Today we look at how CG can significantly improve product visualization in the fashion and apparel industries. The team at INDG tell us about their vision and how they implemented the Substance toolset to create photoreal renders for the British brand Pink Shirtmaker.
Bastiaan: Hi, my name is Bastiaan Geluk. Coming from a background in graphic design, I have worked on implementing digital creation technologies and driving innovation. I have about 15 years of experience in the sportswear industry, first through various horizontal roles at Nike and, more recently, Adidas, where I have been working on implementing 3D design processes in the product creation process.
At INDG I am the new head of the fashion business group that creates digital twins of whole product ranges for all fashion brands from footwear and apparel to luxury and formalwear; and based on that, we deliver consumer-facing and interactive visual content.
Thomas: Hi, I’m Thomas Makryniotis, art director for the fashion vertical at INDG. I have a background in fashion design, fashion media, fashion tech, and 3D.
Peter: Hello, my name is Peter Kolus, I work as a senior 3D generalist at INDG mainly in the consumer electronics department, but from time to time I jump into projects running in the other INDG verticals.
Sacha: Hi, I’m Sacha Djorkaeff, head of client experience at Pink Shirtmaker. Beyond defining a holistic and omnichannel client strategy, a big part of my role is leading the digital transformation for the brand. In that context, 3D is a key theme for us and a meaningful driver for innovation.
Bastiaan: INDG is a company that digitizes complete portfolios and derives all visual marketing content from that. Everything we do is based on quality at scale, while we in parallel develop our own in-house technology to deliver rich digital product experiences, from configurators to virtual stores. Our company motto is therefore also “every product playable”.
Whether it is creating virtual samples at high speed or interactive, consumer-facing, photorealistic content for a marketing initiative, we service brands with deep expertise in CGI, automation, software development, and, of course, a solid know-how in fashion to do this all successfully.
This is a rare combination that INDG possesses and has managed to effectively utilize in helping our clients make this transition. Within fashion, we generally divide our focus between the fashion markets of sportswear, luxury, and fast fashion, and the majority of projects revolve around the product types of footwear, apparel, and accessories.
The challenges of product visualization
Thomas: Fast scaling and accuracy — that is getting to photorealism very fast! I think we have put together a workflow that addresses this very well, and the results we are seeing are satisfying. Substance plays a big part in this workflow. For instance, a common challenge is to recreate product materials correctly and take all guesswork out of the equation. We do this using PBR methodology together with a Substance Source library helps a lot to get you on the right track very quickly.
Thomas: We started using Substance for production in the fashion vertical about a year ago. I say in production, because prior to that, quite a few people were using it for their own work, or within the company for experiments. We adopted it once we realized the benefits. We use several Substance tools for creating fabrics, wrinkles, folds, stitching, and other detailing. I don’t think it would be very different from a normal texturing workflow, although we do have our favorite techniques, which are mostly procedural and work on the principle of doing a lot with very little (starting with noise textures, etc.).
In the fashion vertical at INDG, the Substance suite has been established as our main texturing tool. It allows us to be more creative and experimental, while cutting down our production times. In our view, there is no other texturing tool out there now that comes close to Substance Designer and Substance Painter in terms of ease of use or range of capabilities, and our recent results can confirm this.
Benefits of Substance
Peter: It is a more intuitive way of doing things. There is a bit of a learning curve of course, but once the artists are familiar with the way of working, they can be much more flexible, efficient, and experimental. Predictability is important to us and having a one to one match between The Substance viewport and the V-Ray frame buffer is an important aspect. The texture artists also see exactly the same image as the rendering and compositing artists.
And things have got even better since the ACES implementation in Substance Designer. Realtime preview while working on shading is by itself a huge speed gain compared to the “traditional” Photoshop texturing process, not to mention UDIM workflow. We don’t have metrics yet, but we are sure we work faster as a studio now.
Thomas: We use several solutions for the construction and the simulation and draping of clothes, CLO3D being the most prominent now. Substance is great, because it allows us to keep a largely non-destructive workflow for texturing apparel, footwear and accessories. We use procedural methods so we can have a more iterative approach to 3D content development.
Peter: For many projects, we use Autodesk’s 3ds Max with the V-Ray render engine as our primary tool, while compositing is done in Nuke or After Effects. We have been using the ACES workflow for almost a year now, since it was implemented in Substance Designer. Although we are aware of the Substance plugin for 3ds Max, we choose to export maps manually and convert them to V-Ray materials by using our proprietary scripts.
Thomas: We use a mix of both. In some cases, swatch scans are sufficient, in some other cases we end up recreating materials procedurally. We do have our own pipeline for creating materials in various methods. This involves scanning fabric swatches with Vizoo/Xtex or with our own photography as a basis, as well as creating fabrics from scratch using the Substance toolset. All materials, regardless of the source end up in our internal common library.
INDG partners with Pink Shirtmaker
Sacha: We have been working closely with INDG over the past year to completely shift our approach to product visualization. In essence, this relates to creating a digital library of visuals for our shirts and leveraging that as a basis for creating an engaging and disruptive experience. One exciting challenge about this project was: How do we reach a level of photorealism that conveys the depth of quality of a Pink fabric? Working with Thomas’ team to recreate true-to-nature textures like our linen blend, heavy cotton twill or even mother-of-pearl buttons was fascinating.
Thomas: We started by using masks to select the pattern pieces, then we applied details, such as puckering, folds, creases, to enhance the realism of the model. We based these on the pattern outlines. We then adjusted for a balanced result.
Tips for product visualization
Bastiaan: Find ways of doing much with very little. Replicability and editability are more efficient in the long run than brute force, even if you may have to invest more time initially. So, assets must be very editable and ideally editable enough to become reusable. Layers and sublayers must also be kept tidy and clearly labeled, as it is easy to lose track after a while.
New visualization workflows and technologies
Sacha: From the standpoint of a brand, this technology is fundamentally disruptive. It shakes the current design and production processes at its core, presenting dramatic time, and cost efficiencies. Product teams are effectively trimming down the process of visualizing a product from weeks — if not months — to a matter of hours. This unlocks a world of opportunities, both internally and externally. In the context of fashion, it is worth mentioning that 3D is a significantly more environmentally friendly approach to building a collection. I can see this trend growing exponentially as businesses across the board seek more efficient, agile, and sustainable ways of creating.
Bastiaan: I would expect Substance to be used in increasingly flexible ways in the production of textures for fashion items, with automated elements and reusable procedural assets that fit several products, at least as a starting point.
All images courtesy of INDG Fashion.