, by Florian Coenen

A Fast Ship to the Future: Transportation Design with Substance and VRED

Industrial Designer Florian Coenen explores how Substance and VRED help bring outstanding quality to his Spaceship Interior project.

  • Design
  • Interview
  • Transportation
  • Workflow

After graduating in Industrial Design at Pforzheim University, Florian Coenen spent several years working in a range of positions in the sector of automotive design, consumer electronics and visualization. He joined Autodesk in 2013, and is currently Technical Marketing Manager for the company. Alongside his role at Autodesk, Florian finds it important to create personal artwork – some of which ultimately finds its way into Autodesk’s What’s New videos, company presentations, or demo datasets. He recently took the time to detail his design work on one such piece, Spaceship Interior.

Origins of the Spaceship Project

Florian: This spaceship design started out as a personal project. When testing out what I can do with a certain software tool, or with some new piece of technology or new features, I don’t want to just play around with a sphere. I like to create a real design project, so I can really get the feel of the tools. I always need a project; I’m a project guy.

I really like science fiction, and I wanted to do something other than a vehicle with four wheels, so in this case I decided to create a spaceship. And, of course, a spaceship is still a transportation design – it’s basically a car design, but without wheels. And really, my initial idea was to do a redesign of a racing ship from an old Playstation game, Wipeout. There was one race team I particularly liked, called Goteki 45. This is where the first concept started.

Concept Modeling

I carried out the initial modeling in Alias, and Alias Create VR. The interior of the spaceship in particular was created in VR. Alias Create VR is a great tool, though the intent with this software isn’t to be extremely precise. And so some of my initial lines were quite wobbly.

And so, after my initial VR modeling, I brought my mesh across to Alias (on desktop) just to straighten up my lines a little, as well as to add some extra geometry and details, such as the frame under the glass hood of the spaceship. I also used Dynamo in Alias to add some elements such as vent flaps and pipes. I used Dynamo Scripts, which were created by my colleague Michael Guenther-Geffers, directly in the Dynamo Player within Alias, which is super-easy to use for me a designer with no programming skills, as I can just play around with sliders to find the right distribution and angles of the vent flaps, in this example.

I created an instructional demo presentation that walks through the complete project, showing different techniques from concept modelling to final visualization. That’s really worth taking a look at, for more information on this phase.

The Spaceship Interior

The seat for the spaceship originally came from a separate project, that also used generative design methods. I used some Substance materials on this as well, which definitely helped me to improve my render/image quality. You can find the project here.

I carried out the texturing process directly within VRED, as it has a very good in-built UV editor. This was the case, for example, with the brushed metal here, on this part of the frame:

The brush structure should obviously follow the form of the metal. I therefore need to edit the UVs of the object first.

Normally a brush structure is a straight pattern, but a 3D object – the frame, here – is not. So I need to be able to straighten the UVs of my object until they fit the texture. This will give me then the effect that the brush structure is following the curved object.

I’ll explain the process step by step:

At the beginning, you might have something like this. You’re basically seeing very messy UVs.

After a simple unfold with sewing, I get a form that roughly looks like my frame in 3D.

Now, to make it straight, I need to choose a line where I can cut the UVs – like here, in this screenshot:

After a cut and an unfold again, it’ll look like this:

Now I just need to select the borders and constrain them to the U or V direction.

Here you see the borders in different colors, for the U and V constraint:

I just have to do a last unfold and move and scale the UVs so that the frame fits to the texture/brush size.

As you can see in this screenshot, the UV layout is now straight and follows the straight brush texture. Like this, the brush now follows the form of the curved frame in 3D.

This is basically the approach I used with all the metal frames on this spaceship.

For patterns like leather, it can be sometimes much quicker and easier to simply do a triplanar mapping directly within the material editor, instead of dealing with UVs.

You can see this approach here, on the steering wheel, where I applied a simple Alcantara leather to it.

But here as well, when adding more details such as stitches, you need to find a UV layout that fits your needs, like here on this leather with stitches.

Substance Source

I’ve been using materials from Substance Source for roughly 2 years now, since the Substance implementation within VRED.

I use Substance Source materials for all kinds of projects. The first time I used it was for the interior of a car, especially for the leather materials; this instantly gave me so many options to tweak the materials – for example, by using different top stitches, or changing the colors of those top stitches. It’s simply amazing that you can create so many variations just by using some sliders, and the Substance engine creates the material for you. It’s very easy to use.

The LED materials I added to the spaceship are examples of some materials I like enormously on Substance Source. There are many materials like this – the camera material or, from the automotive collection, the brake disc, for example – that provide three notable advantages:

1. It allows you to add a lot of detail to a simple geometry;
2. The details look like actual modeled geometry;
3. The materials already look very realistic.

Using materials like these, I can increase the level of detail, and get a more realistic look, and better perceived quality, very quickly.

Here, below, is an example of a camera material I used in another small project, along with other Substance materials I used such as brushed aluminum; this has a simple sider for dirt and oxidation levels, which is really easy to use. The result is stunning:

Here, the Substance materials I used were the camera, the rubber and the brushed metal, the screws (Steel Worn) and the black metal (Steel Galvanized).

Texturing Architectural Spaces

I’ll digress from the spaceship for a moment. Right now I’m also using Substance Source for architectural scenes. For the concrete on buildings, for example, or to add some decals that I found, such as a grille for the floor. I find it can be helpful to place a vehicle in context, and so I built up a specific architectural scene for this, that runs in real time.

You can see this kind of thing in this project.

Here, I used Peter Spriggs’s Aurora car, which I also have used very often within my role as Technical Marketing Manager at Autodesk. And so you might have seen the car in many What’s New videos for Alias and VRED. 😉

I like the style of the modern architecture in this case. This scene provides many different options, such as different shadow scenarios, as it has open spaces, half-open spaces, and completely covered spaces. It also looks very friendly, and is clean, so it doesn’t distract too much from the design of the object under review.

After Before

I personally really like the decals used here, as I can overlay them with other materials and bring more detail to the scene. So I’d love to even see more decals for architecture, roads, walls, and so on in Substance Source. Details/decals such as dirt leaks, and things like that, and really great too, and I’d love to see more of those.

Substance Materials in VRED

I’ve only used the Substance plugin within VRED so far. In VRED the integration for me as a user is very straightforward and easy to use. I either grab the materials from Substance Source directly, via my internet browser, or I use the in-built browser within VRED.

After downloading the material, it will instantly show up in the Material Editor, and is ready to use. I talked about this in a What’s New video that I did for the Autodesk VRED YouTube channel, in fact.

Returning to the Spaceship Interior, I used the following materials:

For the metal frame I discussed in the UV process, I used Linear Brushed Magnesium.

This frame material that I used is really great to play around with. It has a lot of parameters, allowing you to show cool things like oxidization on the metal:

Or dirt:

Or scratches:

This way, I can create so many different looks with just one material. In particular, imperfections like dirt or scratches give me a super-easy way to improve realism and image quality.

Here (below), you have the Anodized Aluminium for the black metal area in front of the cockpit. You can also see that I used the LED Matrix Headlight material.

Here you can see the Steel Heat Treated Polished material for the pipes. I love them!

After Before

The camera material was Flat Camera Lens. This stuff is also brilliant for detailing, as it instantly gives it a more realistic effect.

And Steel Worn for the screws.

After Before

Creating a Scene

I like putting objects into context, in some sort of environment, to give a bit more realism.

Here, of course I’m showing that the spaceship is a flying vehicle and can fly in an atmosphere above the clouds, so you can see it in action. The same principle very often applies to car renderings as well; if you put them on a road or racetrack, it gives the car much more life, and tells more of a story around it.

For this particular image, I first used an appropriate environment HDRI (in this case I used the sky HDRI from HDRI Hub; thanks to Andreas Reimer for this). Here, I didn’t even need a backplate anymore, as you don’t see any distortions anyway.

To create this type of image, I normally just do separate renders of the foreground and background, and put them together in Photoshop. Then I add additional layers such as the airstreams, which I sketched using a Wacom board.

Then I add some adjustment layers like a color lookup and curves, as well as the lens flair effect, in Photoshop (thanks to Nadja Vollrath for helping and advising me here 😉).

Post Processing / Image Compositing in Photoshop

I didn’t only approach the compositing of the final image like this, however; I also used Illustrator and Photoshop for the decals and label mappings. These are super-easy to place in VRED. You simply need to drag and drop them directly from the file browser into the VRED viewport. You can see this process here:

The Substance Advantage

I really have to say that the Substance materials helped me to improve the image quality of my projects so much. They’re absolutely great; I wouldn’t like to work without them, now.

The next step for me might be to edit these materials in Substance Designer, or create my own in Substance Painter. But for now, as I am an industrial designer, I’m just really happy to use them to get a better look, with zero effort. 😊

Meet Florian Coenen

A graduate of Pforzheim University, Florian is an industrial designer and a specialist in Industrial and Automotive Design and Visualization. He is currently based in Munich, working as Technical Marketing Manager at Autodesk.

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