Developing the Substance Source – Architecture Selection

Pierre Maheut on November 19 2016 | Substance Source, Content, Stories, Architecture

Making physical materials 100% virtual is a complex job. In this interview, we talk to physical materials expert Arnaud Verlet and Allegorithmic's Gaëtan Lassagne, who oversaw the creation of the materials for Substance Source – Architecture Selection, released this week.

Arnaud Verlet (l) and Gaëtan Lassagne (r)

Hi, Arnaud. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
AV: Hello, I’m Arnaud Verlet. After developing the renewable energies branch of a small business, I directed the material library of Wilmotte & Associés, one of the most prestigious French architecture firms.

Directing a material library is a job that involves consulting, advising, and networking. It touches all domains and applies to all levels. You have to interact with architects, designers and urban planners in a way matches technical responses with creative constraints. This requires specific knowledge about all the materials that make up the world around us but also the domains in which they are used, as well as how they are applied and assembled.

Gaëtan, tell us a little about yourself.
GL: I'm currently Senior Technical Artist/Product Manager at Allegorithmic. I joined the company just after I finished my studies and I’ve been here for nine years now. Before this, I also worked as a 3D artist in architecture and advertising in a small French company based in Lyon.

What do you do at Allegorithmic?
GL: Most of my work is dedicated to technical art, which means content creation, product design for our tools, customer support, and some R&D including pipeline research for current projects and exploratory research for future features).

What is your connection with architecture in general?
GL: I’ve enjoyed doing some architecture side projects over the past few years, mostly renders of interiors. One of the things I find the most interesting is the challenge of creating something realistic enough. I’m personally not a big fan of “conventional” house or building renders (sun at noon, clean rendering), especially because I had to do some of it as part of clients’ requests. But I really enjoy pictures where you can get a mood or an atmosphere in the scene. I like looking at websites such as Ronen Bekerman's to get inspiration, see what’s trending, and see new makings-of. I like it when the main focus is not on the architectural element itself but is part of something else, with a kind of story in the picture.

Acoustic panel reference material image (taken with a smartphone)
Acoustic panel virtual material
Acoustic panel virtual material channel maps

Arnaud, as a "physical materials” lover, what do you think about virtual materials in general?
AV: I must say that I’m very attached to physical materials and it’s hard for me to advise my clients about their usage without touching the materials. However, the idea of a virtual material library is absolutely fascinating. It would be limitless and push creativity to its limits. The tool is such that, even if you can’t touch the material, you really have the sensation that it’s alive. It reacts instantly according to the configuration into which you want to put it.

Gaëtan, as a "virtual materials" lover what is your connection with “physical materials” in general?
GL: Most virtual materials are based on existing materials, and we try to fill our Library with all kind of materials. It’s still important to be aware of physical materials: how they are made, how they react to the light, and how they behave according to their environment. Like many people, I like taking references when I’m out walking, in order to get inspiration and use the references later. Even for completely “synthetic” materials that don’t exist in the real world, it’s important to get real references in order to create something believable.

Arnaud and Gaëtan – Talking about this library dedicated to architects you developed with Allegorithmic, what were your main goals?
AV: The main idea was to create a toolbox for architects where they could find – in the first drop – 80% of what they need to work every day, with the best quality and photorealism on the market, in one single place. Materials that you can easily modify to adapt to the real ones you want to use. The idea is also to offer creative freedom to architecture and archviz professionals in the composition of their projects: start from an existing material from the Architecture Selection and let their imaginations run free in easily, and infinitely, modifying it.

GL: I was part of a small team of 3D/technical artists (Damien Bousseau, Nicolas Wirrmann, Romain Pommier, and Elouan Harman) to create good-looking assets for the Substance Source – Architecture Selection. We wanted something that could fill the needs of 3D architecture artists in terms of materials and textures. We needed to have nice-looking materials fit for purpose organized into different categories.

Another important thing was to have "polyvalent" dynamic materials. One of the great things with substance materials is that you’re not limited to one aspect: you can adjust the material as you want. For example, using the material parameters you can adjust the color, modify the pattern, the amount of reflection, and the finish. If you made these changes on a wood parquet material, for example, you could switch between different finishes – raw, matte, or glossy varnish, or sawn – change the number of planks on both axes, generate another variation (because the materials are procedural) and many other things.

How did you work together as a team to create these materials with Substance?
AV: We iterated on materials several times a week over a period of 3 months: first in the selection of the library materials, then in their digital creation. I was exacting about the quality of the look: the reaction to light, the grain, the texture, et cetera. I then guided the team in the selection of which customizable parameters to include for architects because I know how they work and I know what will save them time and effort.

GL: It was mainly by iteration: at first we each defined a structure with the different categories and kind of materials we wanted to have. Next, we started to produce some content and checked it weekly in order to see what we could improve, what needed to be done and what else we needed, like references or documents to help us on the production side, categories and assets we wanted to improve, and things like that.

Plate aluminum reference material image
Plate aluminum virtual material
Plate aluminum virtual material channel maps

Gaëtan, what are the challenges for a 3D artist like you in working well with an expert in physical materials?
GL: The challenge is to get something that is believable in its look and physical properties, but also coherent in terms of its virtual parameters. We wanted to have really high quality materials with the power of procedural.

How does each of you see the future of this library?
AV: For material consultants, it would be great to have the materials and products of different industries and manufacturers directly saved in the library. You could then choose your material and see the result instantly in a single click: a façade, a floor treatment, et cetera.

GL: We will continue to iterate on content and add it in order to complete existing categories and add more diversity to them. What we want here is to have a living library that will evolve based on the feedback and continual improvements we make.

Crema Valencia marble reference material image
Crema Valencia virtual material
Crema Valencia virtual material channel maps

Arnaud, can you tell us what you think the future of 3D in architecture will look like, as well as what you’re working on today?
AV: Today it’s practically impossible, thanks to Substance, to see the difference between a beautiful 3D image and a photo of the project. I would say a potential next step could be to easily create a 3D visual from a 2D visual.

I left Wilmotte to create Hopfab with Géraldine Bal in 2015. This is the first marketplace for discovering, customizing and purchasing artisanal furniture made in France. We are developing the first online catalog of artisanal furniture and are assembling a network of passionate artisans in order to allow anyone to buy a unique piece of furniture with a soul and a story.

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