, by CHRLX

Exploring Roller Skate Culture Through Textures

'Stories on Skates' brings back to life Black stories from the roller rink

  • Design
  • Film
  • Interview


CHRLX is a New York City-based creative studio with 30 years of experience. Our robust team of artists specializes in visual effects, animation, design, and live-action. The team that worked on this campaign was: Ryan Dunn – Executive Creative Director, Tory Sica – Creative Director, James Fisher – Head of CG, Substance Painter, Entae Kim – Rigging, Hung Ma – Modeler/Substance Painter, Ben Famiglietti – Producer.

The creative brief

Ben: In the case of this project, with the client being Adobe Substance 3D, we knew this project would be executed by our CG team – Substance Painter is used in that team’s pipeline. But, like all CG projects, it begins with a creative brief followed by a design phase.

The creative brief here was not only to show how we apply textures, but to use those textures to tell a story. From the beginning, we knew we’d be designing six skates, each one conveying a part of that overarching narrative. Each skate acted as a canvas to communicate a keyword or chapter in our story and together, they explore an entire history of culture intertwined.

History and inspiration

While it’s tempting to say that roller skating has made a comeback, for many Black skaters, it never left. The stories that have shaped skate culture today are rooted in Black history and continue to thrive because of the Black skating community around the world.

So, we worked to create a series of skates that capture those stories to share them with the world in an unexpected and unique way using Substance 3D. Each of the six designs uses an eclectic mix of textures, from wood paneling and carpet to black chrome to sequins, to bring to life Black stories from the roller rink.

Turning roller skates into artistic sculptures

Ben: Very early on, we played with the idea of placing simpler skates into specific environments in order to help convey their respective inspirations. But we quickly learned that making the skate itself into the inspiration was a much more effective way to tell the story.

James: That said, every skate began with the same high-top skate model from Adobe. But as we sketched what each sculpture would be, we then refined the model, accordingly, adding patches, dials, and other real-world objects that would never normally be found on a skate.


Ben: The first step was concept art and design, done in Photoshop. Next, our 3D modeling was done in Maya and ZBrush. Maya is also where we animated the motion clips for each skate.

The texture phase was entirely done in Substance Painter (with some Illustrator and Photoshop help to create specific patterns that are then applied in Substance.) Finally, lighting was done in Maya (with the rendering done in Arnold) and final compositing in Nuke.

Material creation

Hung: Denim fabric in Empowerment: We used the denim fabric Substance 3D Assets material to create a variety of shades and styles of jeans. By default, this gave us a good base to start with, but to enhance further, we added edge frays, creasing, discoloration and stitching to really set the tone for realism.

Maple wood varnish in Style and Community: Similar to denim fabric, it offers a really nice base texture and material. Next, we layered dirt map, scratches map and color variation with the Substance masking tool to get the worn look we wanted to establish.

Leather Polyurethane used in Empowerment: All the black leather you see on the skate are from this material. To break up the pieces, we added stitching, perforated holes, subtle creasing, and folds.

Hand-painted details in Painter

Hung: The locker in Community was done from scratch by stacking several fill layers in Substance. Substance Painter gave us the ability to customize masks in different fill layers. This really helped create some amazing results.

Pattern creation

James: Depending on the need we pulled several sources of inspiration to help our artist when custom creating patterns or graphics. Adobe Illustrator was used to make the base designs from scratch. The matinee-style carpet, signage, or graphics were generally started here. From there we generally exported an image out as a flattened .png or .jpg and imported it into Substance Painter.

Being that the images were clean, we needed to create a sense of wear, tear, and a general air of age around the items in our scene. From there we would use the tools that Substance is best-known for and distress the items in a way that made sense for the scene. If a graphic was updated, Substance made it easy for us to push through any changes and get it back into our render pipeline.


James: Sampler was initially used as a delighter and a way of breaking down the material into its components. The source material turned out to be too compressed and low resolution in the end for production, so we went about using the generated maps as a guide. The result that worked best ended in us reproducing stacked materials in Painter that utilized files from the Substance 3D Assets library. From there we layered several different materials and tiled them accordingly to give us a much higher fidelity result than the initial texture swatch could have provided.


Hung: A quick demo on how I did the stitching on the skate in Empowerment:

Note that much of the stitching was done in Substance while some were actually modeled in Maya.

Texture Count

Choreography 82 textures
Community 72 textures
Empowerment 115 textures
Legacy 91 textures
Music 137 textures
Style 83 textures

Key takeaways

Hung: While we’ve been using Substance Painter in our pipeline prior to this project, the task at hand here really pushed our application of the program to the forefront. What’s amazing is that there aren’t any strict rules to creating textures in Substance – the flexibility of masking and accessibility of smart materials allows you to flex your creativity in different directions without limitations.

That said, what we enjoyed most was being able to push those boundaries in Substance. Within Painter, creating a multitude of high-resolution textures happens in almost no time at all. All things considered, the technical aspect of this project was relatively easy. It’s the creative tasks that are always the biggest undertaking as they’re the most open-ended. Our use of Substance Painter here allowed us more time to really focus on those creative asks without sacrificing productivity – which always translates to a more amazing final product.

If there’s one thing I took from this project… it’s to always keep your Model/UV/Naming convention clean and organized. This translates to smoother handoff if sharing a Substance file with other members of the team and results in a much quicker turnaround for revisions down the road.

Also, while Painter is a great app with tons of muscle on its own, don’t forget that you have tons of other apps (i.e. – Photoshop, Illustrator, Sampler, etc.) to bring a creation to life. Using other tools to generate elements, then bringing those assets into Painter is fairly straightforward and keeps this tool an integral piece of a professional pipeline.

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