Vincent Dérozier’s Amazing Mastery of Substance Designer
With the large number of talented artists out there, you have to come up with a brilliant idea if you want to stand out. Vincent Dérozier has the talent and he had an insane idea: to create something in Substance Designer that no one would have thought possible!
I started working in the video game industry in 2010 at the Ubisoft Annecy studio. There, my position as a level artist allowed me to get hands-on with a lot of things like modeling, texturing, concepts, lighting, level art and design. I had a blast there working on four Assassin's Creed multiplayer games and two solos, with some awesome, highly experienced people. Along the way I met a lot of amazing colleagues and artists, but when it comes to Substance Designer, Pierre Fleau is the reference for me. He got me into Substance Designer during the Assassin’s Creed Unity production.
In 2014, I moved to Canada with my wife. Since then, I’ve worked on Assassin's Creed Syndicate, For Honor, and become an environment texture artist on an amazing - but as of yet unannounced - project.
How to be an asset
Every project or company is different but dedication to your craft, proactivity with your colleagues and a relentless curiosity are the main qualities of a good environment artist. If anyone wants to get in the industry, I recommend that they choose which job they find really interesting and dive into it. If you like a company, for example, check their artists’ portfolio and try to reproduce their work; it's a very good exercise. Most companies hire people when they need them, so being able to fill a position straight away with a minimum of training is an advantage. In the game industry, a candidate's behavior matters as much as his knowledge. Projects are made by groups of people, and production can be stressful and exhausting, so getting along with your colleagues and taking care of each other is important in the long term.
After working on several games, I'm really thankful for the challenge presented by the vast variety of knowledge needed to build credible environments. Production time pushes you to profoundly understand building construction, city planning, history and software. It's the kind of knowledge that guides you to solve every type of artistic challenge, and helps you to become a better artisan.
Substance Designer in action
The first time I saw Substance Designer in action must have been in 2013, during an Allegorithmic demo at Ubisoft Annecy in France. At the time, the software seemed really powerful but hard to use directly in productions (the demo explained how to create complex and dynamic material reacting to the weather).
The following year I worked on Assassin's Creed Unity with my Annecy colleagues, and Substance Designer saved me. I was supposed to update a large kit of textures, as well as to create new ones, in a tiny time frame. A colleague was trying out this software and, because of his incredible results, we decided to use it to automate a lot of texture creation and updates.
No matter the art field you are working in, iteration is the key. In that regard, Substance Designer is a really versatile piece of software that lets you test out in an hour what could otherwise take days. That's why I stick with it.
At home, I like to experiment. Like a lot of people, when I draw I start from primitive shapes and then progressively add details. So I asked myself whether I could do the exact same thing in Substance Designer to build a character. Turns out that it's possible, but I still feel a bit ashamed of it :).
It was actually quite fun to force myself to do everything within Substance Designer. At work, my leitmotiv is mainly to be efficient, and to use the right software at the right time - but that's mainly because, in production, time is money.
Substance Designer has a lot of advantages and like every piece of software, some things aren't meant to be done in it. Volume manipulation is one of them. This doesn't mean that it's not possible, just that we need new tools to unlock this new dimension.
At first, I built everything with the tools I had, with basic recipes like shape subtracts, bevel transforms and so on. But some non-organic shapes could have been made more quickly if I had been able to put them into perspective.
Basically, I took a non-uniform blur and, as I do for leaks, I used it to push the input form. By putting this recipe in cascade you can obtain something pretty interesting. Then you just need to combine your shapes with one another to create complex forms and voilà :).
This process worked on this project but building a lot of shapes like that is slow and costly in terms of performance. This kind of setup would make more sense in an FX Map to be an efficient tool in production. The project took me roughly 3 weeks, but I was experimenting. With the right tools, that timeframe could have been divided by three, at least.
The advantage of 2.5D manipulation in Designer is real, as much as when we were using it in ZBrush. It's not as powerful as manipulating real 3D assets but it's a path that is worth exploring in Substance Designer. This kind of setup can allow artists to speed up their workflow, and complete missing parts of scans or baked data.
But if we really want to bring this third dimension into Substance Designer, some tools like a shadow box node, a 3D editor, 3D Splatters or even tri-planar noises and effects can really change the game. The day when we can drag and drop not just a Zgrab, but an actual 3D asset in a graph and then splatter, rotate, and sculpt it, texture creation will change for good.