Meet Danny McGrath and the WXS-07 ‘Depopulator’

Pierre Bosset on June 21 2016 | News, Stories, Game

Who are you?
Danny McGrath.

Where do you come from and where are you based now?
I am from Dublin, Ireland but am currently residing in Perth, Western Australia.


What do you do in your professional life?

I have been freelancing hard-surface/organic assets mostly for real-time applications, and a lot of my time is spent creating Zbrush/3dsMax/ (future UE4) tutorials. But my actual professional background is in the construction industry.

What is your background? Tell us a little bit more about yourself?

I have always had an interest in creating. My father is highly creative: whether sketching with a pencil or building a bookcase, and he used to sit with me for hours, drawing - mostly German military as I was obsessed with the subject as a young lad. :) So if I wasn't building a go-cart or hideout from scrap timber, I was painting and assembling Warhammer armies, building siege towers from cornflakes boxes, or tinkering with my Commodore 64. I once spent about 6 hours typing the code from a magazine that featured a 2-page glossy spread of a tank firing its cannon in the midst of battle. When I finally ran the code, a 16x16 pixel red blob moved 1 pixel to the left when the spacebar was pressed… I was not impressed. :) But a good example, nonetheless, of the ends we often go to in CG to solve problems and experiment.

How did you discover the Allegorithmic tools?

I suppose I first encountered the technology when it was introduced into 3dsMax as a map type. At that time, I was still creating textures in Photoshop and using mixed procedural techniques in 3ds Max. Substance Painter and Substance Designer hadn't really matured at that time (I don't think Substance Painter even existed then) I think that Allegorithmic's marketing finally got the better of me. :) Once I stumbled onto Wes McDermott's excellent training resources I was intrigued. I actually learned Substance Painter in a few hours one afternoon just from watching one of Wes's live demonstrations. Now I use it for pretty much 100% of my projects.

The WXS-07 'Depopulator'

Tell us more about your latest project, the WXS-07 'Depopulator'.

This project was used as both an exercise in modeling a hard-surface character entirely in ZBrush, and testing out the pipeline for high-poly assets between Substance Painter and Vray. I can only call it a success as I received a personal invitation from Paul Gaboury(@Pixologic) to compete in the Zsummit hard-surface sculpt-off, a ZBrush central top row, and an invitation from yourselves to do this interview! This is far from boasting; rather, I was quite frankly stunned to receive such attention. We often stare at our work so long that we begin to despise it. Haha!

What are your sources of inspiration (on these projects and in general)?

I am a huge fan of anything Ghost in the Shell, and Japanese design in general. WXS-07 was directly inspired by this. I have always loved Sci-Fi and fantasy from a very young age. When The Empire Strikes Back came out in the cinemas I stayed up half the night before, as if it were Christmas, when my parents took us. I also waded through the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy at age 12 (the trusty mini-dictionary my father gave me being consulted almost as much as the book itself!) Warhammer has always been a love of mine, from the miniature painting I mentioned earlier, right up to today. The world has always fascinated me. Also, artists like Kris Costa, Neil Blevins, and Jordu Schell (amongst many others) have inspired me as long as I've been doing this.

How did Substance integrate into your workflow in this project?

To be completely honest, if it weren't for Substance Painter I don't think I would have completed this project to the final state that I eventually did. After some initial experimentation I built a smart Material that allowed me to very quickly iterate and texture over 40 individual high-poly assets. The fact that I get all the other maps(roughness/height/et cetera) for free still makes me smile. Plus, the translation to Vray via the export pre-set was practically a 1:1 representation and saved me many, many hours of look-dev render tests in Vray. Priceless.

Tell us a bit more about how your typical workflow looks like.

My workflow these days is generally real-time asset based: Zbrush/3dsMax/UVlayout/Substance Painter/UE4 are my preferred toolbox. And the more I see of Substance Designer, the more I want to integrate it into this toolbox. The results I see are simply beautiful.
Here is a link to a recent 3-day 'speed asset creation' breakdown thread on Polycount. Substance Painter was used in the process, of course. :)

And here is an in-depth breakdown of the WXS-07 project


What are the different tools you use?

Whenever I have to or the client wants me to use maps bigger than 4k, I'm forced to use Photoshop, obviously. Apart from that, I'm a 3ds Max and Modo user. For rendering, I choose Corona or the native Modo renderer. For compositing it's Fusion or Nuke (again, I prefer node-based systems over ones that are layer-based).

How did your use of Substance change your approach to texturing?

I'd say the basic process remained the same, as Substance Painter at its heart is similar to Photoshop in its layers/masks/groups approach. The main thing for me is the real-time feedback and material/simultaneous channel painting. And because I do all my baking in Substance Painter I can't stress how efficient it is to be able to do all this in a single environment in real-time and have instant visual results. It changes everything, really. Even for the high-poly approach in the WXS-07 project, SP handled 1mill+ polycounts very well.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you address it?

My biggest challenge wasn't technical, but artistic. I actually shelved this project for 2 months as I just couldn't decide on a color scheme! This raises another strength of Substance Painter's real-time visualization: I could concept color schemes on the fly and see the final material look right from within the viewport. No file-saving, no import, no export, no test renders.... And a much more accurate representation than doing a paint over of a render in Photoshop.

Do you have any tips and tricks to share with the community or just some things you particularly like doing with Substance?

I think that a lot of artists new to Substance Painter or texturing in general seem to rely heavily on just slapping on an out-of-the-box, shipped material or SM. While they are great starting points and are great for beginners to pick apart and see how they are built, I highly recommend building 'hero' materials from scratch, and really studying real-world refs of how age/grime/scratches/wear/dust/etc. accumulates. This can take your texturing to the next level. I often see beginners just arbitrarily applying these effects. And my last tip is always adding some custom painting to your procedural masks. For my WXS-07 character, every single mask got some hand-painted love. :)

What are your next projects?

I have some PBR game asset tutorial series planned. I would like to eventually do an entire character workflow series from modelling all the way through to fully animated in-game (UE4).
Substance Painter will definitely be featured.

And lastly, thank you very much for this opportunity, and your amazing toolsets. May the Allegorithmic revolution continue. :)

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