The Substance Art of UE4Arch
Who are you?
Rafael Reis Saliba
Where are you based?
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
What do you do?
CEO & Founder at UE4Arch.
What do you do/What is your actual job?
My job at UE4Arch is to dedicate all of my time to the development of real-time architecture with Unreal Engine 4. I try to achieve highly extreme photo-realistic results and improve architectural visualization for a new level of interactivity and virtual reality.
What is your background?
I studied architecture, graphic design, traditional design, photography and music. While studying architecture at university, I discovered the potential of combining computer graphics with architectural visualization.
I started studying computer graphics 16 years ago, influenced by games such as Doom, Quake and Warcraft. Since I first entered into contact with these games, I started a long process of learning CG in-depth. All my knowledge of 3D from that moment was acquired studying by myself: through books, forums, et cetera.
What are your specialties?
I started studying 3D modeling of cars and characters. After having started working with architectural visualization, I specialized in the modeling of furniture, texturing, materials and lighting.
What are your sources of inspiration?
My inspiration mainly comes from photography and paintings of other artists. In the 3D area, I look for study references like Blizzard and id Software. Adrian Carmack, John Romero, and Jesus Selvera are my main sources of inspiration.
How did you start real-time archviz?
I started developing real-time architecture visualization, archviz, six years ago with Unity. At that time, I worked at TEARTE digital rendering (the archviz company I founded and where I worked until 2013). I created a workflow with scripts to create lightmaps in V-Ray and export them to Unity. However, to achieve a realistic result, the process was very long and painful so it wasn’t adapted to the market yet.
Exactly two years ago, I started experimenting Unreal Engine 4, and in a few days I achieved gorgeous results. That’s when I noticed that it was time to move archviz to another level.
Have you always been doing this or is this something recent?
I worked with traditional archviz for 10 years and it was only two years ago that I started dedicating myself entirely to real-time archviz.
What was the main reason you started working in real-time? Improvements in Technology?
It simply was a matter of evolution. We started drawing by hand, then rendered images and pre-rendered animation, and moved on to photorealism. With the natural evolution of computers, real-time archviz is just a matter of time. Finally, I believe that with future adjustments and improvements, virtual reality will be the definitive concept of architectural visualization!
Why do you use UE4?
The main reason I started using Unreal Engine for architecture was the lighting system. At the beginning, it was very difficult to achieve satisfying results due to the lack of Lightmass documentation (The Global Illumination system in UE4). Today, however, we can easily achieve fantastic results in little time. With the 4.11 version, we had great improvements on the Lightmass GI system, so it's now faster and easier to achieve good GI quality.
The other reason is the shaders in UE4. They are easy to manipulate and with the Substance Painter integration I achieved excellent results in a short amount of time.
How did you discover the Allegorithmic tools?
I discovered them through a video on YouTube. Before using the Allegorithmic tools, I created textures with Photoshop, spending endless hours painting and collecting good references…and testing, testing and testing.
With Substance Painter and Substance Designer, I can create materials the way I imagine them and according to my needs. I am also able to create lots of variations on the same material, adding wear, noises, and color variation.
For certain materials, in the past I had to spend hours searching on Google for references or taking pictures of nearby references to get an ideal result, and many times I still didn’t obtain the desired result.
Tell us more about your projects. What are the different tools you use? What is your production pipeline on these projects and how does Substance integrate into it?
The first project in which I used the Allegorithmic tools was the Old Brazilian Kitchen. It’s based on a typical old kitchen of my region, Minas Gerais in Brazil, with Italian influences. Since that project, I have been using the Allegorithmic tools in all my projects (Riviera, Lake House, Car customizer, the Vineyard, etc.)
I essentially use 3ds Max, Substance Painter, Substance Designer, Photoshop, and UE4 (without any additional plugins).
I created a library with Substance Painter with the most widely used materials in archviz (leather, marble, wood, granite, etc.). With this library I can generate an albedo map, a gloss map, a normal map, and sometimes ambient occlusion maps and height maps.
Within UE4, I created a Material Instance (base material to make a wide variety of different materials) where I can easily apply maps in their channels. For further fine-tuning, I created dynamic parameters in the Material Instance which can adjust the saturation, levels and curves.
Do you have some Substance techniques to share with the community? What is your opinion about the future of archviz in architecture?
There is no parameter or secret behind the textures I create. It is common that people beginning with 3D think that the software can do all the work. But software packages are only tools that rely on the knowledge of their users.
Above all in texturing, we must improve and study our greatest skill: observation.
Every day when we open our eyes, thousands of colors, saturations, dirt, markers of time and so many other factors that draw on the real world are just in front of us. But we treat all these factors as a perfect composition of the real world and forget to analyze them coolly.
The first thing I do when I make a texture is try to discover the exact color of the chosen material, surface. The intensity and coloring of light is an aggravating factor in the distortion of the color of a material or texture. That is why I always try to analyze the colors of real-world materials on a cloudy day, because in this condition the real color of the object stands out and blends with adequate exposure to our eyes.
The next step is to observe the action of time on a certain texture. If a material is outside, we must understand how the sediments of time have acted on it to create peeling, desaturation of bright colors, greening on the edges, mud, fluid traces, rust, et cetera.
Indoors, we should understand the action of man on the material: for a wooden floor where people pass several times a day, for example, we want to simulate the scratches and irregular reflections.
In traditional archviz, we rarely see the actions of time or humans represented on the materials. The materials are often too perfect and scenes are too clean and free of real-world defects.
I believe we are already taking the first steps for the future of archviz: real-time visualization, interactivity and virtual reality. However, we cannot forget the basics mentioned above.
How did your use of Substance change your approach to texturing? Are there some features that would be great to have in Substance Painter or Substance Designer?
Representing the imperfections of the real world within the scenes was the main reason to use Substance Painter and Substance Designer. The ease of creating these noises and the speed of creating these materials were also key. Today, I create a material the way I want in less than 10 minutes, whereas in the past I spent many hours for just one material. At the present time, I believe that the tool meets all my needs. I believe that a material library for the community would be fantastic.
Tell us more about your next projects.
Epic Games granted us the Unreal Dev Grant. Our next big project will be the representation of an entire Venetian canal. It will be an experience using virtual reality, where we will make this route a visual experience of colors, shapes, composition and atmosphere. We are also preparing a video class to launch in our store.
Have you already put some Easter eggs in your projects?
It isn’t exactly an Easter Egg, but I always try to insert one Moka Pot (Italian coffee pot) into the scenes. I admire the design of this object and it always fits well in any environment!
UE4Arch recently released a free demo of their Lake House project, which you can download directly on their website: https://ue4arch.com/lake-house/.