, by Paul Tatar

Escape the City: Creating the Barn Cabin Interior

Paul Tatar discusses his approach to creating an interior archviz scene, and how the Substance toolset boosts his material creation and texturing.

  • Architecture
  • Interview

I’m Paul Tatar, and I’m currently a freelancer specializing in architectural visualization and interior design. I came to this field after having studied Architecture for four years in Cluj-Napoca, in Romania. During these studies, my fellow students and I would typically be assigned work on projects in pairs; one person would be responsible for all of the plans/elevations/details, while the other would handle the 3D modeling. I always opted for the 3D side of things. It helped that rendering one image on my laptop took about five hours at that time, which gave me a little extra time to sleep…

The Barn Cabin Interior

This project came about because, for the last few years, I’ve been thinking about escaping from the city, and having some sort of writer’s retreat. I’m not close to having that for real yet, but working in architecture and visualization means that I have the skill set to explore the possibilities for such a space; I can give some level of reality to that vision, and have some fun testing out new spins on the classic cabin theme.

This space is all about atmosphere. I wanted this cabin to feel warm and cozy, but without it becoming the traditional completely wooden cabin, that people tend to picture when you talk about a project like this. The verticality of the space was another major element here; this really helps to prevent the dark tones from becoming overpowering.

Design and Modeling

I think I start out with a rather messy approach; in the beginning stages, I’m really just sketching out ideas, without knowing 100% where I’ll end up. As Frank Gehry says, if you know what you’ll do in advance you won’t do it. 😊 I typically leap straight into 3D – in my case, I’ll start with Blender – and start blocking things out quite crudely. This leads me into a long series of design decisions which, ultimately, results in me reaching my final design idea.

I’ll add that I switched to Blender after working for a while in Sketchup as a student. Blender has a pretty steep learning curve, but once I got over that I started getting better, and faster, results. I model the big pieces of the scene in Blender (the walls, some of the lights, beams, cabinets, pot handles, and so on). I modeled some of the assets in this scene; others were assets that I’ve bought and added to my library over time – I find that having a somewhat organized asset library helps throughout the entire process, and allows me to concentrate on the more scene-defining aspects, rather than the more mundane aspects of the process.

Materials

Once I have that final idea fixed in my head, I complete the modeling. And then my process is pretty classic, I think. After the modeling, I set up the lighting (natural lighting first, then any artificial lighting), then I start texturing and UV unwrapping. After that, I start defining materials for the scene. I categorize objects in the order of how they’ll grab a viewer’s attention; the objects that will have most eyes landing on them have to look the best, and then I gradually move to smaller and smaller objects (that is, typically from foreground to background, from the point of view of any final renders).

For materials for the scene, I usually start by finding a base from the Substance 3D Assets collection (previously known as Substance Source). After I find such a base, I think about how it might be used or treated for such a project in real life. For example, the walls in this scene were initially plain, natural oak; I added a layer of black paint to this, and found that I obtained a slightly more realistic look by adjusting the intensity of the normals a little. And that was it. The layers involved tend to be quite self-evident, and so the process tends to be really fast – I find that it’s typically a three- or four-step process to get a good material that fits the scene.

About 80% of the time I can find a material on the Substance 3D Assets platform that I can use as a base. For maybe 15% of the remaining cases I go straight to the tile/flooring manufacturer’s website – manufacturers are often a really good starting point, as they tend to have extensive libraries. And so I’ve developed a general JPEG to material setup for this. First I find a JPEG image that’s interesting for my project – possibly on a manufacturer’s website, or maybe a photo that I’ve taken myself, or received from a client – then I take that into Photoshop to make it seamless. After that, I import it into Sampler. This makes it really easy to customize the texture further. I constantly use some filters here – color variation, brightness, sharpen, normal and height adjustment, and whatever type of finish I’m looking for (wood, or stone, for instance).

For the Barn Cabin Interior in particular, the big materials were the black wood, the concrete floor, the wood on the beams, the counter top marble, and the painted cabinets; I made those specifically for this scene. I also used some other fairly common materials that I already had in my library (things such as glass, metal, stainless steel, and so on).

I’ll confess that in real life I’m a little messy, and organization in general isn’t my strong point… But just now, in Sampler, I’m organizing my materials by project. So under my ‘Cabin’ folder I’ll find all the materials I’ve used in this scene. At some point I should really organize them by category – I should group my woods, marbles, concretes etc. – but the current setup really helps if I need to handle some revisions 3 months down the line (this has already happened a bunch of times).

Texturing – the Substance 3D Add-on for Blender

Using the Substance 3D Add-on for Blender, the texturing process for this project was pretty easy. If I’d generated JPEG maps for the material in Sampler, it’s a two-click process (select the folder with the material, and it will import that material with the correct node setup). After that, it might just require a few tweaks to roughness.

The only hiccup with this, and the thing that stops me going all in with the plugin, is that there’s currently no preview option for the SBSAR materials. I need to remember just from the name which is the right material to use. Still, when I have a lot of pieces to texture, and I know exactly what materials I’m going to use, this plugin saves me hours, literally.

Another advantage using the Substance add-on for Blender: I like to generate material maps for each project (maybe that’s a bit of an old school approach; there are probably better alternatives to this), and the plugin keeps the material inside the blend file.

Future Projects

I’m currently going through an industrial phase exploring spaces and textures that are generally considered as less-than-desirable-looking, in order to put a new spin on them. It just so happens that I have a pretty big commissioned project in one such space…

I’m planning to spend a little more time developing my skills in photorealism; once I’ve accomplished this, I’d very much like to look into the more experimental side of visualization, and to add another layer to my work, switching the overall goal from creating images that are as realistic as possible to something a little more subjective and meaningful.

Get a great view of the Barn Cabin Interior on Paul’s Instagram video of the project!

Meet Paul Tatar

Paul Tatar is a freelancer specializing in architectural visualization and interior design. He is based in Cluj-Napoca, in Romania.


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