The Creation of Realistic Materials

The Creation of Realistic Materials

3d artist Álvaro Carreras talked about his experience building materials with Substance Designer.

3d artist Álvaro Carreras talked about his experience building materials with Substance Designer. He gave some tips on avoiding repetition in textures and making digital materials look realistic.



My name is Álvaro Carreras, I’m 24 year old and I have a passion for 3D characters and environment art overall, I love both fields in the same way. 

I’ve studied at FX ANIMATION Barcelona 3D & Film School in Barcelona, Spain, and I started learning all about 3D: animation, modeling, texturing and rendering with Autodesk Softimage and Unity 3D Engine. 

I began my career as a 3D artist working for an indie studio, which was developing a project for virtual reality on Unreal Engine 4 and another project for Android/iOS on Unity, unfortunately these 2 projects were canceled and another project called Freedom Poopie was made. 




Two years later the team from 8-Bit Studio hired me to work on Skara The Blade Remains, a multiplayer online game for PC, Xbox One and PS4. So, here with Skara I had the chance to learn a lot with the rest of the departments and the team.

Recently I’ve been doing all the environment, lighting, props, creating LODs and so on with many other talented artists and a good art department in general. We’re constantly learning from each other, discovering new techniques to optimize all the content that has to be put within the game. One of the best things about working for this company is that we have quite a lot of freedom to put our artistic creativity to all the assets that we’re making, and that’s mainly the best thing for an artist’s mind to develop an own style.

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I always look for taking some real-life references because it gives me a basic idea of how I should proceed with every material to kinda find the result that I’m looking for, and as I said, I take all the references that I need to understand every form that nature does with every element in walls, grounds, rocks, ice, etc. Of course, as many other artists do, I like to look over other artists and see how they approach their production to get every material. Once I have all the references gathered, I start out with basic shapes, giving me the feeling that I’m following the right way. Iterating over and over is good to find the functionality from your stuff, if there is something in your materials that isn’t functional from its base, there’s something wrong and you should fix it up. Functionality is the key and the main reason why some games nowadays looks so well.

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To understand every material I want to set, I try to break down as much as possible from the real references because is the best way to understand how a material has been composed.

Substance Designer

When I discovered PBR and switched from the non-PBR workflow It amazed me of how good and quickly is this workflow to get the beauty and believable looking to all my stuff. Having that said, Allegorithmic came out with Substance PainterDesigner and B2M, and when I wanted to poke around with Designer it was amazing. The possibility of being in a same soft that doesn’t need to be closed for reasons like baking or fixing textures in Photoshop and so on is the true power of this software, and of course the fact of tiling almost automatically was like mandatory to add it to my workflow instead of using the conventional and old tools for texturing.




One of the things that I love mostly is its non-destructive workflow, I can go back and forth without being afraid to do any step because I always can go back and fix any shape I want to because every node is connected is an active node, and of course, watching all my changes everything in a real time viewport.

The Substance Plugin for Unreal Engine 4 is also amazing, you can tweak directly from your own substance being in the engine and tweaking the values that you want getting the non repetition looking for my scenes, then, this mixed with Vertex Paint is probably the best workflow to texturize everything for the environments and the best that I found so far. These two tools fits to me really well since the beginning.

The Secret Behind a Believable Material

In my honest opinion, the best material is a mix of a real world material mixed with a unique touch and unique style, creativity exists for some obvious reason in this world. I love realism and fantasy, so for me it’s a joy to get a material with these two features. To get this, I try to make all the outputs that are necessary to build a new material. 

For example, for my ground and herringbone bricks I had to built some specific outputs and generators like pebbles and cracks, by having this is easier to get different variations on every material that I’m making. 


Zbrush is another tool that gives you that unique looking on all your models, having an sculpted mesh and setting it up for baking, then exporting it into Substance is another great way to work with. I realize that a good base color map is always the map that gonna helps as the most than the other ones, the second more important is the roughness, this map gives you the feeling that something is physically correct, so I try to balance the same detail between one and other, of course I have to work the rest of the maps like the Normal Map, Ambient Occlusion and Height Map, but so far the believable looking it’s focused on base color and roughness.

The bitmaps that I always use are Albedo (Base Color) with an alpha channel for the transparency, Normal Map, Roughness, Metallic, Height and AO, these maps for environment stuff.

I also use Bitmap2Material and Substance Painter to paint assets and characters. Allegorithmic’s tools are probably the best texturing tools out of the box.

For characters I do some more maps like Subsurface, Fuzz Map, an specific mask to use the Tangent output in Unreal Engine, this map allows me to control the direction for the hair brightness. I haven’t test enough the latest features for the eyes and cloth in Unreal Engine 4.12 but as far as I saw, these new ones are giving outstanding results to some people.

Avoiding the Repetition

Basically, the key to avoid the repetition, first of all, depends on two things, the material and the models that I’m using, for example, for Skara we had to make an entire map with a few models and pieces just for optimization, with this, we’ve placed all the objects in a way that the repetition was quite off from camera in every moment along the match, just rotating them, painting them over with Vertex Paint, and at anytime you have the feeling that nothing is equal or repeated, neither the material nor the models or the VFX. Of course a great tool to avoid the tiling repetition is the Vertex Paint.




Once this is done, you can visualize how all the silhouettes are all in harmony without repetition. The more variation models you have, the less repetition you’ll get.


The first time I saw Marmoset and Unreal Engine viewports was a relief, I came from Mental Ray and other render engines, so, it’s understandable because I left the rendering system of hours and hours of waiting for a new real time viewports with PBR rendering. Both tools are good for everything, but for me, I’m always having Marmoset open because setting up an asset with its textures is really fast and effective. In Unreal Engine I have to take some time to set the scene and preparing all the materials and the instances from these.

Nonetheless, the true power comes with Unreal Engine and its material editor and lighting system. Once you’re focused on the material and functions that you want to set for your environments and characters, the result is really comfortable. It gives me the sensation that there’s something real in my scene and it’s believable. 

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I mostly use a post process volume and the lightmass features to control the general color from my scene and the light bouncing on it. A way that I love to use in my character scenes it’s a basic three-point lighting system because is fast and easy to set it up, and a skylight with a low intensity to give an ambience to the scene, and also I use some exponential fogs and/or atmospheric fog, depending on the result I want to my frame. Otherwise in my environment sets I’m always using a Directional Light and a Skylight with an Ambience Cubemap within the Post Process Volume. This refines really well the overall looking for my enviro’s.




Something that I find useful to keep learning more everyday and to be more efficient at your work is the fact to make everything of what I see in my day by day, breaking away from the typical stuff and trying to do new things, don’t be afraid about if an asset looks super complicated to make or similar mental nightmares, the progress comes out with your passion and with the hard working. 

My main tools are Maya & 3DS Max, Zbrush, Allegorithmic Substance Suite, Marmoset Toolbag 2 and Unreal Engine 4. 

Álvaro Carreras, 3D Artist at 8-Bit Studio

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.

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    The Creation of Realistic Materials