Studio Graphy 2018

Texturing and Lighting in Substance Painter with DreamCatcher’s HDRI Maps

Pierre Bosset on October 27 2018 | Stories, Game, Design

Antoine Barbaro, Studio Graphy: I am a graphic designer and I work with public developers, town planners, and architects. I carry out settings in 3D of projects according to their 2D plans. I receive very few projects which are already in 3D, so I model them according to the plans available.

I discovered Substance Painter recently while wanting to work with the environment maps of DreamCatcherHDRI. This software and these 3D HDR maps of altitudes offer many creative possibilities, in terms of both texturing and rendering. I wanted to showcase these two aspect by carrying out improbable 3D scenes in a realistic way.

The HDR maps of DreamCatcherHDRI are images transformed into 16K CGI pictures that are perfectly realistic with a level of environment exposure comparable with that of the real world. They don’t have lens flare, though it’s possible to add this by compositing or activating it in Substance Painter. Similarly, these images don’t have noises, blurs, chromatic aberrations or vignetting.

I chose the Iray plug-in for the 3D rendering. Iray is a rendering engine that allows for photorealistic renders. It’s integrated into Substance Painter (for Mac or PC), and the textures produced with Substance Painter are compatible with Iray MDL.


After having unwrapped the UVs in Maya, and having assigned each object a different material, we export the scene into Substance Painter and adjust the size of the textures to 4096, to allow for better renders. We make this change of size at the time of rendering so as not to slow down the handling of the scene in the 3D view.


We create a layer for each effect on the balloon. The first is for the general metal effect; the second is for the effects of burns, which we assign a ‘Value’ of 100%; the third is for the effects of impacts - ‘Color Burn’ 40%. To further detail the effects of impacts, we draw dark sections inside the balloon; for these we also apply ‘Color Burn’, of 100%.

We texture the gondola so that it has an older appearance.

HDR environment

The environment maps shouldn’t overexpose the 3D scene. If the level of environmental exposure of your HDRI map doesn’t correspond to reality, your 3D scene will be too strongly lit. With the environment maps of altitudes which are proposed by default in Substance, or with the maps in DreamCatcherHDRI, it’s sufficient to leave the ‘Environment Exposure’ variable (EV) set to zero, giving your 3D scene balanced lighting.

If you activate ‘Glare’ in the camera settings, the sun will create lens flare, and you’ll also see them on bright, reflective materials.

Without glare
With glare

HDR environment and lighting test

In the painting window of Substance Painter, which reacts like an IPR window (Interactive Photorealistic Rendering), we can test several environments and visual angles, in order to see which maps will be most appropriate for the desired result.

The first test is with the landscape of a dormant volcano at an altitude of 1,000 meters. We can choose from the 3 times of day suggested - morning, midday or sunset - to test out which light exposure gives the best results.

Camera altitude: 1,000 m Landscape: Dormant volcano Cloud Layer1: Thin cumulus

Time of day: Morning - Sun brightness: 15.59 EV
Time of day: Sunset - Sun brightness: 15.34 EV
Time of day: Midday - Sun brightness: 15.59 EV

The second test is with a map of eroded, snow-capped mountains, at an altitude of 2,000 meters.

Camera altitude: 2,000 m Landscape: Snowy, eroded mountains Cloud Layer1: Thin cumulus

Time of day: Morning - Sun brightness: 15.67 EV
Time of day: Sunset - Sun brightness: 15.54 EV
Time of day: Midday - Sun brightness: 15.84 EV

The third test, with an HDR map at an altitude of 3,000 meters, with peaks covered with snow.

Camera altitude: 3,000 m Landscape: Snowy mountain ridges Cloud Layer1: Thin cumulus

Time of day: Morning - Sun brightness: 15.59 EV
Time of day: Sunset - Sun brightness: 15.54 EV
Time of day: Midday - Sun brightness: 15.73 EV

Finally, we decide to keep this third version for the final rendering.

Here, we regulate the parameters of the environment settings of the dome in ‘Sphere’ mode, and set ‘Shadow Intensity’ to zero, to avoid the shadows of the objects on the map.

Render with Iray

Iray is a non-biased 3D rendering engine, which generates 3D images by iterations. The higher the iteration count, the more accurate the render will be. For outdoor renders, we will choose an iteration count ranging between 50 and 100. For renders where the sun might obscure certain details, we’ll select a higher iteration count, for a finer rendering (see Max Samples).

In Substance we can leave an iteration count at 1000, limit time to 180 minutes, for example. Then we can save our render as soon as the result seems acceptable, without having to wait for the end of the iteration calculations.

With Substance Painter, the possibility of importing HDR environments directly into its interface allows us to quickly see 3D objects in their final environment.

Substance Painter also allows for real-time texturing of objects, and it also makes it possible for us to test photorealistic rendering of a 3D scene with Iray, without going through third-party software.

In addition, Substance Painter allows us to export our work to other 3D software. In this way, it is perfectly integrated with any other production tools already established in a given pipeline.

All images courtesy of Studio Graphy
Find the environment maps used in this article at DreamCatcherHDRI

On Facebook