Pauline Boiteux Explores Pattern Art with Substance Designer
Pauline: I’m 25 years old, and I come from a little place called Médière in the east of France. I’m actually a ‘happy accident’ in the 3D community: I always dreamed of becoming a groom and working with horses, but after a severe injury I was told that working in that field wasn’t an option anymore. At that time, I was lucky to have a mom playing a lot of Zelda, and I spent a lot of time watching her. That’s how I got into video games!
I moved to Paris 8 years ago to study Game Art at ISART Digital, and I got my master’s degree 3 years ago. I’ve been working as a freelance artist for a bit more than 4 years now. I did a lot of illustration at first and now I teach Substance Designer, Substance Painter and a little bit of Zbrush.
I first discovered Substance at school. We were still creating all of our textures with Photoshop at the time, and we had a presentation of Substance Designer during a night class. The ‘wow’ effect was all over the place. It looked so easy, and it could give us a lot of options...
But once I got my hands in it, I hated the whole thing. It felt too much like creating shaders in Unreal Engine. The use of nodes was one of the most challenging things I had to work out.
Learning Substance Designer
After getting my degree, I worked as an illustrator until I lost my primary client. I became really depressed and didn’t do a lot for some time. At that time, I was so lucky to have great people around me. At one point I told myself, “Well, at least now you have the time to try.” So I did.
Since school I’d always loved lighting; it was the most gratifying part to me. I quickly realized that lights come with shaders and shaders also come with textures! I’m a bit lazy, so I didn’t want to spent too much time on modeling. Even today, I find shaders terrifying. That’s how I began using the simple plane in Substance Designer and tried, failed, tried again, and finally got into it.
The more I did it, the more fun and exciting it became. So, as weird as it may sound, instead of spending my days playing Overwatch, I now spend my days playing Substance Designer!
I don’t think I have a specialty, and I honestly don’t want one. I just try to challenge myself and have fun. The trims and arabesques are the fun part, and the work on the roughness map is the ‘oddly satisfying’ part. I tend to focus on those a lot, but I really don’t mind if it’s a wall, a fabric, some ground, or even a single piece like the oil painting. I like to just try!
My inspirations come from everywhere, I’m the kind of person who stops every 5 meters to take a picture in every new place that I come across. Discovering Japan with my boyfriend was game-changing. Fabrics tend to be inspired by my mom, who’s a seamstress, and who always has new fabrics and cool stuff in her workshop. And lastly, the internet: Artstation, Textures.com, and Pinterest are a huge help in getting ideas.
Teaching at ISART Digital
I started giving classes last year. I teach Substance Designer and Substance Painter, giving introduction classes to the 3rd year students and providing support on their projects throughout the year.
For Substance Designer, it’s really more about demystifying the nodal part. Once you understand that it works more or less like layers in Photoshop, you’re not focusing on the technical part anymore. That way the question you have to answer is not, ‘how do I do that?’ but more, ‘what else can I do?’ Teaching Zbrush came a little later.
I honestly discovered an all-new part of my already great job. Teaching is so exciting, and every single person has his or her own way of thinking through a problem. All these points of view make you consider things yourself, and the more you listen and try to explain, the more you actually understand what you’re doing.
‘Never assume that you know what you’re doing.’ That’s the main tip I give. If you start creating wood, for example, and you go, “Yeah, well, wood is like big wavy lines with nodes in it, and it’s mainly brown.” Sure! It may, in the end, look like something. But if you take the time to look at pictures - or, even better, to get some real wood, and look at it from every angle, touch it, take the time to spot little details - you’ll get a better result.
For me, creating a material is 50% observation, 50% doing. That’s one of the common mistakes people make - they forget about their reference and go full steam ahead without taking a step back.
Also, don’t give up because you think it’s too hard. It is. But learning something new is tough and takes time. Some students tend to be really hard on themselves if they don’t succeed in their first attempts. Give yourself some time, and keep trying, and you’ll come around.
Last tip, which is as silly as the first one: look around. You find taking the subway boring? Look at people’s bags, shoes or coats. You’re outside, waiting for something? Look at the ground, the walls, and so on. The world, as dull as it may look in our everyday routine, is, in fact, full of ideas.
Bird Coat: Breakdown
Let’s take a look at the Bird Coat texture first. It was funny reopening it for this interview - it’s not that old, but I can see now how much I’ve improved since then.
For this one, I was lucky enough to have the model in front of me. I own that coat. First of all, as in every pattern I create, I try to decompose the shapes. That way, you can have an overview of what’s going to happen, and it usually gets you to a starting point.
On that one, obviously, you have the birds. Well, if you ‘cut’ a bird into pieces, you get the head, body, wings and the tail. Starting with basic shapes and a few transformation nodes, these were the pieces I got.
At first, to get the proportions right, I blended them all together. Once I was happy with the overall shape, I started thinking about how I was going to use it and what pieces needed to be reworked before I could use them as a mask.
As you can see in this picture of the real coat, the wings and body have a black part and a pink part. Still using basic shapes, I’ve cut out those individual pieces to use them as masks in blending nodes with the colors.
Now that the bird’s done, I’ve made the clouds with the same idea, of basic shapes blended together. I’ve added that dot pattern around it using a Tile Sampler, so I can use the shape as a mask once again!
Let’s move onto the fabric. Luckily there are already some great solutions inside Substance Designer. To get that fabric pattern, I used the Weave Generator node.
By using a Crystal noise, I added some more volume in the section that is going to be metallic to get random reflections. The rest of it is just adding depth and tiny details with noises.
I find that the best approach is to start with the height map and normal map. I do this with every graph I create. Once you have those two, the rest of the material comes together quite quickly, and you can just use the masks you created during the process to complete everything. Here, the mask created for the darkest pink can be used as the metallic and roughness maps.
Combine everything together, and that’s it!
Deer Panel: Breakdown
For the Deer Panel, it’s pretty much the same idea.
I used a reference picture found on Textures.com for this one. The first step is always cutting individual parts, to see what the individual pieces are, and what shapes can be used multiple times. In this case, a lot of shapes were symmetrical, so if you prepare well, it’s not that much work in the end.
In this case, the corners (green) are all precisely the same as one another; this is also true of the trims (light blue) and left and right borders (orange). The middle parts take a little more time, but here it’s possible to reuse a lot of already created shapes, like the leaves.
If you want a detailed step-by-step for that one, take a look at the video tutorial I’ve made for it.
Today, my primary goal is to find a job in the video game industry, to get experience of not only working for myself, but also to learn how to work around real production constraints. This knowledge will only improve my process, and hopefully my way of teaching material creation and optimization. I know that I’ve only scratched the first layer of what you can do with Designer and I’d love to go deeper! Also, I hope I’ll find the courage to finally learn shading and to improve my lighting techniques.
I’d love to travel again too, to get some fresh air and new ideas.
Regarding the next textures I want to create: I’ve actually been working on a Fish Pond 2.0! The original Fish Pond was a texture I created a while ago, and I’ve learned a lot since I did it. I’d love to see how I can improve upon that first one. But, as I said earlier, the funny part is not knowing - I work as I get inspired by the things I see, so… No one knows!
Substance Painter is also a great piece of software, and I’d love to get more into it - the Smart Material tools are really excellent, and the combo of Designer and Painter can give you great-looking results. There’s currently a new Artstation challenge on Feudal Japan; maybe that will be an interesting starting point.