, by Louise Melin

Coffee to Go, in Substance 3D Stager

Louise Melin discusses her Stager workflow, from asset selection to final render.

  • Workflow

I had a couple of objectives in creating this scene. Most of all, I wanted to step out of the digital world, and reconnect with nature to some degree – even if I ultimately did so through the medium of my computer. Out in the real world, I love botany and bird watching; it seemed natural to me to create a scene that showed some of the items associated with those interests – though, in the end, I opted for images of butterflies rather than birds (a victory for lepidoptery over ornithology!).

More technically, I also wanted to create a lifestyle scene with consistent assets, relying exclusively on the Substance 3D Asset Library. This meant that I wouldn’t have to model or UV unwrap anything, which really speeds up the creative process. This approach is great in particular for testing out ideas, or ‘sketching’ a scene in 3D.

The Process

I created a video that shows the steps I took to create this scene; see above . Step by step my process was:

– Choosing the models
– Choosing the materials
– Refining the materials in Painter
– Staging
– Lighting and choosing viewpoints

Choosing the models

In a project that was fun all the way through, this part was particularly fun. The core of the scene was the pile of paper and the cup of coffee on the desk; I expanded from there, considering what the woman sitting at the desk would use, or need. If paper were sitting on the desk, the she’d likely need pens or pencils. Perhaps she was drawing plants, and so the flowers she’d picked would be present too. I pictured her as a bit messy, and certainly an outdoors type; perhaps some gardening tools would be on the desk too. And so on.

Choosing the materials

Once I’d chosen and downloaded my models, I searched for materials that would look good on them. Some of these come directly from the starter assets in Stager – here, the paper material, the leather for the notebook, the wood for the pencils, and the clay for the pot are all Stager starter assets. Most of these materials are parametric, so it’s possible to achieve interesting results quickly, without downloading anything new.

Then I moved across to the 3D asset library. This contains a huge amount of materials – so many that it can be a little tricky to find exactly what you have in mind, even with the right keywords. I find that searching by category can be useful in this case – for instance, there are no specific materials for leaves/greeneries; instead, I browsed the ‘Organic’ category and found that beautiful zucchini skin; it was perfect for this project.

I wanted the wood surface of the desk to be as photorealistic as possible, so I filtered the results to include only scanned materials. Like this, I found that marvelous, aged wood that perfectly matched the mood I was trying to convey.

Refining the materials in Painter

I wanted to customize some of the assets in the scene, and add my own touch to them. I did this with the notebook and the pencils. I exported them from Stager to Painter to make a quick pass; like this, I added the nib for the pencil, and the gilded logo on the notebook. Everything was accomplished in just a few strokes, and I simply clicked on ‘Send to Stager’ to bring my updated assets back into my scene.


Substance 3D Stager is first and foremost a staging tool. The table surface was a simple plane; I first placed the objects by dragging them onto the plane – Stager will automatically snap them to the surface, which is really handy. Then I jumped into my camera view to adjust everything and make sure it looked good and balanced when seen from above. In all, the staging part of the project took me less than 30 minutes.

The image of the butterflies is a graphic that is added on top of the model using Decal mode. It comes from the Adobe Stock asset library, by an artist called ‘paseven,’ and it’s an Illustrator file. Conveniently, if you have an Illustrator or Photoshop file, Stager can just place it directly onto a surface, as I did here.

We made a short video recently demonstrating how to place graphics on a surface in Stager; this is the exact process I used.

Lighting and choosing viewpoints

With everything in place, I started testing different lighting setups. In the end I used a simple HDRI to keep my lighting as natural and realistic as possible. When I was happy with the look of my first viewpoint, I added new cameras to get different angles, and played around a little with the light and depth of field. I then launched a few renders and used the layers in the PSD file to finetune the lighting and color grading in post-process.

And that was it! My coffee scene was complete. It was very simple, and very quick.

Meet Louise Melin

Louise is a Technical Artist in the Adobe Substance 3D Digital Media department. Her 3D work to date includes the creation of comprehensive material collections, such as her Joseon-era Korea collection.

Read more