From Substance Source to Lumion: Real-time Archviz with Chris Welton
I'm Chris Welton of Cweltondesign. I graduated not too long ago from BYU-Idaho and now work for McCarthy Building Companies Inc., as well as running CWeltondesign on the side. I’m an architectural animator and do most of my renderings using Lumion. Besides making Youtube tutorials for Lumion, I’m also a material geek who takes pictures of random materials wherever I go.
With Cweltondesign, I specialize in custom residential architecture and small commercial projects. Many of my clients happen to be based out of Texas. Some houses I've worked on approach 18,000 square feet.
With McCarthy, I work on many large commercial projects like hospitals and universities. I also get to do some cool project site logistics rendering and 4D animations, which involve some pretty cool materials.
How I Discovered Substance
I was first introduced to Substance in general on the Lumion forum, actually, about three years ago. I remember being blown away by what it was, but it seemed light years too advanced for me. Then at Autodesk University two years ago, I visited the Substance booth and was informed about their new Substance Source library geared for people who are less Substance Designer-savvy. I made an account, and it has notably increased the quality of my rendering work ever since.
My go-to modeling software is SketchUp, but I work with Revit and 3ds Max all of the time as well. SketchUp and Lumion are incredibly effective together so I've stuck to that combination whenever possible for my main workflow. Once I'm ready for some materials, I always look forward to finding what I need in Substance Source, tweaking it in Substance Player, and then calibrating the material in Lumion. I also work with Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and After Effects to refine the end product out of Lumion.
Lumion has recently become an enormous aspect of the architectural industry. It was one of the first software tools to pioneer real-time GPU rendering for architects. Their engine is developed completely in-house, and is constantly being updated each year to great effect.
What makes Lumion so popular and effective is that it’s marketed toward the architect level of simplicity and rendering. Everything is designed in their user interface to make things simple and effective, with a large library of content included as well as a simple workflow to bring in architectural models from software that architects tend to use. With a couple of simplified features, fast turnaround times, and captivating results, architects have found it to be exactly what they need to create the presentations that bring their designs to life.
Substance Materials in Lumion
Because Lumion works like a game engine, I immediately saw the potential of utilizing the Substance workflow within Lumion. Getting Substance materials into Lumion takes a couple of extra steps, but it is very effective. Typically, the workflow includes finding a Substance material, opening it in Substance Player, refining the Substance material to export to bitmaps, and then importing it into Lumion.
Lumion's material import options only include the color and normal maps, but it can support glossiness maps in the alpha channels. Some Photoshop is needed, as well as some tweaks to compensate for the differences in how Lumion renders materials compared with the Substance viewer, but there are only a few materials from Substance Source that I haven’t been able to completely replicate in Lumion.
Texturing with Substance
Substance helps provide the variety and flexibility I need to work with the numerous materials that I’m asked to render. Previously, I’d have a really nice high-res material that I could reuse on multiple projects, but then the client would want something specific, and the best reference that I could find would be a low-resolution picture. In these cases, there would be a noticeable discrepancy in quality between some of my materials. With Substance, I’m able to find 80-90% of the materials I need, and produce consistent high quality, high-resolution materials throughout the project.
The ability to randomize and adjust Substance materials so that they become something completely unique is invaluable. There are thousands of materials on Substance Source, with most of them able to provide thousands of unique variations! I use a ton of different texture websites, but Substance Source is always my number #1 go-to. If what I need isn't in Substance Source, I’ll see if I can find something that’s similar enough so that I can tweak it or create it in Substance Designer, to get what I need anyway. If I still can't find anything, only then do I start looking elsewhere. I just haven't found anywhere else where the different bitmap outputs go together so seamlessly.
Mabry Custom Homes
Mabry Custom Homes is one of my clients I work with. They are based outside Dallas and design custom luxury homes that I get the privilege to visualize for their future owners. Their homes make up some of my most attractive portfolio examples. I started working with them a year and a half ago, and my workflow has significantly benefited from the Substance Source materials. They actually model all of their homes in Revit, and I take that model, retexture it, and refine it in SketchUp to render in Lumion.
Recently, I needed a reclaimed wood siding material that I just couldn't find on Substance Source, or in images online, so I finally forced myself to get into Substance Designer and manipulate an existing Substance Source wood flooring. By adjusting a few nodes I was able to create exactly what I needed. I imagine some Substance Designer users could have done it much more cleanly and easily, but I was able to figure it out pretty quickly and make it work for me.
The Future of the Archviz Industry
I have a lot of ideas about where the future of archviz is going. Obviously, there are going to be more VR aspects with interaction. AR will play a large role of course, but one of the things I see specifically being a huge game changer in the future is AI, focusing on generation of materials and other aspects. There are still plenty of bottlenecks in the workflow process from modeling to rendering. I expect some of those things to be smoothed out with AI and machine learning integrated into modeling and rendering software.
I’ve recently gotten into 3D printing. Rapid prototyping and physical model production is only going to get more popular in the industry, but interaction between physical models and AR/VR will open up a lot of potential as well. A lot more powerful visualization tools will get into the hands of actual architects to use on a day-to-day basis. That will be really exciting to see.
I just want to add that Substance Source is becoming a great go-to tool for the architectural rendering community, and that I’m really looking forward to Substance Alchemist and other future developments. Allegorithmic listens to its users, iterates and advances their software tools quickly to address those needs. This reactivity shows, and is much appreciated.