Tips: Working with Substance Designer
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Tips: Working with Substance Designer
15 November, 2017

Kelly Kynoch talked a little about the way she models and builds amazing 3d materials.


Hey! I’m Kelly Kynoch and I’m an environment artist. I graduated from the Game Art course at Southampton Solent University and worked in the Simulation industry as a 3D artist for 3 years after that. I’m now an Art Dev Assistant at Rockstar North.

I first discovered Substance Designer whilst in my second year of uni. Texturing was always one of my weaker points so I would always struggle when it came down to making things look realistic and consistent. With Substance, I felt like you were given this tool to create whatever you wanted without limitations that other programs presented and that is why I love this tool because it has such a non-destructive workflow and the possibilities are endless.

What were your first experiments with the software?

Some of my first substances were created from the official tutorials from Allegorithmic’s Youtube channel and from there I took what I learned and started applying it to my own personal work which of course didn’t turn out amazing at first but after many attempts and constant use of the software it started to pay off. One of the most challenging parts is always getting the forms right along with accurate PBR values which all require a lot of tweaking but with the right combinations you are left with convincing materials that look almost photo realistic.

One of my first materials using a bitmap for the tire marks.

My latest material – The Mosaic Tiles which is all procedural using only Substance Designer.

What are the key elements that you take into consideration while building materials?

I always start by grabbing a folder full of reference for the material I intend to create. I then start to break the material down into its different forms. For example, with the bric, texture I would start with tile / brick generator to get the main shapes. I would then break the rest down into these sections: grouting, edge wear, surface damage and concentrate on each part until I’m happy enough with the result. I always tend to get the main structure of the material done first before I start with the albedo. This way you already have all the masks in place to use for colouring the material.

 Can you talk about the way you are working out the right properties for the materials? Like leather, dirt, snow? Do you start from the clean sheet or do you work from the existing materials? Turning plastic into leather and sand into snow?

When it comes to working with materials that have similar properties like sand / snow I always tend to start with a blank canvas but will use aspects of other materials to help. I mainly tend to do research into the different properties of each material. Unreals guide on Physically Based Materials is pretty useful and a good place to start as they provide information on the different values of certain materials.

With the more recent versions of the software and things like text and curve tools you can build much more complicated materials. Could you tell us a little about the way you are using these interesting features in some of your materials??

The new tools have helped improve my workflow quite a lot by decreasing the time spent on creating specific shapes.

The curve node helped a lot with this as I could easily adjust the size of the rings on the drain cover material along with using it to create a softer or harder edge. It’s really great for adding depth to the height map and create all sorts of cool patterns. I find myself using this node quite a lot now.

It was especially helpful when it came to creating my roof tiles. I was able to adjust different elements of the shape within the same graph rather than having to create extra separate nodes and blend them all together.

As for the text tool, it’s a very convenient node to have as you no longer have to bring in letters as a separate bitmap and you can swiftly adjust letter placement to fit the texture. As you can see I used it along with a Cartesian To Polar node which allowed me curve the text.

Can you tell us a little about the way you are working with stylized materials? You’ve had some experiments with this area and I’m interested in how is it different from the realistic materials?

When it comes to working with stylised textures I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from Blizzard games such as Diablo 3 or World of Warcraft. It’s different from working with, for example, hand painted textures as you’re still trying to get the details in but keep it subtle with the exaggerated lines and highlighted edges along with that brushed feel that someone has actually gone in and painted it manually. I believe it’s a real challenge to create a texture set that is consistent throughout.

Overall, what would you recommend reading and learning about the production of good quality materials? Maybe there are some interesting books, resources and other stuff?

There are a tonne of great resources out there for you to get stuck in with. I personally have a whole collection of artists I follow on Art Station like Käy Vriend, Daniel Thiger and Joshua Lynch who are always publishing inspirational work and would definitely recommend checking them out.

I also partake in the Polycount Bi Weekly substance challenges run by Kyle Horwood.

These have been a great way to practice and refine my skills and keep to a schedule and it’s great to see each person’s different approach to the same materials.

Finally I would highly recommend joining the Discord channel run by Allegorithmic. I have found the Substance community to be one of the most supportive and helpful communities out there and they are always answering questions and giving great feedback.

Kelly Kynoch, Art Development Assistant at Rockstar North

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