The Substance Art of Peter Kolus
Hey Peter, can you tell us more about yourself?
I’m Peter Kolus, a shy guy from Poland who has been in love with 3D graphics since childhood. I don't have a traditional art background, in fact I graduated from humanities in high school. Like many in the VFX business, I’m a self-made man and learn everything by myself at home.
What do you do?
For the past two years I've been working as a freelance artist, doing lots of different projects for my clients, typically realistic images for advertising. In February I decided to try something new and joined a company not related to advertising/VFX business, 3D4Medical, as a senior 3D generalist.
What are your specialties?
I think about myself as a generalist artist. My professional path started at the architecture company and then followed to VFX/cinematics studios and ended up at the advertising agency. I definitely prefer to work on realistic and cartoony images (you can see plenty of these in my portfolio). But if you ask me to point out three stages I like the most in production itself, that would be compositing, lighting and recently texturing with Substance Designer.
"The ability to easily swap assets by one click and to generate new sets of maps saved me a huge amount of time in a freelance job with a very tight deadline."
What are your sources of inspiration?
Definitely the Old Masters (ha, you didn’t expect that, did you? ;)). Everything that you can see on the Rijksmuseum website has that ‘thing’ which drives my creativity and inspires me on daily basis. The second source of inspiration is the art of photography. I’m checking different photographers’ portfolios online regularly, and I go to photography exhibitions and study good lighting. It’s amazing how much it can improve your work.
How did you discover the Allegorithmic tools? Which ones have you used on this project?
The very first video I saw was the one on YT that shows Substance Painter with its particle brushes, but back then I didn’t have time to explore it more. Then somewhere around the release of Substance Designer 4, I spent some time learning more about Allegorithmic's tools. The ability to easily swap assets in one click and to generate new sets of maps saved me a huge amount of time in a freelance job with a very tight deadline. After only a few days of watching tutorials and reading forums, I knew I would buy the license. It was totally mind-blowing comparing to my old Photoshop texturing approach, Substance Painter with painting on each map at the same time and Substance Designer with its node-based system.
"The big challenge was to recreate all of the patterns from the shoes, and this was the part where Substance Designer showed its true power with a procedural approach."
Tell us more about the New Balance and Airtox projects.
I did the New Balance project for my friends’ company HelloMono and it was actually one project with some additional small tasks around it. The original idea was to create an interactive experience when you can discover both shoes by watching them in 3d via the website. Another part was related to displaying different color variations and different sole materials. Once the commercial projects ended, I decided to revisit the Visaro model and make the renders for my portfolio. Therefore, I did shading, lighting, and postproduction all by myself. I also helped a bit with modeling the main shell and general proportion of the shoe. Same for the Furon model that is currently at the WIP stage where I'm testing new bump maps made in Substance Designer.
The second shoes project - Airtox - was done for a friend's company, Alchemiq Studio. The goal here was to provide an asset ready for hires print where the shoes will be split in half to show off their features.
What was your biggest challenge on these projects?
The biggest challenge was to create the correct model at first. We didn't have the scan, and the client provided only the CAD model of the sole (which requires retopology). The rest of model needed to be done manually. I took tons of reference pictures for modeling to make sure that the proportions were correct. The big challenge was to recreate all of the patterns from the shoes, and this was the part where Substance Designer showed its true power with a procedural approach. It was a real lifesaver in the New Balance and Airtox shoes accordingly.
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).
What was your production pipeline on this project and how did Substance integrate into it?
It's simply a one-man production pipeline. After modeling with UVW's was done, I brought in everything to Substance Designer to start making all the maps. I exported only bump and normal maps out of Substance Designer. However, I set up reflection values base on the guide to Physically Based Rendering available from Allegorithmic's website. I also setup tiling for each map in 3d software instead of doing it inside Substance Designer. That way I was not limited to 4k output at the rendering stage.
Do you have some techniques with Substance to share with the community?
I don’t have any special tricks, to be honest. I highly recommend playing with each node to find out how it works. After that practice, you should realize how to use them in combination with different nodes to produce what you want.
"I wasn't a big fan of texturing before, but since Substance Designer that has changed."
How did your use of Substance change your approach to texturing?
I wasn't a big fan of texturing before, but since Substance Designer that has changed. I know it sounds cheap, but I really enjoy this process now. You can make variations very quickly, it's all interactive, it's easy to manage projects and switch source meshes while maintaining all texture details. You don’t generate work files that are big in size, which means you don’t wait on writing/reading the files as much.