Blade Runner 9732 VR project: how one guy did it with Substance
With the recent release of Blade Runner 2049, it’s hard to get into the topic without getting spoiled. Luckily, we have the perfect user story for you with Quentin Lengele who built
a complete Blade Runner VR experience on his own! Let’s see what we can learn from this one-man-band’s brilliant mind.
Hey Quentin, thanks for being with us! could you introduce yourself for the community?
Hey, I’m 38 years old. I’m a freelancer software engineer based in Belgium.
Since 2000, I’ve worked for several agencies on different domains and platforms like web, mobile, backend, frontend, desktop and real-time CGI. During these years, I learned many techniques and languages and I worked on different aspects of computer programming and authoring.
I’m a genuine programmer, but there are a bunch of things I can handle professionally: 3D modeling/texturing, web-mobile-corporate apps and games, Kinect games and experiences, digital event installations, projection mapping, digital signage, interactive walls and floors, large multi-touch apps, augmented reality apps, and virtual reality experiences.
Programming and learning new things has always been an addiction and a good way to express myself. And if you come and talk to me about particles, GPU and CG technologies, we could be more than simple friends :)
My loves, after my two daughters and my dear wife, are math, physics, classical antiquity, space and astrophysics, archeology, saxophone, piano, American old– timers, snowboarding and computer games.
As both a software engineer and a 3D generalist, you don’t have exactly the kind of profile we are used to interviewing :-) How do manage to reconcile these two worlds? Do you have examples of cases were your programming skills were useful for 3D work and vice versa?
I’m a very curious person and I love exploring new things. When I see something beautiful and inspiring in a movie, a documentary or in a game, I like to study how it’s been done, then try to reproduce it from scratch, in real-time, by myself. It can be visual effects, 3D props, GPU techniques or anything related to real-time rendering. I have always loved to do reverse engineering. It’s a very good way to deeply understand complex stuff by yourself and be able to talk and share about it in a professional way after that.
I easily get bored with technology, and that’s why I try to work on different types of projects but they almost always involve real-time 3D. Otherwise I don’t always have the time to do all the tasks (managing + programming + modeling/texturing). I’m working with talented artists when the project is too big or the deadline too short, especially when it involves characters. I don’t have enough skills to do very realistic characters but this is something I want to achieve if I find the time to learn it seriously.
Unfortunately, most of my biggest professional works are under legal conditions and I cannot share them online but you can have a look at some of my personal ones on my personal and company websites and my research blog.
We discovered your work when you started unveiling the Blade Runner 9732 VR project, fully textured with Substance. What can you tell us about this project?
All started with a heightmap test on the well-known wall tilling of Frank Lloyd’s Ennis House in L.A, which was used for the Blade Runner movie. Lloyd's tile design is quite specific and offers good features for obtaining a nice 3D rendering.
It could have been a smaller job if I stopped there but as I’m a fan of the movie, it quickly turned into a huge 3D modeling hobby of the whole apartment during my free time, nights, weekends and vacations.
Here is a small preview of the final result of the tiles and walls (textured with Substance Painter, rendered in Unity).
After the walls, I started to reproduce most of the furniture to get closer to the movie. I watched Blade Runner so many times, almost frame by frame, and I found a lot of items on propsummit.org and other furnitures fan websites. It’s a job of patience with a lot of research to spot every single object but it was a real opportunity for me to explore new software, improve my modeling skills and be able to create a mythic virtual place in the meantime.
I remember I was looking for a buffet for months. I had no clue but the top of this unknown furniture appeared in the livingroom. Finally a member from Propsummit found the real object for sale on the web and I was able to reproduce it accurately with the photos.
For the mod itself, I work with 3ds Max. It really depends the needs of the project, but I have a preference for Max, certainly because I’m using it since Windows 95.
Dangerous Days, surely the best making-of documentary on Blade Runner, was also a huge source of information. Director Charles de Lauzirika has done a magnificent work here and it brings so many details about Blade Runner that the regular fan doesn’t even know.
I also have to mention a friend, Cedric Delcourt. He helped me on modeling of several props and texturing during evenings and weekends.
What is the status of the project right now?
At this stage, the experience offers a simple virtual tour inside Deckard's apartment.
You can walk around, look at details, pick some objects, play the piano, take a shower, start the Esper machine and enjoy the rain falling on the balcony.
The interactions are quite simple for now because I focused on exact replica modeling of the whole place to get the best immersion. I really wanted to push attention to details and reproduce the lighting and sound atmosphere of this mythic movie.
You will also find Rachael wandering through the apartment and looking at you when you pass by. She's a temporary modeled character. Indeed, the body is quite good but I asked a friend for help to improve Rachael's face realism. I surely would like to end with something much more realistic.
I plan to add small achievements for the final release (find origami, find police card, find Nexus 6 picture and start Esper with it...).
Also, I must say a big thank you to HTC. Alvin Wang Graylin, President of HTC Vive China and one of my followers, shipped me a brand new Vive headset to help me to bring the experience to another level…and it did. The current alpha version rendering on Vive is quite impressive.
AMD is also offering help in this project, and it’s currently in discussion.
As we just said, you relied on Substance Painter and Substance Designer to texture this project. What led you to rely on our products?
At the beginning, all the textures were done in Photoshop. Then a 3D artist friend showed me Substance Painter. I was literally amazed by the realism of the textures coming out of this software. I immediately bought an indie license and started to rebuild all the models of my scene to be able to import them back properly in Substance and work with curvature, ambient occlusion and other generated maps.
Substance Painter is the perfect software for what I was trying to achieve. Early stages of the scene were done in Unity 4 with no physically based shading. Porting all the assets to PBR with Substance quickly generates additional work but the rendering is much better, no doubt about that. Substance Painter is definitively a must-have tool for 3D artists. Creating PBS materials is a very motivating job and the coming of Unity 5 with Enlighten technology and Substance Painter was decisive in boosting my passion for producing realistic real-time 3D experiences.
You also played a bit with our MAT Art Toy, but in a way that we didn’t really expect. Please explain your crime to the community ;-)
When I saw the Meet MAT contest opening, I was on vacation for two days and decided to quickly submit a creation. I created two different entries:, "First Man In Space" and “Imperial Pilot”:
Then I realized the mesh provided by Allegorithmic for the contest was a high poly version… and when you say high poly to me, I see lots of vertices to play with.
As I particularly like to work with GPU and particles and as I released Point Cloud Sandbox a few weeks before, it came directly to my mind to try these techniques with Meet MAT.
You can try by yourself here :
Check my blog post for more info about it: