Substance Tips and Tricks from Experts: VFX & Animation Edition

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The skill and creativity present within the VFX and animation industries, and in the work they do in helping to bring projects to the big and small screen, is remarkable. This might involve adding near-invisible details, or creating entire movies; whatever the case, the teams in these industries bring magic to the stories we watch. To celebrate this work, we’ve gathered some of the most beautiful shots textured with Substance for our 2020 Film Showreel:

Pretty cool, right? But now you must be wondering, how do they do it? That’s why we regularly ask professionals from VFX and animation studios to showcase and explain the work they did with Substance. Here are some tips extracted from these interviews, from some of the most well-versed Substance experts out there:


Image courtesy of DNEG © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

DNEG has done an amazing job on the VFX of Alita: Battle Angel. Texture artist Jesse Balodis tells us, “Familiarize yourself with the anchor point system and with creating masks for separating things like paint on metal. Sometimes, exporting out all the materials baked together is not optimal for lookdev. Instance only where needed. Finally, work at a lower resolution that allows speed and feedback, and then export at a higher resolution for the final export.”

Courtesy of DNEG © 2018 Universal Studios

They also worked on Best Visual Effects Oscar-winning First Man. Build Supervisor Tim Russell stresses the importance of reference: “Reference, reference, reference: always seek out references from the internet or just from the world for the elements you’re working on. No matter how much you think you know what something looks like from memory, chances are you’re missing a lot of qualities and subtleties in what you are trying to recreate. It’s that lack of fine detail that stands out for audiences. It’s important to understand what you’re seeing in the references and how these aspects translate to albedo and control maps, to determine different relief and specular appearances. Having at least a baseline understanding of lookdev principles will go a long way, specifically the technical implications, limits and pixel values you’re using in your maps. Lastly, love what you do – if you truly love the work you do, the quality will almost always follow.”

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios

A great tip from Lance Summers, Environment Look Supervisor on Frozen II at Walt Disney Animation Studios: “Learn a lot from the Substance community. I enjoy seeing all the different types of materials coming from the community.

Spin VFX

Image courtesy of Spin VFX

Some useful advice from Gautam Singh, model lead at Spin VFX in Toronto: “Another helpful feature that we use frequently is the Planer Projections (Surface Tool Drop) under Instance, which can be very helpful in case one has to paint decals across the texture set. UV Border Distance is also a very helpful generator when used under the instance layer across multiple texture sets to remove the UV seams.”

TAT Productions

© TAT productions, Bac Films Production, France 3 Cinéma, Logical Pictures, Master Films / 2019

Finally, great advice from Youssef Lakssir, Lead Environment Surfacing, on the power of imagination and creativity: “Don’t be afraid to try things in your materials. Sometimes happy accidents can happen. There are a lot of them in our movie. Substance Designer and Substance Painter have no limits. I’ve seen people create things that my mind couldn’t even imagine. Your imagination is the only limit.

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