, by Damien Bousseau

Evoking Atmosphere with Substance 3D Assets

Damien Bousseau discusses the importance of mood in art, and how he establishes ambiance in 3D scenes.

  • Interview

Damien Bousseau is a Production Manager in the Substance 3D team. Here he talks about his use of resources from the Substance 3D Assets library to create a trio of stylized scenes.

For this project, I wanted to showcase visual development or concept art in 3D, using the 3D asset library to establish different moods/atmospheres quickly and efficiently.

When using assets from our 3D library, one possibility – a very ‘classic approach,’ even – is to take an object, or to assemble a scene, and to enhance it by adding textures to make it look fantastic. A lot of artists work like that, and it’s an approach that works great.

But I consciously chose a different technique, here. I prioritized the overall ambiance of the scene, over the specific objects within it. I wanted to demonstrate how it’s possible to use a relatively small number of assets to express a range of different ideas.

I ultimately created three scenes. My objective with these scenes is to transmit a visual message. I preferred not to go for hyper-realism, or to show how the level of detail that it’s possible to achieve with our assets. Rather, I wanted to show that, even with a fairly simple approach, it’s possible to create an image that evokes a feeling, or some sort of passion within us. In a film, for instance, the Look Dev can often come down to the types of color we want on the screen. It can sometimes all come down to the lighting, even, and how that lighting can evoke a certain mood in the viewer. You see the same thing in games – as a developer, you have to ask, ‘What’s our intention with this sequence of the game? What feeling are we trying to elicit?’


And that’s exactly how I approached these scenes. I considered the type of emotion I wanted to convey, and then used this as a base to decide on the scenes’ colors, and lighting.

3D for Newcomers

The three scenes are technically very simple. Again, this was a conscious choice. I wanted to demonstrate how this sort of approach can be used by people who aren’t necessarily 3D specialists to set up a scene very quickly and easily. This way, there are very few technical considerations. You have to think about the render you want to obtain – you have to keep in mind things like the shading, the colors, and so on. But these are artistic rather than technical choices.

My approach: first, I had to define the graphic style of my compositions to define a universe for several atmospheres. I wanted to establish a cartoon-style universe in which I can highlight all the meshes used. I chose three themes that I wanted to explore – themes which would ultimately become the Winter, Dune, and City scenes you can see in this article. Significantly, these themes all had differing tones.


In parallel with this, I began selecting assets from the Substance 3D Assets library. To match the style of the universe I’d settled on, these assets had to be quite simple, and to capture the light well. This would create contrast and provide a certain softness to the overall atmosphere of each scene.

Example of environment and lighting (above).

Still keeping my cartoon-style look in mind, I opted to stylize in hatching, reinforcing the outline of all the 3D objects coming from the library. Here are some examples of meshes from the library with the cartoon graphic style.

Examples of hatching and outlines (above and below).

A range of other assets used (below).

With my objects ready, I used Blender to set up the scenes. The Blender community is fantastic, and is a huge help in quickly finding solutions to any issues that come up. Also, this allowed me to use the Substance 3D add-on for Blender; with this, I could quickly test out and apply materials on my objects. That said, there’s almost no texturing here. It’s the choice of lighting that creates the mood, and that conveys the message of the scene.

I wanted to make the experience a little livelier, using a real-time engine. And so I chose to make these scenes into looping animated sequences.

Of the three, I think the winter scene is my favorite. In a very basic way we understand the atmosphere at once. The scene isn’t completely calm; we grasp that somewhat singular feeling of simplicity in the way this scene has been treated. Each element by itself is well defined – the bridge, the planks of the bridge, the little house at the back, the forest on the left – and the light really makes everything stand out. The light behind the house is strong; that draws the attention. The moonlight is stronger; this is what illuminates the universe, here. This is what lights up the trees on the left of the scene.

With the animation, we understand that the winter scene isn’t quite as calm as it initially seemed. In the foreground, the trees are moving and the water is flowing; things are a little less stable. It’s only really in the background of the picture, where the light is a little bit yellow – a little bit warmer – where this sense of security still prevails.


The principal goal was the highlight the resources within the Substance 3D Asset library. Thanks to these assets, I was able to create three totally different scenes – scenes which each have a completely different look and feeling – just because we’ve taken a different approach to the color and lighting of the stories we want to tell. That’s what’s most important for me.

These scenes are really dedicated to people like concept artists who aren’t necessarily concerned with things like polygon limits. These scenes show that it’s possible to very quickly create an image which they like, which they want to share with people, and which is useful and practical at a professional level.

In the future, I may bring this approach to other concepts I have in mind – space opera scenes, forests, underwater scenes, a ‘neo Tokyo’ idea, and so on. The Substance 3D Assets library contains plenty of resources that I could use in such scenes.

Meet Damien Bousseau

Before joining the Substance 3D team, Damien’s career in 3D encompassed work on a range of video game and film projects, with a specific focus on stereoscopy. He has also taught 3D at LISAA, the Institut Superieur d’Arts Appliqués. Damien joined the Substance 3D team in 2015, and is currently a Production Manager. 

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