, by Jean-Bastien Juneau-Rouleau

Small is Beautiful: Texturing Microdetails

Creating microdetails with Substance 3D Assets, by in-house expert Jean-Bastien Juneau-Rouleau.

  • Interview
  • Workflow

I’m Jean-Bastien Juneau-Rouleau, and I’m a Technical Artist on the Substance 3D Assets team. I’m originally from Quebec, in Canada. I come from a background of studies in video game development, but I found that my big passion was in texturing. During my studies I began to specialize in texturing a lot – so much so that I began neglecting my other classes. I discovered Substance 3D Designer around this time, and I really loved it.

The Shuttlecock Scene

For this project, I had a very open brief – my only requirement was that I should use meshes from the Substance 3D Assets library. There’s always a research component in a project like this – it’s a good opportunity to stress-test how well the models work in a real use-case, and to see precisely how the models can be used in different ways. In my case, I wanted to create a scene that focused on microdetails. Our textures often include parametric macro details – like the cracks in a tiled floor, for instance – but I wanted to start adding as much detail as possible on really small surfaces. The kind of detail that you probably won’t even see, unless you get really close. This close-up approach illustrates how any part of a 3D scene can now be a hero asset. Objects that were once relegated to the background with low levels of detail can now enjoy a new photorealistic life. Having a precise micro-level of detail in your scene provides your images with incredible fidelity, and leaves you with the freedom of placing your camera anywhere.

I was excited to start browsing through the resources available in the library. The Substance 3D Assets team has been in high gear production for some years now – we’ve pretty much doubled our number of assets every year. It now contains thousands upon thousands of ready to use, infinitely malleable parametric materials. In addition to the multiple parameters available to users, the procedural materials in the Adobe 3D Assets library are PBR (physically based rendering) approved. This provides advantages in terms of flexibility regarding the appearance of the material, and fidelity in how the material is rendered.

I opted for a shuttlecock as my subject for this piece because of personal experience. I played badminton in high school, and the shuttlecocks always struck me as visually fascinating. Each one of them was different, and they were always really damaged and beaten up. When I approached this project, it struck me that a shuttlecock has a lot of interesting possibilities – there’s a lot you can do with it if you approach how the dirt sticks to it, things like that. When you see it close up it’s kind of gross. But there are unmistakably a lot of details in there.

Layers Upon Layers

To create the tip of the shuttlecock I used the Substance 3D library asset Polyurethane Foam; I layered this multiple times to give was layered multiple time to give shape to the head of the shuttlecock. The base layer had a clean, smooth version of the material. On top of that, one layer had more wrinkles, and another was stretched and damaged. I combined these multiple layers and painted them over and under one another with customs masks in Substance 3D Painter; like this, I quickly arrived at the result I wanted. Then I added some ready-made Large Grunge Gradient Dirt directly from the library; this created an old shuttlecock which has seen maybe a few too many matches.

Using Individual Channels of Scan-based Assets

I also specifically wanted to use some scanned assets in there. Scanned assets typically don’t have the range of parameters that procedural assets have, but I wanted to demonstrate that it’s possible nonetheless to use these assets in interesting and unexpected ways – that is, I wanted to show how you can isolate and use just one aspect of an asset that you really like. You just use one of the channels instead of using the whole material; this allows you to pick out the specific characteristics that you find interesting.

I used a scanned asset, a sheet of crumpled paper, to create the wrapper around the head of the shuttlecock. I didn’t use all the data from that material – I didn’t use its color, for instance – but I conserved its height map, which contains the information for all the folds. You can see those on the final shuttlecock.

If you look carefully, you can see a fingerprint on that wrapper strip. I took the same approach with this too – this is actually a skin material I’ve applied, but I’ve only used the roughness and the variation; that gives the fingerprint appearance that you can see here.

Feathers

The shuttlecock feathers were more challenging. The mid-poly mesh that we have on the platform isn’t ideal for really close-up viewing – the feather section of the model is essentially just a flat plane. Nowadays we have much more leeway in terms of the resources we can allocate to a 3D scene, but this doesn’t give us a free pass when it comes to polygon count. Optimization is always a key consideration, and some sort of trade-off is always required. Higher polygon counts might look better, but they cause resource allocation issues, and can significantly complicate an artist’s texturing workflow and UV unwrapping. This is why we’ve opted for a mid-poly approach to our 3D asset library, allowing artists to close the detail gap with flexible and advanced texturing options, while keeping the polygon count optimized.

A range of variations of the feather material.

With this in mind, the approach I took to this scene was to create a completely new procedural ‘feather’ material that is basically a whole feather; this would sculpt the surface of the shuttlecock mesh, giving it rugged edges and rough look overall. The great thing about creating the feather this way is that you can just change the random noise have to create variation in the feathers. In this way, each feather on the shuttlecock is a slightly different size, each one has different imperfections, and so on.

The Badminton Court

In the background here, I applied a scan-based ground material to create the badminton court. I combined a couple of assets from the library for this, the scan-based material Painted Smooth Concrete Sport Court and the decal Damaged Straight Line Road Marking. Like this, a credible badminton court background was created – and it took seconds; no longer than that.

Takeaways

The Substance 3D Assets library is immense. At the current time of writing this article, in mid-2022, it includes around 14,000 assets. Certainly, that number will vastly increase in the future. Such a huge amount of resources means that the library can fill any need – here, my intention to work on microdetails was extremely use-case specific, and I was able to find assets that provided a high degree of quality a very fast time frame. It’s easy to envision a range of situations in which the Substance 3D Asset library can similarly allow artists to save a great deal of time.

Meet Jean-Bastien Juneau-Rouleau

Jean-Bastien is a graduate of the School of Digital Arts, Animation and Design at the University of Québec at Chicoutimi (NAD – UQAC), where he specialized in video game creation. He is currently a Technical Artist on the Substance 3D Assets team. 

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