Zhelong Xu: Making Magic with Substance
Artist Zhelong Xu draws on inspiration from Chinese art and folklore to create intricate 3D art using Substance. In this tutorial, he uses the new anchor point feature in Substance Painter for some truly unique patina work on his signature statues. Enjoy!
Hi Zhelong! This is not the first time we’ve talked, as we interviewed you on our blog last year for the release of Substance Source! For the few who don’t know you yet, could you introduce yourself to the community?
Hi, Allegorithmic! It’s been great getting to know you genius guys who developed the awesome Substance toolset. I am Zhelong Xu and I come from Jingdezhen, China. This city has been known as the “porcelain city” for the past thousand years and I am very proud of it:). I've been working in the CG industry since 1998, and have been creating art every day since then. Right now I have a studio for CG education and garage kits development in Shanghai. You can find my ArtStation right here.
Your recent work on a dragon statue has gotten a lot of attention. It’s also one of the first times we've seen anchor points in action since the feature was released in the July 2017 update of Substance Painter. Could you tell us more about your texturing process on this project, with a specific focus on your use of anchor points?
您最近的作品一座龙雕刻《一洗万古凡马空》继续受到很多关注。这也是自七月Substance Painter2017.2 发布Anchor Points功能以来，首次看到使用此功能的作品。您能介绍更多这个项目的贴图过程吗？特别是关于Anchor Points的使用。
This is a case study from my online course. It comes from one of my concept sketches.
The emphasis is on the curly “Chinese style”.
The material inspiration comes from a Chinese magazine about classical temple wooden sculpture. I took the picture with my phone and found some other references from internet.
While I was creating this, I wondered if these mottled aging marks and varied colors could bring different feelings to my artwork. Substance Painter is the most convenient tool for achieving this, so I created all the textures in Painter.
First of all, let’s talk about the structure of these materials. These are all same textures except the base part. The base is similar to the painted wooden statue after years of wear, with different colors showing through. With this idea in mind, I started with the dragon head first, then created smart materials to apply to other parts. I finished with some fine adjustments.
我想那些斑驳的岁月痕迹以及丰富的色彩能给我的作品带来不一样的感觉，而Substance Painter将是实现这些最方便的工具。这个作品所有的颜色贴图我都是拿Substance Painter完全独立完成的。
Here, I'm starting with the head. In general I separate the materials into several “layers”. It’s the same idea as the design of Substance Painter because all complex materials are made of several base colors with different roughness and metallic. For example, a complex granite material made from a dozen different grayscale colors. The detail of our work depends on how we break down all the subtle layers. What we should do is overlay and create some masks to mix them together.
We can start with the wood base color. It will be the background of the old materials, which will become visible through masks. Therefore, I won’t set the saturation too high.
There are some different color paints on this statue, so I added the aging paint A (brown), the stains in the slits B (brown), and the edge wear C (brown). These three different brightnesses and and differences in the purity of the brown color create the wearing effect.
For the next step, I will add cyan color, a deep red lip and bright golden metal paint. I finish this by applying a layer of dust and adding a roughness painting layer on the top. (It’s better to create different roughnesses even in the same color).
This is the structure of base material. As you can see, it’s not complex at all. At the end of production, I’ll make some scratches in order to add damage to the model.
Now it’s time to use anchor points. In the past, I used generators to make those scratches, then stacked them in different ways in every layer that needed this effect.
The problem is that I have too many paint layers: blue, red, gold, and so on. The scratches must be reflected in each layer. Scratches need to pass through all layers to the bottom, revealing the bottom wood. Anchor points allow me to achieve this without pasting all those scratches to all layers as it offers a “micro detail” option through the link to associate the layer masks. What I need to do is make a scratches layer with height information, use this layer as an anchor point and reference it on the layers that need scratches. As you can see, I only need to adjust one layer to achieve the effect I want on all the layers.
这个时候Anchor Point就派上用场了。通常来说，在以前，我只有把这个划痕用发生器制作出来，然后用不同的叠加方式叠在每一个需要这些划痕的图层蒙版上。但是问题是我做的油漆层这么多（青色金色红色等等），我的划痕必须在每一层上都有体现。也就是说，划痕将要透过这些层一直到达最底部，透出最下面的木头效果。Anchor Point让我不必每一层都去粘贴这个划痕通道。他提供了一个“微细节”的方式。通过“链接”的方式把图层的蒙版之间取得关联。我只需要制作好有高度信息的划痕层。之后把他作为锚点，链接到那些需要出现划痕的层上面。这样我只需要调整这个层，就可以达到关联的目的。
This is really cool. The subtle variation of material appears in many places. Scratches cross through each layer, and this gives the effect of a very old wooden statue.
Even better, scratches affect different channels and you can use levels to adjust each channel’s details. I can get a lot of results automatically in this way.
After finishing the dragon’s head, I made a group to create a smart material, and then applied it directly to the other texture sets. In this step, I also modified some unnecessary or less good-looking layers. I slightly adjusted it, but I didn’t change the overall material structure.
制作好龙头之后我把图层打组，创建了一个Smart Material，并且直接应用到其他的Texture set，这里需要注意的只是要修改一些不合理或者不好看的层。略作调整。但是整体上的材质结构是不会改变的。
For example, I removed the red lip color from the body material while adding more blue and cyan.
The rule is that I wanted every different body part to have a fixed, colorful painting effect, such as: the dragon’s chest is blue, the belly is red, and the neck is gold. I am using this method to distinguish the color of main body. The rest of dust and scratches are automatically calculated by the smart materials. I was pretty happy with the result. I finished all remaining objects using this method, and I only needed to spend a little time making minor adjustments.
I spent about 10 hours on the whole texturing process including rendering time. These renders use the default Iray in Substance Painter, and rendering each shot takes only about an hour.
How did the anchor points change your workflow?
As I mentioned, anchor points changed my way of thinking how to add details. You can start with the large piece of material first, without worrying about getting an unnatural result after adding too many details.
For example, create multiple base materials first, then the small damages will insert between these materials, rather than doing it manually. In the past, we could only hand-paint in this situation. But now, the automatic effect is even better.
At the end of the official video tutorial, there is a very cool tip. The damage to the spacecraft can be controlled by the paint layer’s different depth. It’s very cool. I suggest that everyone have a look at that demonstration.
On another note, you also participated in the Meet MAT contest. Could you tell us about your experience in this contest?
This contest was really interesting, and it was the most enjoyable CG competition I have ever seen. When I look at the results of those wonderful works, I deeply feel the greatness of human creativity. Art can really change our lives. The stubborn playful Van Gogh, the material candy robot…can you imagine how much love went into creating these? I also created a little guy – I didn’t spend much time on it, but I really enjoyed it.
This is a hero character that Chinese people like a lot. His name is Wu Song and there are a lot of legends about him. The most famous one is that he defeated a tiger by hand. Of course, this is only written in a novel. This is why I created this funny kid with a tiger hat, which is also a small special accessory from China. Of course, my work is not very prominent compared to other contestants, but I was very happy. I was smiling while I was painting his smiling face. Happiness is the theme of this contest, happiness is also the purpose of our CG industry, and even the purpose of life, isn’t it?
What are your future projects?
I would like to keep teaching CG and continue making artwork, of course. But I think I should take a break for a while. By the way, have you seen the lamb splashscreen when you launch Substance Painter ?
I will bring it to the real world with 3D printing technology. Simulating Substance artworks with real material should be very interesting. And as with “Fearless Journey” and “A Dragon Statue”, I will make the actual items to sell. So whatever you like to do, just do it.
You have been making art for close to 20 years and you’ve also started teaching online students in China. Is your son also one of your students? :)
At the moment, he’s only five years old. I don’t want him to pay too much attention to the computer screen yet. Sometimes we draw together and I tell him some silly stories that I make up. ☺
I would like to continue my online courses, and they are temporarily on a Chinese-language website. By the way, I am working on a tutorial for Allegorithmic’s Substance Academy. I would like to finish it as soon as possible. Thank you all!