Material Creation For Transportation Design Projects
Meet Quentin Riviale, member of the RCD Small Dots real-time team. RCD Small Dots has three 3D teams: HD imagery, animation and real-time. The majority of real-time projects are either serious games or AR/VR experiences, in the continuity of the traditional enterprise themes (automotive industry, product design), but there are also some more exotic pieces! For instance, the team worked on a project with SeaBubble both in animation and in real-time. With Quentin Riviale, who worked on the Seabubble project, we have a look at how materials are created quickly, simply, and efficiently. We also learn a bit more about texturing the Alpine.
I am captivated by graphics, design, and storytelling; I majored in generalist Game Art studies, then continued to learn by myself. I am a generalist of real-time 3D, with a particular affinity for modeling, texturing and everything about the environment. Also, I like to test things!
When I was a student, Sébastien Deguy organized regular meetups to chart the evolution of Substance Designer, and I used to go after class! I was immediately fascinated by the way Substance works and the possibilities the tool offered. It was also at that time that Substance Painter began.
In my daily work, I use Maya and Zbrush for modeling, Substance Designer and Substance Painter for texturing, Photoshop for concept and image correction. We also work on Unity3D and UnrealEngine, depending on the constraints and features of the project.
Substance Designer is versatile as Swiss knife! Of course, it is the perfect tool for making very complex full procedural materials, but I think its strength also resides in its ability to make manipulation very easy. I also use it for simple bitmap tweaking.
During production cycles, we don't have the time to reinvent the wheel. With years of experience, RCD Small Dots already has a large database of nice textures, and Substance Designer is excellent for tweaking and versionize existing textures.
From a normal map or a height map tiling on 4096px, Substance Designer can generate all the other outputs needed and make them all tile on 2048px at the same scale. From a good texture, Substance Designer can generate an infinity of variations.
Because of the nature of our productions, we often have physical references for the materials we have to virtualize. In this case, the photogrammetry tools inside Substance Designer are very useful. Actually, the trickiest part is the scanning process itself. I am still testing different ways to do it.
The Sea Bubble Project
The goal was to present these famous taxis which fly just over the water surface, SeaBubble. On a VR experience realized on Unity3D, the player can visit the upcoming SeaBubble harbor on its location, the Seine riverside in Paris; and board a SeaBubble. This VR experience was the introduction to the movie that followed, which showed the trip aboard a full CGI SeaBubble.
Let’s take for example the dock coating. For any material creation, our way to proceed would depend on our resources and the use of the final material. In this case, the goal was to quickly do a credible material - good enough to be used both for animation and real-time.
Substance Designer is useful for the generation of outputs to different engines - in this specific case, Arnold and Unity 3D.
We had no physical material reference for this one, but we knew what it had to look like, so we did it the full procedural way.
The final graph was not too complex, but it was enough!
Usually, we begin with the height map and then generate the other outputs from it. Note that you can generate the height map from a mesh baked in Substance Designer. If you're working on a specific or complex pattern, it can be quicker that way.
The material we are analyzing here is straightforward, but we always proceed in the same manner.
First, the main pattern is generated as a heightmap from basic shapes available in Substance Designer and some simple calculations.
The result is used to create the normal map and then to be a mask on the other maps.
This basic height map can be used to generate many pieces of information, like curvature or ambiant occlusion, which can be used in turn to make masks.
From there, we can create any effect to work on the maps. The goal is to simulate all contextual accidents, such as aging. You can decide to show the age of the material, sun or water exposition, erosion from wind or humans, leaking and dust accumulation, etc. The trick with automotive/design/architecture projects is that photorealism is wanted but also the product should appear squeaky clean as if it were brand new - and free from any defects.
Note that all these effects will not have the same retranscription on the different outputs. It is also important to determinate their visibility and their priority.
In the context of production, I used here the powerful Substance Designer nodes that simulate leaking and erosion with pieces of information from the height map as input. Of course, it is more interesting to make your generators to obtain the precise result wanted, but these prefab effects are time savers!
There's just one more thing to do: apply the main noise of the material. After generating said noise from primary Substance Designer nodes, I used it on the height base. It mainly impacts the normal map.
The Alpine Production
The production for Alpine was an opportunity to work with the HD Imagery team! Together, we worked on the creation of indoor and outdoor visuals of the different models of the A110 for its commercial release. Substance Designer was used to generate the micro details of the leatherworking, in particular, the little tension points from the seams - which were modeled. The effect is very subtle, but these are the little imperfections that give life and blur the line between photography and computer graphics!
Tips For Artists
Often, texture artists who work with Photoshop think that they will have to rethink entirely their way to proceed with Substance Designer; this is the absolute contrary, the nodal system is like a series of actions in Photoshop, but with also the possibility to change any parameter at any stage to adjust the final result.
It’s important to take the time to break down the material you want to create and prioritize the different elements according to their real visibility.
A big part of the identity and credibility of a material is its noise. The node that I use in nearly every graph is the Slope Blur, who makes me able to generate every kind of noise.
I would add that you need to be careful not to give the same information to different outputs (roughness, metallic, normal, height) because your result will often look more artificial.
Quentin uploads some of his private work on Substance Share, where you can find this ore material for free.