Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
The amazing artist Ben Wilson, Vinicius Ribeiro, and Ilan Shoshan talked about some of the amazing materials they’ve made. The Substance Masters Vol. 1 is currently available on Gumroad. It includes full video tutorials on the production of these amazing textures.
As with most others, I like to start off with simple forms and build from there. I first started with the base rock since it would inform everything else in the material and it started out with a simple boulder generator which was squashed and stretched around to get the main forms.
I try to breakdown the ref into sort of discrete components for example lichen, moss, flowers, petals, cracks etc. Then work on each independently before combining them into the main form. The idea being that each component is not dependent on the other so making adjustments becomes safe and easy. As a general rule of thumb, working big to small is always good.
For me, the biggest challenge by far was the moss. You typically need shader/geometry support or offline rendering to really capture its complex light interactions so trying to capture that same feel procedurally in a single 2k texture is tough. I originally tried building the individual strands and scattering them around, hoping to capture an accurate heightmap but since a single pixel would cover hundreds of strands at this scale, it just would not work. Scaling the strands up to be somewhat readable worked ok but just looked out of scale so instead I tried to simulate light scattering off the different strands with white noise. Combining that with marmoset’s fuzz map got me to what you see in the images.
Moss and vegetation
Putting moss and vegetation onto the rock surface is as simple as adding it onto the height map. You don’t want to blend it in with the rock, like you would say, stones in wet mud, so a blend node set to add does the trick! The only important thing is to control the values of each layer so you don’t end up capping out past pure white. Generally speaking I think vegetation assets are better suited for scanning and scattering procedurally to really work to the strengths of both tools but it sure is fun trying to achieve such organic elements with designer. If you build up and layer enough detail in, it is often enough to trick the eye into thinking it is as detailed as real life
Blue lines in the undersurface of the brain tissue
Working on this material was a mixture of fun and suffering when looking for references, so my first tip for this kind of material is: PLEASE, for your own good, don’t eat anything before working on it. All kidding aside, working with this type of material has no secrets, all you need to keep in mind is that to get good results you will need to do several experiments to see what fits better to your references.
The workflow is pretty simple, first you need a base form for the material, mixing some random noises along with some warps is a good way to achieve an organic result, I usually use the perlin noise zoom + fractal sum base, for this type of task they are the best in my opinion, of course it all depends on what result you want to achieve, also don’t forget to use large, medium and small forms, this helps to get cool variations on the surface.
After you get a good base, you still do not have a organic look surface, for this you’ll use a slope blur node with a blurred version of your base connected to the intensity input, the slope blur node needs to be set to max and the intensity goes according to your material, this will create the organic/natural effect you see in my material, to complement you can overlay some cells noises of different sizes to give even more variation and detail to the material, that’s pretty much all the height map work, as you can see, no secrets or black magic at all.
The veins are simple details created with the Cells 01 node with some warping and slope blur nodes using the same height map technique mentioned before.
But the secret is in the albedo map, while in the height map we only have one variation of the veins, in the albedo we have at least two or three of them, the second variation is blue one and to achieve this subsurface effect I used some masks to give the impression that these blue veins are below the red veins, lowering the opacity also helps to achieve an even more convincing effect, these types of details have to be very subtle to actually work.
Basically, I was in front of my computer, wondering what substance would I start to build, and I suddenly noticed my wool sweater I was wearing.
That’s how I got inspired!
Once I had the details in front of me I could easily figure out the pattern. Additionally, this one is pretty simple and highly tileable.
Regarding the creation of the threads, I obviously had to cheat and create the illusion of the knitting.
So I broke down the pattern to the smallest reasonable part, then kind of multiplied it with a tile generator to have nice variation capabilities, and finally mirrored it with a controlled offset.
I think that the man-made look is widely due to the fact that I tried to make it look like out of factory, perfectly tiled, but still with slight variation and warping as it’s an organic and flexible substance. Yet this is not all of it: the swarm of wool hairs is clearly very efficient. It adds authenticity to the material and make it look a little bit itchy, which is very familiar with wool.
Well, it is as simple as a sort of scratch generator followed by a warp node to break the straight look of the scratches. (Actually, the Vector Morph node is more efficient than the warp).
Since these “hairs” are very small details, you don’t have to keep it in the height map. In the end, they combine pretty well with the fur that compose the threads.