Art by Daniel Thiger

Substance Source: Signature Materials by Daniel Thiger

Nicolas Paulhac on January 18 2018 | Technology, Substance Designer, Substance Source, Content

Hello to all material lovers.

From the beginning, we promised that Substance Source would be an ever-evolving, always improving ecosystem between Allegorithmic, Substance, and artists who use and contribute to Substance Source. Today is a big day for us as we introduce a new concept: our Signature Series.

The concept is simple: the Substance Source team gives carte blanche to an artist to create a selection of materials on the theme of their choice.

Our goal for the Signature Series is to provide you with the highest-quality materials, as well as ready-to-use content that meets the needs of Substance Designer users. We want knowledge to be accessible, and here we will share the .sbs files of every single material. We firmly believe that the best way to achieve excellence is to explore materials designed by the best Substance artists.

Our host today is Daniel Thiger, aka "Dete".

Daniel is a consummate craftsman with a long experience in the video game industry. He is currently Lead Environment Artist at Bungie, in Seattle, where he worked on both games in the Destiny series. For Substance Source, Daniel produced a selection of 15 fully procedural ground materials, so detailed that they are virtually indistinguishable from scanned materials.

Welcome, and take a deep dive into Daniel’s universe, as he guides us through his creative process.

Daniel Thiger: I like the challenge of creating something photorealistic. The data available from 3D scans provides me (and other artists) with the opportunity to find nuances in shape, diffuse, roughness, and normals. I find it inspiring to try to match my Substance textures as closely as I possibly can to real-life examples.

During the creative process, the context of a material is extremely important. I always start with a certain environment in mind and then break down the different components within. It ensures that the created materials will offer flexibility for the user.

For this Signature Series, I decided to focus on three themes: desert, jungle, and Iceland. I wanted them to have visually different identities and, for personal growth reasons, I wanted to choose themes that I hadn't really explored before. Within each theme, each material needed to be striking enough to stand on its own without sacrificing harmony with the other materials.

The goal was for each Substance material to be diverse and customizable in order to highlight the true power of Substance Designer over other static media formats. I wanted to give the end user more control by adding useful, tweakable parameters. The parameters I enabled are inspired by what would naturally occur in nature, such as snow melting, leaves accumulating, water levels rising, erosion, etc.


As an environment artist, planning and thinking ahead is important. So when creating materials, I always have a specific use and context in mind. This ensures that I'm focusing on the right things without going too far down the rabbit hole.

I broke down which five Substance materials would be useful for building a jungle environment and quickly ended up with the following: rocks, dead leaves, mud, grass, and roots.

Jungle Ground Roots

The images of roots stood out as some of the more visually interesting, and therefore a challenge to recreate procedurally. In order to create this Substance material, where big roots are weaving in and out of one another through the mud, I collected many images - from macro patterns of root growth to close-up details of wood grains and dirt.

Jungle ecosystem image references
Daniel Thiger

The biggest challenge was to eliminate root intersection/buffering while at the same time making it look like a natural flow of roots without gaps. Another difficult part was to get micro wood grain details to flow along the roots themselves.

I really wanted these materials to feel dynamic for the end user, so I’ve exposed tweakable controls for the number of roots and fallen leaves. There is also a parameter available for water level in case anyone wants to use them in flooded areas.


If you search for images of Iceland, you will find that almost all of them look amazing and inspirational. So picking the material lineup for this environment was both simple and difficult at the same time. Ultimately, I wanted to highlight the material diversity that I saw after browsing thousands of reference images. I decided to focus specifically on snow. I have a lot of personal experience with snow as I grew up in Sweden, and did my military service in the northern parts where winter temperatures fall as low as -40 °C.These are the materials I chose to create in the end: cliffs, beach, snow and moss lumps.

Iceland Moss Meadow

The moss landscapes of Iceland are iconic. The absence of any type of trees or bushes gives it a mystical nature; it was an exciting material to recreate.

I knew I wanted to challenge myself further than to simply create lumps of moss. And since some of my references also included snow, I thought this would be an interesting combination of materials. I wanted to show how moss and snow interact with one another.

Iceland ecosystem image references
Daniel Thiger

Other than the user being able to tweak the amount of snow, I made the moss color tweakable as the reference images show a lot of diversity in color.


Compared to the jungle and Iceland environments, the desert environment is more straightforward. Sparse materials present their own set of challenges. I’ve taken a few stabs at creating desert materials before, as you can see on my ArtStation portfolio. The focus this time was to create materials that work well together, and so I worked on ways to share colors using global parameters. All of the sand and rock colors are driven by a separate Substance graph which holds the two available color options for the user to pick between. The materials in this set are broken down to be able to transition from rocky areas with lots of cliffs to flat areas with sand and grass.

Desert Sandy Bedrock

I intended to offset the amount of sand in the desert set by including cliffs, some grass, and bedrock. I started searching for references of rock formations in the sand.

Desert ecosystem image references
Daniel Thiger

I wanted to have sand that would accumulate in pockets around the rock, and for the dunes to interact with those pockets. For this material, it was all about showing how sand and wind erode the rocks.

Observe how fully procedural materials emerge and explore the mind of an accomplished craftsman by reverse-engineering his work! Daniel Thiger’s signature materials are all available in .sbs format on Substance Source.

Get access to the full Substance Source library (1000+) by subscribing to Substance!

Follow Daniel Thiger on ArtStation.

On Facebook