments could each then be leveraged to create sub-materials like circular spirals, engravings, and trim sheets.
Colored lines display reused graph tools and custom nodes:
My emissive materials are all set up here with vertex blends using basic linear interpolate functions, but the real layered detail here comes from some height-based detections I use in Designer. This can be a great modular tool in the case of my glowing ash, and uniquely applicable as seen in the Caryll runes
Bitmaps I painted then used to develop height sample for Caryll Runes Filter:
Above is the cell I’ve used throughout Bloodborne with minor modifications to detect height and generate emission. By inputting 3 height-based selections I can develop cavity highlights, fall off colors, and a midrange mask for blending them together.
Check out one of the Gothic materials closer here.
I wanted to stick to the lighting in the relevant reference and also to push it to a cinematic degree adding in more controlled highlights/focal points and deeper shadows.
As I focused on redesigning the Nightmare Cathedral I found myself running into a few cases of true black in my output when recreating the low lighting of the scene. In these situations, I worked to bring it up to 95% black at the deepest points so that some color could be maintained in the shadow.
The scene is lit with a directional light casting shadows against the wall/windows. I then used small range Omni lights for the candles and the red Caryll runes. When using these individual lights I tried to keep a soft fall off so they could blend more naturally with the directional moon.
Dynamic lighting pass for the scene:
Moving forward I’d really like to take the scene and finalize it as a set for displaying props. In doing this I see an opportunity to recreate the Grand Cathedral variant of the scene.
For this, I will need to make some brighter cooler lighting and replace the focus on flame and red with a focus on gold, cool highlights, and organic sculpture. I would cast aside the hanging tapestry and really develop the detailed ornate structures of bloodborne’s revealed altar and final resting place of The First Vicar Laurence.
I really am captivated by fantasy and escapist fiction, art that takes me to a different world. When I create my personal art I really enjoy expressing this passion for fantastical scenes and materials. Balancing reality and immersion with otherworldly or imaginative content is always a fun challenge.