Reproducing a Mattershots Material in Substance Designer with Don Arceta
Today we talk to Don Arceta, an experienced game artist, but who recently decided to get his inspiration from Mattershots, our Instagram channel where you can find mostly industrial design and manufactured products materials. Don entirely recreated a stitched leather material in Substance Designer and he explains us how he did it.
Hi Don, thanks for taking your time for this interview. Could you present yourself to the community?
My pleasure, my name is Don Arceta and I grew up in Edmonton, Canada. I have recently moved to Royal Leamington Spa in the UK with my wife Tara.
What is your background?
I’ve been in the games industry for just over 12 years now. In 2005, Bioware hired me on as a Junior Environment Artist where I started to work on the first Mass Effect. In 2013, as we wrapped up Mass Effect 3, I became the Lead Environment Artist and transitioned to lead the environment art team for Bioware’s new IP, Anthem.
After several years on Anthem, I decided to try something new and begin a new adventure! This led me to Playground Games in the UK where I am the Lead Environment Artist.
What are your specialties?
I really enjoy texturing, materials, and shaders as that’s what I started off doing at Bioware. Recreating surfaces under the constraints of a real time renderer is definitely something I gravitate towards and take extra care in.
What are your sources of inspiration?
Overall, my main sources of inspiration are modern architecture, contemporary furniture, industrial design, and nature. Artstation is also a source of inspiration specifically for Substance Designer pieces. I also get a lot of inspiration from all of the talented artists I get to work with every day.
How did you discover the Allegorithmic tools?
When we began pre-production on Anthem, the Technical Art Director at the time introduced me to Substance Designer. I remember being very excited about it, but it didn’t ‘click’ with me right away. It wasn’t until I started doing personal work at home, within the last year and a half or so, that I felt I was starting to understand the strengths and workflows of Substance Designer.
Reference photography from Mattershots, our Inspiration Gallery, Instagram channel
Most of my Substance Designer studies have been organic in nature. I was looking for something different, so I thought of going for something more straightforward, manufactured and pattern based. I also wanted to choose something that I thought would only take a short amount of time to recreate.
So I picked up my phone and went straight to my Instagram feed. I knew there had to be a post in Mattershots that would have what I was looking for. Going back to how I discovered Mattershots, funny enough, it actually came up as a suggestion by Instagram!
I sifted through the Mattershots posts and found the stitched leather image. It’s simplicity and two element nature is what interested me, plus it was a really cool design. It was fun creating the leather and stitch elements and seeing how they interacted with each other.
Coming from the Game industry, what triggered you to find inspiration on Mattershots, which is more manufactured product and industrial design oriented?
I’ve always been inspired by industrial design, mostly because of the first Mass Effect. The Art Director and Lead Environment Artist were all about creating a realistic future that was a natural evolution of contemporary modern day design and most importantly believable. Understanding form and function helped make our science fiction world feel that much more grounded in reality. Their direction has definitely influenced me over the years and grew my appreciation for industrial design.
Can you make a breakdown of the Procedural Stitched leather?
I started with a stitch. I used the shape node and selected the capsule shape as a base. I then placed and skewed two tiling gradient linear 2 nodes to give some thread like details. I multiplied the gradients against each other and balanced detail strengths using the opacity slider. The capsule shape was also used to distort the thread details to give a bit more form. A multiply was used to combine the capsule shape and thread details.
I used another gradient linear 2 node to give the stitch a bit of an arch and used a paraboloid shape to exaggerate the arching a bit more. This really helped give the look of a looped stitch. The transformation 2D node was used for slight size adjustments.
With my stitch done I moved onto the horizontal stitching. A tile sampler was used to make a triangular pattern which I used to create masks for my stitches.
I plugged in my single stitch into a tile sampler and used the masks I made previously to give me stitches in groups of four. I set slight rotational and size randomness to the stitches so they didn’t look too straight.
Using safe transform, I offset and blended to create groups of eight. Now I had the elements for the upper and lower horizontal stitches.
For the angled stitches I did a similar process with a slightly smaller mask. This gave me stitches in groups of threes. I rotated the stitches and used a square to isolate a single group.
I then manually offset, mirrored and blended the angled group of stitches to make the rest.
After a lot of manual tweaking, I got the upper, lower and angled stitches pieced together to look like continuous stitching. I feel this manual process helped it from looking too perfectly straight.
A final tile sampler was used to create an uninterrupted horizontal stitch. I threw the previous stitches into the background input of the tile sampler to combine the two elements.
Now onto the pattern. There wasn’t anything elegant here. I used a lot of transformation 2D nodes and a few safe transform nodes to offset, mirror to piece together the pattern. They were combined using overlay in the Blend nodes. This definitely required a bit of patience.
With the stitching all done, I was able to use it to create the pillow look of the leather. I ran a mask of my stitches into a bevel node where I played around with the distance and smoothing parameters to get the look I wanted. The mask that was plugged into the bevel node was also used to combine the stitches and the leather. I used a levels to adjust the relief strength of the stitches in relation to the leather.
For the final large shapes I used a perlin noise node to add imperfections and keep the stitches from looking too straight.
Lastly, for the height was the leather details. I kept it pretty simple using a cells node fed into a make it tile patch node to increase frequency. A blur node was used to keep details from looking too sharp and a slope blur node helped add imperfections.
The leather details were very subtly added to the final height.
Base color was very simple. I used the leather detail information to blend between white and a slight off-white. This added a subtle depth and warmth to the leather. The stitches were just a flat dark gray.
Just like the base color, the roughness was also kept simple. I again used the leather detail information to break up the roughness of the leather. Keeping it rough in the cracks and smoother on the skin of the leather. I used a histogram range node to balance the two roughness values. I simply used a flat and quite rough value for the stitches.
Would you choose Mattershots again as a source of inspiration for your Substance Designer creations?
Definitely. Mattershots is a great resource for finding interesting surfaces. I like Mattershots because it is like seeing a puzzle in my Instagram feed. Whenever I come across a Mattershots post I always have to stop and observe, to work out in my mind on how I would go about recreating the image. Even if I don’t actually go ahead and recreate the image, it is a good mental exercise.
What were the main obstacles to this project and how did you overcome them?
I would say the main obstacle was the actual triangular pattern. I went back and forth trying my best to make it as procedural as possible to no avail. Every now and then I dive back in the graph, trying different ways to execute the pattern. At the end of the day I care more about the final image rather than the actual functionality. So instead of creating unnecessary complex logic in the graph, I just kept it simple and pieced the pattern together using Transform 2D nodes.
Which other project would you like to present?
The procedural asphalt was one of those "moments of inspiration" substances I did one rainy UK evening. On an earlier substance material, I played around with the water level node in Substance Designer which got me thinking about types of surfaces to apply it on. I ended up going with an asphalt because it was something simple I thought I could recreate. It also seemed like an ideal surface that lent itself to gaining a lot of visual interest from the water level node. As you can tell from the graph, there is nothing very complicated going on. This was on purpose to explore what the water level node did to my inputs.
Overall, the graph is just a very simple distribution of a slope blurred polygon shape using tile samplers for the fine details and a perlin noise for the larger details. This is basically what makes up the base asphalt. I tried giving enough range in height at different scales for the water level node to work with. I also kept the albedo very simple to put more focus on the specular response that the water level node provided. All the subtle bits of color in the final render are reflections from the HDRI.
Do you have any tips or tricks you would like to share with the community?
One tip I would say is that I find it more useful to create my own custom noises using the tile sampler. I always try to be as deliberate as possible when working in Substance Designer. The stock noises are useful and convenient, but sometimes they are lacking important parameters and are too limited in functionality. It is more often than not that I find myself just throwing in many different types of noises and not getting quite exactly the result I’m looking for. It’s not difficult to recreate things like cells, fractals, spots etc, but it is definitely something worth doing. I found that when recreating the stock noises using shapes with the tile sampler, I get much more control which provides unique, interesting and deliberate results.
What are your favorite features in Substance Designer?
If I had to boil it down to a few, I would have to say the baking options, tri planar projection, the tile sampler, and Iray as my favorite features. In general, it is the non-destructive workflow that I really love.
What are your future projects?
I have actually been working on a new Mattershots inspired piece. It is less on the manufactured side of things and more organic in nature. As for Substance Designer, that is the only project I have on the go currently, but what usually happens is that inspiration strikes out of the blue and I just go at it until I end up with a presentable surface. Aside from that, another personal project I have been chipping away at is an industrial sci-fi scene in UDK, predominantly for lighting and composition practice.
Lastly, could you send us a picture of yourself and your work desk?