Learning Substance and PBR
September 11, 2017

During my ZBrush Challenge, I realized I had no clue how I was gonna texture my objects. It seemed only fitting that a challenge to learn a skill in one area, made me aware of a complete lack of skill in another.

Challenge Review

Originally I wanted to learn ZBrush in order to supplement Houdini’s modeling tools, but found that I really enjoyed the daily sculpts, posting on this blog and instagram.

One of my favourite things about the whole challenge, was creating the speed modeling videos. There’s something incredibly satisfying about going from a cube to a finished model, wrapped into a 1 minute video cut to the rhythm of a beat.

Daily shipping also fired up my imagination. I still have a long list of sculpts and projects I came up with during the challenge. Most of these were either too small, too ambitious or deviated too much from the modeling aspect.

Towards the end of the 45 days, you can see that I started to bring my models into Houdini to render. As I was pushing out my render on the last day, I realized I had no clue how to quickly create the colored pattern on Laverne’s Tentacle Suit.

Learning Substance and PBR

I noticed that Michael Pavlovich had a Substance Painter course on his gumroad, so I spent a few nights going through the basics and figured this could be the missing link..

Substance to the Rescue

Substance Painter as a software is relatively easy to pick up, and at first it’s not necessarily apparent why you would even want to learn Substance Designer, you could use Substance Painter to paint all your textures and materials onto your objects.

However, one day deep down a youtube rabbit hole, I found a video that triggered my curiosity. It’s by this guy called sharpstance, where he runs through his node-network to generate a CRT Monitor from a simple cube, purely driven by Metal/Roughness and Height/Normal maps.

CRT Monitor - Substance Designer Material Breakdown

Obviously this approach might not be feasible for production, but the fact that you can create something as detailed as this, inside your viewport, from textures alone, blew my mind.

Furthermore I like how it crosses boundaries from modeling up to rendering, it made me realize you could use lots these techniques to solve all kinds of other effects right inside the texture, instead of doing all the heavy lifting inside of simulations.

PBR Workflow

Over the last few months I’ve been ploughing through docs, blogs, forums and endless youtube videos on Substance Designer and Substance Painter, trying to make sense of how I could use this in my future projects and filling in the missing dots between ZBrush and Houdini.

Piecing together these modern texturing workflows made me realize how much has changed in Texturing/Lighting/Rendering over the last few years.

Way back when I was still doing Lighting/Rendering for commercials, you would generally start shading any wood, metal or plastic from a generic Blinn shader. Then you would sort of eyeball your way towards a plausible surface.

Houdini Principled Shader

Luckily these days people have come up with this Metal/Roughness workflow, where you describe a surface in terms of it’s roughness and whether it’s a metal. For example you could describe rubber with a roughness of 1.0 and a metallicity of 0.0, while a polished raw metal could be described as having a roughness of 0.0 and a metallicity of 1.0.

It makes the whole process of texturing and shading an object much more expressive. Furthermore since since all the values are rooted in real-life measurements the materials will hold up to different lighting conditions.

It seems like Sidefx is also banking on this workflow, by pushing Disney’s principled shader more towards the front in Houdini 16.

New Shading Features in Houdini 16 // Kai Stavginski // Masterclass

Allegorithmic has created two amazing guides explaining all of these principles in more detail. If you’re interested in this topic, they are well worth the read. Allegorithmic PBR Guides

Back to ZBrush

A lot of the ideas, that I didn’t manage to create during my challenge, could actually really benefit from all this new texturing knowledge.

So a few weeks ago I decided to get a copy ZBrush. In the meantime it’s been updated with a shiny new flat UI, live booleans and a gizmo. Honestly, the new features hardly excite me nearly as much as just getting back stuck in with ZModeler.

I’m looking forward to create more speed modeling videos. But this time around crossing over between the different apps, starting from ZBrush, into Substance, through to Houdini.

I’m a 3D artist in London, mashing polygons with code. Now that web and CG are converging into VR, I’m moving onto that intersection.

Currently I’m available for work

Follow my journey @pixelprotest_

ZBrush Day 45
Today I sculpted Laverne, the Lovable Lunatic from Day of the Tentacle.
Speeding up my Substance to Redshift Workflow
To help me go from concept to render as quickly as possible, I created three Houdini Digital Assets to speed up this process.