Logan: Texturing Workflows for VFX with Rising Sun Pictures
X-Men fans, mutants, and VFX aficionados: we are stoked to share our interview with Rising Sun Pictures, a leading Australian VFX company. Andrew Palmer tells us about the studio’s experience with Substance Painter on some of their latest feature film projects, with a focus on the recently released Logan.
(If you haven't seen Logan yet, this article contains spoilers)
Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Andrew Palmer and I'm Senior Look Development Artist at Rising Sun Pictures. I have led several projects including X-Men Apocalypse, Logan and currently Thor - Ragnarok.
How did you start using Substance and on which projects?
We started using Substance Painter at RSP in July 2016 as an alternative texturing solution for digital assets. Our texturing and shading workflow at that time was fairly involved and that resulted in slow turnaround times. We saw immediate gains with the Substance Painter workflow, so we contacted Allegorithmic and worked with them on the Linux beta release. The first project we used Substance in production on was XXX - The Return of Xander Cage. Projects since then include Logan, Alien Covenant, Nest, and currently Thor - Ragnarok.
We used Substance Painter heavily on Logan because of its ability to create photorealistic looks very quickly whilst maintaining a large amount of flexibility. For example, when geometry gets updated or if UVs change, Substance handles those changes well compared with other packages that require map transfer baking or re-painting.
Could you describe how you used Substance Painter on a particular asset?
Substance Painter worked especially well for us on many sequences for Logan. All assets required photorealism, and fast turnaround. Most notably, we did lookdev for Logan and Laura's claws in Substance Painter. Having the ability to see layered effects such as blood in real-time was a game changer for us as Substance took care of the complexity that normally comes with such effects. PBR (Physically Based Rendering) compliant texture maps were also a huge win. Plugging the generated textures into our shaders not only resulted in anticipated response, it simplified the shader network itself.
For Logan’s claws, I started with base maps generated from a previous show (The Wolverine) and worked up a new "Adamantium" smart material (very cool!).
I then started to build layers for blood smear variations. That included a combination of smart masks and hand-painted layers. I found this workflow not only fast and intuitive but I was also able to iterate on different looks quickly and respond to feedback with flexibility. For the "Charles’ Death" scene, Substance Painter was especially good as we could use the shot HDR in the viewport directly and preview the lighting whilst painting dripping blood smears in real-time. There were many "oooo's" and "aaaah's" around the office as people strolled past my desk and saw the results.
What were the main obstacles you overcame on this project?
There were a few teething issues at first. The lack of Alembic support meant we had to paint on alternate geometry that was exported at the model cache stage. We also changed the way we work with UVs and UDIMs to better work with Substance Painter’s UDIM implementation. For example, on the El Paso Bridge sequence in Logan, we had to replace the bridge, cars, fences, light poles and more. The end result was to separate material types per UDIM and that works well for background and mid-level assets. All metal components in UDIM 1001, all concrete in 1002, and so on. Smart materials were assigned per UDIM. Updating geometry was straight forward. We could also reuse smart materials on other shots. We use an all-linear color pipeline so some color conversion was needed prior to rendering. The introduction of LUTs in Substance Painter 2.5 is a welcomed update.
Are there any tips and tricks you would like to share with the community?
Smart materials are really powerful! Being able to create custom looks, save them to a library and reuse them with no paint work required is a huge time saver.
How do you see the future of Substance in VFX? What are your expectations?
Substance Painter is the future standard workflow for PBR-based texture creation. Its ability to handle multiple shading components whilst being extremely flexible with updating geometry is innovative and beyond other software packages. While Rising Sun Pictures has firmly integrated Substance Painter into our pipeline, we would love to see UDIM implementation improved, open source file formats such as Alembic supported, and Python scripting support.