Henry Kelly processes his photogrammetry workflow in Substance Designer
Hey, I’m Henry Kelly. I’m a self-taught environment artist that now works as an Environment Artist at an AAA game studio in the UK Called Rebellion Developments. My job is pretty fun as I get to start out my day as I would at home, just learning how to be an environment artist! I spend most of my days throwing my ideas and visions into assets/materials and scenes for projects I enjoy.
I started out young as a 3D hobbyist when I was around 12. After leaving the army, I decided to invest 3 months in creating a portfolio, and ultimately applied for work in the industry. After receiving some negative answers from some colleges, I decided to work as a freelance artist.
I then went on to become a lead artist at Gymcraft, where I oversaw the workload and guided my team towards our goals. And shortly after releasing our game Rebellion came along. Ever since then I’ve been honing my skills with Substance Designer, Substance Painter, and 3D packages to create realistic environments.
When I was teaching myself environment art, I wanted to create my own game, but the one thing that was lacking was foliage. So I started researching, planning, playing with shapes and ideas, and scanning foliage to try to create the most realistic-looking vegetation I could possibly do, pushing myself beyond normal limits to try new techniques. After several years of doing this, I became quite handy at understanding the flow of trees, grass, where plants would grow, what a cycad was! And now I pride myself on consistently improving my techniques to keep my vegetation pushing the limits.
“One thing I find a lot of people are scared to do is to push the brightness of their sun beyond what would visually pass. I find having a LUX value at the highest setting [...] really makes a 3D forest feel like a real forest.”
It is important to understand how light works, research LUX values, look at photos that are not modified or filtered so you get a natural look on how a forest would appear to the naked eye, instead of an oversaturated forest photo on Google.
My technique is to first lay down a cluster of foliage and to get my environment semi-ready, then I start playing with the color values of the sun before I do anything else. Once I have an adequate sun value, I’ll play with its intensity values whilst also experimenting with the shadow values. One thing I find a lot of people are scared to do is to push the brightness of their sun beyond what would visually pass.
I find having a LUX value at the highest setting, and shadows ambiently lit, really makes a 3D forest feel like a real forest, because when you walk through a forest you see that the light seeping through empowers the terrain, and makes it look nearly white with brightness.
I think I was first introduced to Substance when I was on the Crytek community, and at first I didn’t like it. It was a scary tool for me to learn and to use. But after that, once I started working at my previous studio, I dove deeper into the power that Substance unleashes. I became quite skillful with Substance Painter and learned a few cool tricks along the way.
Just before leaving Gymkraft, I was also introduced to Substance Designer, but that was a whole new ballgame - I understood the basic nodes but nothing more than that. After starting at Rebellion, we had an Allegorithmic tutor come in and show us some features I didn’t know about in Substance Designer. Since then I’ve been learning more and more by making mistakes, or just random shapes!
“I’ve never found another tool that could give me the feasibility to do my job so quickly, but still efficiently.“
I find Substance Painter and Substance Designer to be among the easiest tools I’ve ever used! They give you real-time material renders as you detail your assets so you can see the tiniest detail without having to bake, render, screw up, re-bake, and re-render until you get it right. It’s the power of a whole engine mixed with Photoshop. I‘ve never found another tool that could give me the feasibility to do my job so quickly, but still efficiently.
Ivy was a project I was looking at when I wanted to improve my foliage shape with minimal effort. At first, I was trying to think of the best technique to photoscan foliage, and I learned that having a great detailed photo and Substance Designer at your disposal is all you need. I took the pictures of several ivy leaves on my phone and went to work in Photoshop masking them out, color correcting them, and removing any noise that wasn’t needed. After that, I threw the leaves into an atlas, which I then transferred it to Substance Designer to get the rest of my maps.
With some tweaking, ambient occlusion and normal combining, I got a great result with all my foliage in one atlas - and better yet, they’re low-poly and work well in game engines.
I feel that Substance brings great fixes for photogrammetry pipelines, specifically the clone tool in Substance Painter that allows you to clone and paint all channels simultaneously. That way, you can see where any seams or poor resolution areas can be touched up and fixed with a click of a button.
In Substance Painter, I’d probably say smart materials, in general, are my favorite feature, as they allow you to add so much detail with a high-poly bake to hand.
In Substance Designer, my colleagues often say I overuse the Slope Blur feature, but it helps me to get the results I want, so I love it!