Adam, by Unity

Texturing Unity's Adam with Substance Painter

Alexandre Bagard on July 14 2016 | News, Stories, Film/VFX

We'd like to thank Plamen "Paco" Tamnev (Character & Environment artist) and the Unity Adam demo team, who took the time to explain to us how and why they used Substance Painter to texture this demo.

Tell us about the team, and how did this project initially start?

We are a small team of eight people of different nationalities and almost all of us in different locations, so for the most part we are working remotely with the occasional onsites when we meet in one place to discuss future goals and milestones. We are also working with contractors that help us with some assets and additional characters, so by now our team is pretty used to communicating and coordinating its efforts almost exclusively online. The Adam project began shortly after we finished working on “The Blacksmith”, so we wanted to explore a new world and a story set in it, while trying a new visual style and features introduced to the engine since the last project. We also wanted to see how much we could push the engine in general at that point and help introduce new features and improvements by tackling problems that we didn’t encounter before. In short we needed something that challenged us both artistically and technically.

What was your role specifically on the Adam demo?

I'm a character/environment artist and some of the things I made for the demo include Adam, some environment props for the cell, the wall, concrete bits around the platforms and a few smaller assets.

Rendered in Substance Painter

What were your sources of inspiration for the Adam demo?

The subject matter of the Adam demo allowed us to explore some interesting philosophical and ethical ideas, without necessarily opening an explicit debate in the film itself, but it makes for a more fun creative process and an end result which feels cohesive and intriguing. We of course had to have strong characters and performances that had to be able to convey those ideas, which at times was very challenging, but rewarding as well. The visual style had an almost documentary feeling that had the goal to immerse and put the observer in the scene as much as possible, for that to happen we drew a lot of the inspiration behind the story and character design from various sources from history, mythology, literature and film and a lot of the thought process is explained in our blogpost about the art design behind Adam.

"For Adam I used 3ds max, Zbrush, Marvelous Designer and Substance Painter."

Tell us a bit about your creation pipeline.

For Adam I used 3ds max, Zbrush, Marvelous Designer and Substance Painter. After I did the high and low poly models in Zbrush and 3ds max and after I made the UV’s I brought it inside Substance Painter for all of the baking of the additional maps and then started to layout the base materials. Usually I start by searching for some appropriate reference for the base materials that I’ll be using, then I usually set the overall albedo value and roughness and start adding any additional details in the normal map, before moving forward with adding weathering, decals and more break up to the materials. For a lot of the assets that share common materials I created custom smart materials that I used as a base, which helped to both save time and give consistency.

Why did you decide to use Substance Painter on the project?

For this project it was important to have the ability to iterate and try different ideas quickly. So, for me, it was the perfect opportunity to integrate Substance Painter into my workflow since I had just tried it a few times before, but hadn't really had the chance to try it in an actual production; which is testament to how easy it is to get into. It felt very intuitive and structured right from the start and the ability to bake and do all the texturing in one place was also very important to me. The other major reason was the great integration with Unity, so it gave me the confidence to know that what I saw in Substance Painter is what I got in the engine, which also sped up the feedback process by giving screenshots directly from Substance Painter to our Director and production designer, without having to export each time.

When it comes to base materials, did you create them from scratch or did you use scanned data?


I've used scanned data for some of the environment assets as tiled textures directly in the engine and I used custom-built masks that I made in Substance Painter for the distribution of the tiled textures in Unity. But for Adam and the smaller props, I didn't use any scans. Materials and additional height details were built in Substance Painter with the help of the mask editor and the procedural functions.

Can you give us examples of texturing techniques you used with the Substance tools?

I also used Substance Painter to create the crowd variations for the demo. I started by making the fully covered model of Adam in the orange wrapping that we used, by using custom wrinkle maps and smart materials, then we used a grayscale mask in our shader to add variance in the distribution of the wrapping for the crowd of convicts. I used custom-built smart material for props and environment assets as well. We also added tiled detail maps for some of the bigger environment assets in engine, so that we didn't have to use too much texture memory. Substance Painter was also used to create the custom masks that were used to mix the detail textures for our concrete assets like the wall and guards platform base. I started building the main albedo and larger details for those assets in Substance Painter and then I used the masks to mix a few tiled detail textures on top that added the needed detail and variety to the material.

I used Substance Painter for both character and environment work. For the character of Adam I added quite a few additional details in the normal map directly in Substance Painter, as well as some painted decals. Those were one of the first steps after I baked the model in Substance Painter before starting to refine each material by usually starting with the base roughness; this helped me to get a better idea of the detail and value distribution before adding any small surface breakups and spec/gloss variation. For some of the environment assets I used a similar workflow, but depending on the asset we added tiled detail maps to the shader in Unity for closeups. For some other assets like the concrete for example, I used a mix of the base texture in Substance Painter then added a few tiled materials in Unity for which we used a mask to blend between them (which was also created in Substance Painter using the mask editor) and finally I added some broken decals for the damaged edges.

" It felt very intuitive and structured right from the start and the ability to bake and do all the texturing in one place was also very important to me."

The visual quality of the demo is astounding on both the artistic and technical level, do you have any advice for Substance users wishing to achieve such high-end graphics in Unity?

I think that by expanding their visual library and overall artistic taste by looking at great art and real world references, artists can add a lot to their drive and use that to sharpen their skills. The great thing that I found out when working with Substance Painter is that it allowed me to take things one step at a time and explore different ideas in a very natural and organic way. So, I would try and start with a solid real life reference for each material and start building it similar to how I approach my sculpting, from the more fundamental parts like the overall roughness and albedo values and then move on to the finer details and variance that would give the final look of the materials.

What is next for your team?

Our immediate focus is on shipping as much free content as possible to the public this summer (like we did for our previous project “The Blacksmith”), since the goal of our team was always to show what a small team can do with Unity, while giving feedback and ideas to the Unity engineering team to incorporate into the engine. My personal goals are to continue growing as an artist both technically and artistically and since I alternate between character and environment art I’m constantly looking for new ways to optimise my workflow. So, I’m also looking forward to incorporating Substance Designer as well into it especially for my environment work.

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