Art by Takumi Yamamoto

Behind the Scenes of the X-Taon Substance Show Car

Pierre Maheut on July 18 2018 | Substance Source, News, Stories, Design

Last week, we released the 5th batch of over 150 materials dedicated to interior automotive texturing. After Prototyping, Exterior 1, Exterior 2, and Interior 1, the Interior 2 is the last release of the automotive series on Substance Source. Based on cross-industry expectations, we aimed to deliver the building blocks to support car visualization pipeline evolutions for both offline and real-time experiences.

In total, we created 700 tweakable materials designed to help designers and artists of all kinds to improve their productivity while expressing their creativity.

Coming from the game industry, we wanted to challenge ourselves in understanding a new set of constraints specific to the automotive industry. In order to do so, nothing better than stepping into designer’s and manufacturer’s shoes! Going through every step of a real project in order to identify possible workflows improvements.

So… we decided to create our own virtual show car in the shortest amount of time! We set up a multi-disciplinary team of professionals to design, model and visualize a genuine concept car using industry software and habits. It’s a way to propose designers to express their creativity with the support of the Substance team and software.

Today, we would like to reveal to the Substance community the Substance X-Taon. Named after Sebastien Deguy’s thesis on the procedural cloud (contraction of “The Art Of Noise”). This two-seat roadster exterior design is the result of a joint effort of car designer Takumi Yamamoto, 3D modeler Frederic Gasson, and CGI artist Lionel David.

We will go behind the scenes and take you through each step of the process. We’ll give you first-hand details about the challenges we faced, as well as the discoveries we made. All explained by the members themselves of this dream team from the industry.

Pierre Maheut & Nicolas Paulhac

Italic terms are explained in the glossary at the end of this article.


Takumi Yamamoto, car designer

I’ve gained experience as a car designer in France, the United Kingdom, and Japan. In France, I joined PSA Prospective and cooperation design studio, before moving to Style Citroën. At Citroën, I worked on an industry-first collaboration between Citroen and Gran Turismo: GT by Citroen Racing.

In 2012, I joined Polyphony Digital, which is known for creating the iconic Gran Turismo series of games for PlayStation, as a design director of its European studio. There, I was exploring new possibilities of virtual world car design, which comes with new ways of communication, such as the early conception of the Vision GT by Citroën.

In 2017, I Founded Takumi Yamamoto for designing one-off Hypercars to production cars, drones, robot, furniture and other industrial products.

I agreed to work on this project as I feel we are entering a new era. Substance is a tool which liberates the designer’s creativity. – Takumi Yamamoto, car designer and founder of Takumi Yamamoto

The Substance Show Car “X-Taon”

Starting from the conception of the car, my main role was designing the exterior of the car. This included all the details, like headlamps, stop-lamps, and wheels. So everything you can see from the exterior comes from my design.

My main inspiration came from the word "technology". This comes from Substance’s performance which has the ability to open new doors for the car design industry. Then, I wanted not only to visualize the texture and the color of the car but also to design a part of the car with the ability to show Substance’s parametric functions. I wanted to design a car which can showcase the full potential of the Substance software.

GT by Citroen was also an inspiration. One of the reasons why Pierre Maheut from Allegorithmic contacted me for this project is because of this car, as it represents a good blend of bold gaming inspiration and refined automotive styling. The goal was to design a concept car that could be believable production-wise. I designed a car that you could easily cross on the streets, but with a strong identity. My proposal was to blend inspirations from the “GT by Citroen” car, which actually went into production, in order to deliver a concept with genuine lines.

The Design Process

If you are not an in-house designer, design always starts from discussions with the client. In this case, it was Allegorithmic. After several sessions of discussions, I found out that you wanted something between a show car and a production car, and more importantly a design that highlights material quality and craftsmanship.

Styling wise, I paid attention to the purity of the surface so that the design of the car itself wouldn’t interfere with the texture or color which would be chosen afterward. I tried to keep surface continuities, rich and pure to allow maximal space for Substance material expression.

In the automotive industry, normally we work two years on these kinds of projects. Here, we had less than two months. But with a lot of team effort and the support of the Allegorithmic team, we achieved something amazing. – Takumi Yamamoto, car designer and founder of Takumi Yamamoto

The specifics of car design

I could take hours talking about this.

If you work for a big OEM company, usually the first stage will be called the brief definition. The designers and the clients will define together the package of the vehicle. Then, sketching starts. This is the beginning of the visualization of design solutions. Then, we continue doing discussions with sketches, refining the idea, in order to define the key lines before moving to the 3D stage.

In the 3D stage, we repeat the same things but in 3D CAD modeling software. Most of the time with the help of a specialist who is called a 3D modeler. Discussions go on with the 3D CAD model and time is spent refining the idea, as in the sketch stage.

It’s just like catchball. I throw 2D sketches and he throws me back the 3D model. As the project evolves, the resolution of the catch ball will get higher and higher. First, we draw the silhouette and then, we refine all the details.

How the Substance Toolset can help in this Process

The best example is the “Wheel design”. Substance’s quality is that it’s all controlled by parameters. If you want to change the number of spokes, for instance, it’s not that easy to change it in 3D software.

But with Substance, you can not only change the number of spokes but also the other the parameters of the shape. It gave me a lot of inspiration which I couldn’t have come up with without.

Also, Substance is strong when you want to try something we call “parametric design” for the surface treatment. This is also something which is not an easy thing to try and modify using Alias. And needless to say, the real-time rendering ability of Substance is amazing, as you can create variations in a few clicks.

The Substance Source Automotive Material Release

Breathtaking.

I felt a lot of potential for designing with Substance especially during the early stages of the design process. And also, it provides more potential for the color and material department.

Frederic Gasson, 3D Modeler

I’m Frederic Gasson, living and working in Normandy, France. I’m passionate about shapes, and how to build them! I’m the founder of RealNum, a design and visualization company.

CAD 3D surfaces fascinate me since I’m 6 years old. I studied mechanical engineering, then worked on the technical side of the industry, with Catia and NX. After 4 years of early experience, I met my mentor Frederic Robin, who taught me how to handle Alias (Autodesk), and how to build proper surfaces.

I then had 4 great years of experiences at the Renault Design Show Car department. Meeting the right people at the right moment, I moved to Berlin for over 4 years as a lead modeler for Bugatti Design.

Patrick Le Quement, ex-chief designer at Renault Design introduces Alias at VPLP, famous Yacht architect. They contacted me, and it's now the most important collaboration we have for my new company, RealNum. We now bring automotive surfacing knowledge in the yacht design industry.

I was amazed by the wheel test. From a plane surface, creating a 3D texture which allows you to rapidly change the number of spokes for example, and then in one click export a .fbx file which is easy to print for rapid prototyping; that is something totally new in the automotive industry. – Frederic Gasson, 3D modeler and co-founder of Realnum

The Substance Show Car “X-Taon”

As simple as taking a 2D drawing from Takumi, into a 3D model… More seriously, it’s all about understanding the intention of the designer, the shapes of the lines, the quality of the volume; and as much as possible, trying to emotionally translate the original idea into the final model, plus taking care of the engineering package, requested by Substance, and communicating with the interior designers/modelers, Arthur Coudert and Maxime Daguet.


Design and Modeling: a Complex Industry Process

Autodesk Alias can be used from the very first sketch to the final Class-A surface, valid for production. In the industry, even if the costs have no comparison with our digital show car, we try to work with efficiency: A bunch of specialists on each domain.

The project goes from a single modeler at the beginning, to a team of 15 modelers for an interior/exterior project. Personally, I'm more a generalist with an overview of many things. But all projects start with a target customer, a package, then designers start their job on 2D drawings.

Every project is different, but sometimes, a week into the project we have a first 3D model intention. It can be very fast in the first stages of an industrial project. Then a competition starts between the 2 or 3 chosen designers; about 2 months are needed to achieve a car design. It’s like a fruit: if you take it too early, it’s poor in taste, if you wait too long, it rots… Time is needed to achieve a nice shape, for the modeler as for the designer.

When the design is chosen for a production car, the Class-A production process that defines the parts for the fabrication process for pricing starts. Every modification on one part has an impact on the surrounding parts. This ping-pong can last more than a year.

An unbelievable amount of loops is needed between the designers, the modelers, and the engineers, in order to keep the original wish of the design. This is what the Class-A process is about.

How the Substance Toolset can help in this Process

When searching a 3D solution for a design, it’s hard for a designer to wait for the result of the modeler when it takes too long to see the result… How many times have I seen a designer giving up an idea because no results came out of the process after 1 or 2 days of hard work. every solution that can bring quick usable result at the early phase of an idea, gives more chances to bring an idea to the end.

When I saw this generative design with Grasshopper 5 years ago or Dynamo (Autodesk) more recently, I thought it was a great idea. But the time needed to achieve the wish of the designer takes too long because 3D programming requests a big amount of functionality and nurbs knowledge.

Generating textures like in Substance is the best innovation I saw since generative/procedural modeling. By the way, generating a 3D texture of a wheel and its rib in less time than it's needed to draw it in 2D is totally new, and can help designers to bring new ideas quickly. A new job is born, generative modeler: someone who programs a high number of variations and lets the designers find the right one.

Most of the time, this texture will be enough to choose the design of the wheel, and because the FBX can be exported to the modeler, fine-tuning and Class-A will follow naturally as we did for the rim design on the X-Taon.

The Substance Source Automotive Material Release

As a modeler, I don't know how to use them, but Joffrey Louis, my associate at RealNum, is a VRED master. He is delighted to get these materials on the next projects!

What is missing for people that don't understand what is behind Substance materials, is more of those 20 seconds video that show how fast you can create an evolution on a material … Can’t wait to use them!

Lionel David, CGI Artist

My name is Lionel David, I’m a French CGI artist located in Stuttgart/Leonberg, Germany. I’m working at Staud Studios in the automotive industry.

My career started at Pixomondo Berlin back in 2012; mostly working on the environment with ZBrush and Mari. I’ve learned everything there, from an awesome team!

In May 2013, I decided to change and work in architecture visualization at Pure Rendering Berlin. I have a degree in architecture so it was easy for me to read building plans and make nice renderings out of it.

That’s when I started using Substance Designer, the tool I always dreamed off, which allowed me to make nice shaders out of tiny samples or reference images.

I finally moved to Stuttgart where I landed in the automotive visualization industry, working at Staud Studios, which brings solutions for a diverse range of clients from the automotive sector.

It was a completely new experience for me. This is the first time I worked with designers and car modelers. Normally, we receive the data from car constructors, and the car is already modeled. So it was interesting to be involved in the design process and discuss some aspects and challenges of the show car. – Lionel David, CGI lead artist at Staud Studios

First lighting test

The Substance Show Car “X-Taon”

My role was to work on all the renderings of the show car. I did the environment, using Substance Source materials, Substance Designer and Substance Painter.

I worked with a good friend and colleague, François Ballon, for the lighting and the composition of the shot. The idea was to reveal the car without showing it entirely.

3ds Max Viewport
V-Ray test rendering

Workflow Overview

I use 3ds Max as the main tool and Vray for rendering. I collaborated with Oliver Wiegman, my colleague, who cleaned and prepared the CAD file. We also got the support of Axel Jacquet from PIXYZ team who processed Alias data using Pixyz Studio.

For all of my UVs, I prefer to work with Unfold3d, which is awesome for high dense triangulated meshes. The only retopology I had to do was for the backlight; the inside of it is a displaced Substance material, and the glass was a surface without thickness and some holes at the corners. I made a Dynamesh in ZBrush, Zremeshed and then a proper shell inside 3ds Max.

For the staging, I used some concrete and gravel from the Substance Source library. I always try to put displacement everywhere; for me, it's always better because it affects the way your geometry/shader looks. I also used Substance Painter for the texturing of the concrete pillar.

The Substance Source Automotive Release

First of all, and I can’t say it enough, the work the guys at Allegorithmic provide is awesome. The variety of textures and shaders with the last release is huge!

Not having to rely on other collections on the market, the ability to make your own textures, the ready-made textures that are really fast to set up or tweak: using Substance Source for my personal work is a game changer.

We were on a tight schedule working on the X-Taon. The Substance Source materials greatly helped me get the job done faster.

As I said before, the automotive materials from Substance Source are helpful not only in the automotive visualization industry but as soon as the concept phase. For example, to know how the rims are made, or the emboss car paint, you can paint it in Substance Painter to have it only where it’s needed:

Door side texturing tests:

The Substance Source Automotive Release is really interesting because you can learn from it, open the graphs and get your hands into it. In Substance Designer, I rather learn from graphs as you can better understand how things work. – Lionel David, CGI lead artist at Staud Studios

I really like the way it’s done, particularly the wood. Good wood textures are hard to find if you want something special. Looking at the way they are done procedurally is simply amazing.

I especially love working with the different leathers, woods and alcantaras for interior car rendering, as they work really well. And if you have a little bit of experience with Substance Designer, you can modify them endlessly.

The show car shaders are all from the new Substance Source Automotive collection.

3ds Max shader graph created with the Substance in 3ds Max plugin:

3ds Max +V-Ray final render

Conclusion

Now you know more about the X-Taon project and especially the team of automotive industry professionals behind it! It has been an amazing - and short - journey: 60 days only, from the very first sketch to the final renderings. Exchanging with the team every day on the production of the Substance Source release, the iteration between texturing and modeling and finally showcasing each step of the process including the clay mockup in CGI has been a very enriching experience. And it is just the beginning, this car has been designed for the Substance community, so get ready for more!

Pierre Maheut

From Left to right:

  • Lionel David, CGI Lead Artist, Staud Studios
  • Frederic Gasson, 3D modeler Exterior, Co-Founder RealNum
  • Takumi Yamamoto, Exterior Designer, Founder of Takumi Yamamoto Design
  • Pierre Maheut, Market Strategy Director, Architecture & Design, Allegorithmic
  • Nicolas Paulhac, CMF Designer & Product Manager Substance Source, Allegorithmic

Glossary:

Supercar: Limited Cars with high performance and technology.

Hypercar: The top one percent of supercars.

Show car: Car design created for public display, whereas production cars are designed for sale.

OEM Company: Original Equipment Manufacturers make equipment used by other manufacturers.

Class-A: modeling process to build surfaces to the highest quality standards, ready for production.

Nurbs: Non-uniform rational basis spline (NURBS) is a mathematical model used for generating and representing curves and surfaces.

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