Character Look Dev with Substance Painter: The Workflow of Cedric Seaut
If you work in the video game industry, you may have heard that it’s like a big family where everyone knows each other.
This is particularly true with the character artist we showcase in this interview: Cédric Séaut is a former student of our CEO Sébastien Deguy, and the two of us worked in the same team at Ubisoft Montréal.
Let’s see what we can learn from such a talented artist.
Hey Cédric, before we get started, the community is eager to know who you are: Can you introduce yourself to the world?
I was a character artist for about 10 years, working as a freelancer for companies like Ninja Theory, Ubisoft, THQ, Eidos/Square Enix and many more. After my last experience at Eidos Montreal as art director, I wanted to go my own way doing characters for companies, but also to be able to create my own concepts and designs. So it became obvious to me that it was the time to start a brand-new adventure by creating a company with my very talented friend and partner Marc-Olivier Plouffe. We gave birth to Keos Masons (http://www.keosmasons.com/) 3 years ago, providing character content for movies, games, collectibles and many more. We’re having a lot of fun!
First (and most important) question: How is Sebastien as a teacher ? Any anecdotes you could share ?
It was quite a long time ago, but as I remember we had fun during his classes. We were quite free to test and experiment with a lot of things. When you’re a student, that’s a golden opportunity! It was new and fresh. I also remember that he used to talk about his vision, and the first ideas around what are now the Substance products. He was dedicated and passionate about that and the result is just stunning.
You have been studying computer science and programming to finally become character artist: What pushed you to make this transition?
The professional reality in France is much different from what we can see in North America. In France, we often make choices that seem practical, hoping that one day we will be able to do what we truly wish to do. We have to make choices that are not fitting first with our will, hoping that one day in the process we could finally afford to take the right way.
My parents didn’t have the money to pay for the "right" prestigious schools and I was definitely not good enough to be accepted by exam, so I took another path: computer science and programming. My passion had always been 3D and art, but getting into the field required patience. After four years at university and very hard and long working hours in my little room after school, I finally came up with something I was proud of and that I could show to game companies. Again, it took again a couple of years, but it finally paid off thanks to Ninja Theory and Heavenly Sword, my first professional experience.
You are constantly trying to improve the efficiency of your pipeline. Can you describe the main steps of your current workflow?
My workflow is changing constantly, depending on software, updates and experimentation. It’s something which is very important to me, to be able to deliver something as fast as possible in order to spend more time on the final quality, iterations and originality, the most important thing in character creation.
Recently I integrated Substance Painter as a very important package in my pipeline. Not only for the standard character creation process, but also as key software for designing and conceptualization. In the concept phase it's very important to come up with something the closest to a final stage, with nice textures and rendering. Substance Painter is the perfect tool for that.
Let’s talk a bit more about Substance Painter. We know you are an avid user of the software: can you tell us what you think are the main strengths of Substance Painter?
Substance Painter is definitively a very powerful package when it's time to come up with a very nice result in a very short amount of time. Also the ability to update the mesh and tweak the materials at any time in a non-destructive way during the texturing process is a wonderful feature. I personally love the interface, it's designed to make the artist’s life easier and really pleasant.
Smart materials and masks are one of the most addictive features in Substance Painter and are really useful when you work on the same project with a different company. They allow you to homogenize the overall quality and have a higher-quality final result. The painting tool is just perfect to me - it's smooth and fast and totally matches the ZBrush sculpting feeling...
When it’s time to give life to a concept at the early process, it’s also a very powerful software. The batch baker allows you to prepare the scene for texturing in a couple of minutes. The tri-planar projection feature for UVs is awesome, especially when you have to put quick textures on a really badly mapped 3D concept; it makes the seams just disappear. Getting Iray as a rendering engine inside Substance Painter helps a lot during previsualization, and at any time you can go back and forward to tweak materials and masks.
Substance Painter came with very innovative, useful and powerful features. It’s always a pleasure to open it up and play around with the tools to shape our characters.
Your new ArtStation post about PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was quite impressive in term of quality and variations. Can you describe your work on this project?
Blue Hole came to us 6 months ago with their very promising project PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and some stunning concepts. Without any hesitation, we jumped in for that adventure and it’s been a very nice experience so far. The crew in Seoul is one of the most talented and pleasant to work with, and we have so much fun collaborating with them on these awesome characters.
Our role is to handle the whole process, from the high res in ZBrush to the final stage, textured in Substance Painter. It was a brand new-challenge for us as we wanted to achieve very hyper realistic characters texture wise. Substance Painter is the perfect tool to manage that!
But enough talking: To finish this article, Cedric will share his tricks and techniques to boost your Substance Painter power!
For the past couple of weeks I’ve used Substance Painter to do some 3D concepts, it’s a wonderful package for that.
1- I start from my ZBrush Ztools and merge all the objects I want to map together.
For this example, I have five different objects and I already put some ID color for the pieces I want with a specific material.
2- Next, I decimate all the objects separately, trying not to go over 100K polys in order to keep the process smooth.
3- Unwrap them with UVmaster and/or another plugin. For that example I used Unwrella because UVmaster createdtoo many artifacts. Next, prepare the scene for Substance Painter.
4- We are going to need the symmetry later but in order to use the batch baker to get proper result, we will have to import only half of the model.
The trick I use in this case is that I import only one symmetrical piece, for this example the back of the bug. The symmetry will be set at the middle of it, so now I can update the mesh with the whole half of the model by using the project Configuration settings.
5- I then use the batch baker for all the objects using the High Definition Meshes to get a nicer result.
I love that tool; it works really well. At the end of this fast process, all the maps will be set correctly. I can update the mesh with the full one and we are now ready to texture.
6- For the texturing process, I mostly use smart materials I tweaked from the beginning and the smart masks; these are pretty useful and powerful.
I painted the white areas with the Add Paint effect as they were not in the ID map. The painting feature is really powerful when it’s time to go back and forward with materials. Sometimes when colors are on, the feeling is different than what you see in ZBrush so getting the ability to paint the different areas/material quickly makes the difference.
7- The last step is to use Iray for previsualization.
It’s a very quick way to get a nice render with a couple of tweaks. And it allows you to get back to the normal mode to change the materials if needed. I really love this feature, too. It’s priceless when you want to present your concept.
Substance Painter definitively changed the way I create concepts. It helps me to get faster and come up with closer realistic results. It also keeps the window open to tweak colors and materials at any time and I can’t work without it!
Find more of Cédric's work here on his ArtStation!
Some more pictures...