David Baylis: Using Substance Painter for Automotive & Architecture Visualization
Hi! My name is David Baylis. I’m 28 years old and I currently live in Vancouver BC, in Canada. I originally come from Lille, in France, but I decided to move to Canada in January 2017. I currently work full-time as a CG artist at a digital agency here in Vancouver, working mostly on VR and renderings.
I like to spend some of my free time learning new techniques and programs to improve my portfolio. That’s where I usually spend time on details, and projects that really appeal to me. I’m torn between two worlds: automotive and architectural visualization. I usually alternate between those two for personal projects.
How I Got Into 3D
I have a rather unusual career path, and some time ago I never imagined I’d one day become a 3D artist. I initially started a 2-year course in business and accounting after my high school degree. Like most students, I didn’t really know what to do. During that time though, I was a big-time gamer, machinimas and fragmovies were booming (This was early 2010), so I decided to watch a few tutorials on how to create videos, and add some extra VFX with After Effects (thank you, Andrew Kramer).
I didn’t do anything really fancy; I usually did all of this after classes, and it was hard to convince myself and my parents that it was as valuable as my business studies. But I started liking it a lot, around the time I began spending more time editing and learning 3D programs than studying finance!
Once I finished my business degree, I finally decided to study 3D in school and pursue my passion.
Combining Archviz and Automotive
I don’t have an architectural background. I started learning archviz as soon as Unreal Engine 4 came out. I was just amazed by the quality of real-time rendering. Some of the artwork by Koola really made me jump in when I saw its level of realism. I started getting more and more interested in archviz and began learning traditional rendering methods like Vray/Corona to add to my skill set.
Automotive has always been an interest of mine, ever since I was a kid. I’m a huge fan of cars, because each model has a soul, a look, a sound that makes them unique. Luckily for me, you can find some of the best supercars rolling around Vancouver. I always get inspired by them, for sure.
I maintained this combination of interests, even though I’ve been told many times to specialize in one domain. I find it important to learn more than one discipline in the 3D world.
How I Discovered Substance
I heard about Substance Painter in early 2014 and saw a video from Allegorithmic on Youtube that demonstrated how you could spray particles on a mesh to give it wear damage. That was revolutionary at the time; I just knew I was going to test it someday. The recent collaboration between Substance and UE4 really made me get into it more seriously - I realized that as a 3D artist I’d need to know how to use Substance. Being able to visualize the result instantly is really important for me, and I love photorealism in particular. Surface imperfection is one of the key aspects of photorealism - while never overdoing it, of course - and that’s where Substance Painter comes into play.
Archviz Project in UE4
I love creating scenes, and if I can do them in real time, it’s even better. Every new iteration of Unreal Engine brings new features and improvements to lighting. I decided to take archviz for another spin and improve on my previous artwork.
I always find inspiration on archdaily.com, and they usually have floor plans, which are super-useful. My goal here was to see how close I could get to realism.
I used 3ds Max for the modeling and asset imports. Datasmith plugin was the bridge between 3ds Max / Corona and UE4.
Substance Painter was my main texturing program when it came to texturing the assets. I knew it was my best option to give them a ‘rustic’ feel.
The Live Link between UE4 and Substance came in handy, as it allowed me to have direct feedback on my texturing, and to make sure that shading was consistent between the viewport in Substance and in Unreal Engine. It was interesting to test these new features I’d kept hearing about.
The good thing with Substance Painter is that it exports your maps in ‘packaged textured’ for Roughness - AO - Metallic, which allows you to save some memory usage in your scene.
I imported several props into Substance Painter. I made sure they were all UV’d properly.
For the chair, I was initially going to use two materials, one for the seat and one for the legs. Fun fact I forgot to assign two separate materials before exporting (Doh!), rather than going back to 3ds Max and and re-exporting everything back and assigning, I used the Polygon Mask feature, which came in handy in this situation and saved me some time. It also meant that I could reduce draw calls inside UE4, since 1 material = 1 draw call.
In this case I had “only” 4 chairs, which meant 4 draw calls. But if I had 2 materials applied to the chair : 2 (mats) * 4 (mesh) = 8 draw calls. Keep in mind that the impact on such low numbers won’t affect drastically your performance, but it’s an example of what to keep in mind for people getting into real-time rendering with archviz.
Large props are usually exported at 4096x4096 resolution, and I tend to decrease the size as the assets gets smaller and smaller. I usually never go below 1024x1024 resolution in archviz.
For the rest of the assets, I was mostly using masking techniques, using a base layer (Clean) and a second layer on top (Dirt), masking them out with either a smart mask (Edge Uber worked the best in this project) with a little extra pass of alpha brush if needed. All of these extra details and imperfection to make the scene as realistic as possible, even if not always visible, I know that somewhere, there are some artists that pay attention to these details.
The Challenges of This Project
Lighting was definitely the key to photorealism, especially baked lighting. It is a very time-consuming process to assign a custom lightmap to each asset. For those who are unfamiliar with the process, Unreal and Datasmith already auto-generate a lightmap on the asset, but on complex shapes, the UV islands aren’t always optimized. I decided to manually unwrap each and every asset to have a better lightmap, and therefore better Shadows and Global Illumination results in my scene.
This might disappear in a few years with the rise of RTX Technology, but light baking is still the best way to get the best performance and quality. It’s just very time-consuming… :)
Substance Painter Tips and Tricks for 3D Archviz Artists
I find that Substance Painter has become very user-friendly over the years; the compatibility with many programs is great. Substance Source is a great library for archviz projects - you can get textures for the program very quickly. If you want to go the extra mile, bring some assets into Substance Painter and add those lovely imperfections to them!
Understanding masking is what made me understand more about the program. It seems pretty obvious, but it took me a bit of time to get around this.
Substance Painter is really handy when it comes to texturing assets. I was really curious to see how well it could be used for archviz in UE4, and it definitely gives that extra bump of detail and realism to the scene. I think I may also use it heavily for automotive design since there’s a dedicated library for this on Substance Source. I’ve already started using it for an upcoming automotive project, and I’ll keep using this workflow as it saves me a lot of time. And we all know that time is money in the 3D industry.