Cem Tezcan takes you back to the 80s with Substance
Between Stranger Things, Ready Player One, and a bunch of other examples, the 80s are definitely back! And we were pretty amazed by Cem Tezcan’s contribution to this retrogasm trend: week after week, he has been posting insanely detailed assets on his ArtStation page, ultimately creating an awesome retro computer scene! We had to contact him to get some more details about the process behind this piece of art - and knowing that he’d used Substance in his work was just a bonus!
Hey Cem, we’ve spoken before, but do you mind once again giving us some info about yourself?
Hello. My name is Cem Tezcan. I’m a freelancer on subjects such as industrial product design, general CAD modeling, reverse engineering, plastics shell design of naked electronics, procedural texture reproduction and asset/material creation for games.
I define myself as a 3D generalist, mostly focused on manufacturable designs.
I studied statistics up to master’s degree level, but aside from that my path to my current position evolved by starting as a junior visual designer in a company in the steel construction industry, in Turkey. That position had the biggest effect on increasing my CAD modeling skills since I decided to quit polygon modeling and use CAD software like Rhinoceros and Solidworks for better product designs. Within 3 years, I attained the position of Project Department Chief. After 2 years of that, because of my background in statistics, I also started to work as General Director on Sales and Costs, creating analytics and pricing policies, and so on.
Finally, after 10 years of working in two different positions in the same company, I decided 3 years ago to become a freelancer, to gain more time for self-improvement, so as to keep up with the continuously developing 3D industry, which gets more exciting day by day.
Before you released your retro computer scene, you were building and sharing the main 3D elements with great attention to detail. Did you already know that you wanted to gather all these elements in a final composition?
Actually, for my league, creating a whole set of detailed electronic devices for a hobby work was probably biting off more than I could chew. I didn’t plan for the project to go so far.
It all started with a Quickjoy joystick that I purchased from eBay. This joystick was the first one I used with my Commodore 64 in 1989. It’s a very high-quality product, and my original Quickjoy was broken and dumped a long time ago. Seeing this much-loved old friend after all these years, I decided to model the plastics of this product to increase my surface shaping skills. I got my calipers, measured the product and modeled every boss, rib, and support of the plastic. In the middle of the work, I decided to model the electronic board and other components of it, too. I completed the modeling in 6 days and transferred the model to Substance Painter to create materials on it. Seeing a familiar product on you monitor in totally real-time 3D is amazing!
This experience made me realize that it was possible to model my C64 next. I also modeled every piece of plastic and electronics, by disassembling my computer. In my childhood, I would never have dared touch that thing with a screwdriver. Times change :)
After the C64, the reactions of people wanting to see more retro electronics modeled in detail made me consider working on a Datasette too. My Datasette was still in my closet, so I went ahead and measured and modeled that. So, while working on the datasette, the idea of creating a simple scene with a TV, C64, Datasette and joystick increasingly started to seem possible to me. I really got into the retro atmosphere while rendering my assets, listening to 8-bit SID music, Slay Radio and playing C64 games; hence, I ultimately also decided to model the products which I’d never personally owned, like the Commodore 1702 Monitor, and Commodore 1541 Floppy Drives, in order to make them ‘immortal’ too.
Gathering photos of the monitor was easy, thanks to Google. I acquired detailed floppy drive photos from a friend (Oğuzhan Oğuz) in the Commodore Fan Club that I’ve recently joined in my country (www.commodore.gen.tr). He took photos from his own collection for me.
Modeling monitor and floppy drives without touching them, and without having any reference dimensions to use as a starting point, was hard at first. I looked for user manuals of the monitor to check the outer and screen dimensions. For the floppy drives, first I modeled the 5.25-inch floppy disk (whose dimensions are pretty obvious), and then I modeled the drive over it.
I also created a CRT monitor filter with Substance Designer to be used on Substance Painter, which reads basecolor information and converts the texture to an adjustable CRT screen material. That CRT filter is available free on my Gumroad store. I’m also working on an advanced CRT Material which will be tweaked and animated on Unreal Engine, and customizable within Substance Designer.
Finally, I created additional elements like cassettes, cassette covers, floppy disks, cables and connectors to complete the composition. I modeled the desk without any reference. I just concentrated on the bad furniture designs of the 80s. :)
What’s your current workflow to build your 3D assets, and then the final scene?
I mostly use CAD modeling software like Solidworks, Rhinoceros or MoI, if no clean topology is needed. Otherwise, I use polygon modeling techniques or do retopology with Modo. After modeling my assets, I use Modo again for conversion and UV unwrapping. Then I export these models to Substance Painter to create my textures. If any specific design or processing on texturing is needed then, I use Substance Designer to make it happen.
After every individual asset is ready with PBR textures, I combine my assets and create the scene back in Modo. I construct my light and camera setup and render the scene mostly with Octane Render, which is an unbiased GPU render engine.
Your workflow starts with a CAD software solution: Solidworks. What are the pros and the cons of going with this CAD solution?
Modeling with CAD software is the fastest and easiest solution for many hard surface cases because the model data is not limited to vertexes or polygons. It’s all a mathematical model, so you can carry out every modification within mathematical borders. Operations like slicing, booleans, thickening etc. are not topology dependent. So, this is an absolute advantage of using CAD software. You can see that polygon modeling software, and its users are mostly focused on clean kitbashing and boolean operations to get more accurate hard surface models.
The bad side of using CAD software is that you never get perfect topology after you convert your meshes, which makes it very hard to get clear unwrapped UVs. You may encounter bad vertex normals or smoothing groups on a mesh. And the worst part is, every revision on the CAD software forces you to repeat the whole importing and UVing process.
The workaround of this problem is to use more procedural texturing approaches to get rid of the effects of the UV and topology changes.
Also, I should add that Substance Painter also has the perfect algorithm to reproduce hand-painted details on the new revised and reimported CAD mesh, by repeating previous stroke positions even when topology and UVs are different.
You’ve been relying on the Substance toolset for a long time for the texturing part: what do you think it brings to your surfacing pipeline compared to other existing solutions?
Substance Designer is one of a kind, and the shining light in my workflow. This software makes it hard for me to describe my main skill. Am I a technical product designer, or a PBR material designer? The software itself creates a whole new job title, “procedural material designer”, in industry standards. It amazes me every time I use it to create a material I need in a very short time. The possibilities with this tool cannot be achieved by any other software right now.
Substance Painter is another breakthrough in my workflow. I’m not using it just as a texture/material painter; with anchor systems, it reaches another level for me. First I create a layering system that uses cross-function anchors, and then I just paint simple lines and watch as they become broken branches on a natural ground or complex PCB routes.
Have you had the chance to try the recent releases of Substance Painter and Substance Designer? if so, what are your favorite new features?
Flood Fill on Substance Designer and anchor systems on Substance Painter were great breakthroughs for me. In the summer releases, increased triplanar projection enhancements and the transformation gizmo in Substance Painter were even greater. As a CAD model painter, it’s hard to get aligned, perfect UVs for our models, so advancement on triplanar projection saves a lot of UV effort. I love it.
In Substance Designer, I still haven’t touched the Shape Splatter node yet, which comes with the latest update. My first indications are that it may cure my Tile Sampler node addiction. The data that can be extracted from it, which just seems amazing!
Have you used any materials from Substance Source? if so, how do you feel about them?
I’ve downloaded a whole bunch of .sbs or .sbsar files to study their channels or nodes. It’s an important source not for just using the materials, but also for understanding the approaches behind their creation. I strongly recommend them to everyone. Substance Source became more than just a library with the addition of the signature releases created by professionals, and because of the fact that its massive amount of content grows day by day.
Regarding using Substance Source materials on my projects, I’m not much of a timesaver on scene creation. I still get really excited and curious when I use Substance Designer. On the other hand, I use the standard materials in Substance Painter to create almost everything I need, at the moment. Between this interest in using Substance Designer, and being a bit obsessed with testing out every bit of standard content in Substance Painter, I haven’t been able to use Substance Source materials that often, to be honest, except in one or two of my projects.
But, to illustrate the concept and composition of a scene rather than technical texture creation, I’m planning to take the opportunity to use Substance Source materials on a very detailed scene, that I’ll be working on in the future.
Now breakdown time!
I created a video description of how I achieved the PCB material with anchors and simple mask paintings on a different project.