Architectural visualization: Interviewing Roberto De Rose, co-founder of State of Art Studio

  • Architecture


Hi everyone! I’m Roberto De Rose, aka Cepp, Art Director at State of Art Studio. 14 years ago I started my career as a 3D artist and before establishing State of Art I worked in an Italian company that dealt with furnishing rendering. My love for creating materials and textures began at that time when I hadn’t yet encountered Substance Designer and had to do with what was on the internet.

Now I work in architectural visualization but my passion for illustration and online gaming always leads me astray and in my (little :D) free time, I have fun taking inspiration from movies and comics for my personal artwork.

WIP and final artwork by Roberto for the eighth edition of the Academy Days, modeled in 3ds Max and textured with Substance Painter.

Art by Roberto de Rose

About State of Art Studio

In the studio, I mainly deal with research and development. Three years ago we started using Substance Designer because it made us independent and free to create any type of material the client asked us for. We’ve standardized some procedures (like the creation of presets for glossiness, to use depending on the surface and wear to be simulated) and we’ve found systems to speed up operations that were long, boring or even impossible.

Glossiness map with fingerprints and scratches.

We’ve recently tried Substance Alchemist and, although I feel I have just scratched the surface of the program, its potential seems incredible. Below you can see an example of a type of marble called ‘Corteccia Woodstone’ – the reference sent by the customer, and our recreation using Substance tools.

Reference from the client: the real ‘Corteccia Woodstone’ marble by Antolini

Substance Designer Graph, Corteccia Woodstone plane version.

After creating the general graph in Substance Designer, I simply imported the .sbsar in Substance Alchemist, generating variations using the original photo, and completed the work with the addition of a Herringbone Tiles preset. I could have done the same thing with Substance Designer but I certainly saved precious time and it was a LOT simpler, more intuitive and more fun.

Final material processed with Substance Alchemist.

Final image for the client rendered with Corona Renderer. SOA Studio Copyright 2019

State of Art Academy

The knowledge we acquire with R&D at SOA Studio isn’t kept secret but becomes part of our workflow, which is then taught in our SOA Academy division during the courses.

Photo of SOA Academy, where we teach architectural visualization.

Since 2009 we have been organizing international courses related to the world of ArchViz, and Substance Designer is an important tool in helping students (almost 900 so far) create better shaders.

During the masterclasses, students work on an architectural project. We have its photo references so that we can check the quality of the final shaders. Once the final points of view have been chosen, students can go on improving only the materials visible in the camera.

Image of Shell house by Francesco, SOA Academy student from Masterclass #39

Image by Emiliano, SOA Academy student from Masterclass #38

Image by Rana, SOA Academy student from Masterclass #27

After 2 years of studies, I’m also proud to present a new SOA Academy course on Substance Designer: 5 full-time days to learn our workflow and become autonomous in creating PBR materials for architectural visualization projects. More information here.

About Research & Development

While working on commercial projects as a studio and helping the students with the images during the workshops, we always find new problems to solve: some with simple solutions, others more complicated. Let’s look at a couple of them as examples. Maybe they could help someone.

Problem 1: How can you save hundreds of variations of the same texture with 1 click?

One of the most common problems, especially in architectural visualization, is the lack of variations of the same texture for tiled floors or wooden slats. Changing the material seed is the most immediate way, but it isn’t if we need many different textures. If we need 50 different single set textures, we would have to change seeds, wait for the whole chart to be recalculated and manually save each time. Best scenario, it could take dozens of minutes and a lot of manual work. How can we automate the process in a simple way?

Automatic export of 50 texture sets in one click thanks to the $time variable that changes the Random Seed once per second.

Manually randomizing the seed requires time and manual work.

As you can see from the quick video above, the solution is to let the TIME change the Seed via a function. It means that after 1 second the new value for Seed will be 1, after 2 seconds it will be 2, after 3 it will be 3 and so on. How can we start the timer? By exporting the material as .sbsar inside Substance Player.

At the bottom you can see the active timeline (available only if you use $time inside your graph); enter 1 as a value in the FPS and how many texture sets you want in the ‘Max’ field. On ‘Export as Bitmap’ choose the format of your textures, and where to save them, and everything will be carried out automatically when you press the ‘Export’ button. Cool, isn’t it?

Problem 2: How can you eliminate repetition in textures? How can you create endless materials?

Now Substance Designer is the only software capable of generating ‘infinite’ textures. The problem of texture repetitions is as old as the computer graphics itself. How many times have we ruined an image because we had the same pattern repeated over and over again?

A first test of a floor before and after using “Infinite” textures.

What you find below is a series of tutorials on how to create materials without repetitions in 3DsMax (the first one) and in UE4 (second and third) thanks to Substance Designer. I’m working on a few more tutorials about Substance Designer, you’ll see them on our YouTube channel.

I am very happy to have found a solution to this problem, and this wouldn’t have been possible without Substance Designer.

Problem 3: How can you place bricks/stones in a specific position?

Months ago we started a project for a customer where 10 stone facades were required, all different to one another in terms of position, size of doors and windows, roof inclination, and so on.

In addition to all the facades being different, each one featured 5 different types of natural stones to replicate: one for the interior, two for sides and top of doors/windows, one for the sloping roof, and one for the sides of the wall.

The 3D model unwrapped and 2 images for the client. SOA Studio Copyright 2019.

We immediately put aside the idea of modeling them, partly because of the possible huge number of polygons and the low flexibility of the workflow in the case of last-minute changes, but above all because we could use textures to create a more convincing result, that more closely fit the five different types of rock.

We therefore opted for the creation of an initial map that defined the exact position of each brick/rock for each facade. The work was divided into these steps:

Step 1: Model and Unwrap of the facade in 3ds Max.

Step 2: Importing the model as a resource in Substance Designer 3D View, along with the unwrap template as a Bitmap.

Step 3: For each type of brick, create the correct pattern (in the example you can see a tile generator for stones on the sides of a window), white inside, black edges.

Step 4: Use the Flood fill -> Flood Fill to Position -> RGBA Split -> 2 Histogram Select in R and G, to establish horizontal and vertical masks so you can select the bricks/stones you want just by changing Position and Range. Blend them together in ‘Multiply’ mode to get the final selection.

Step 5: Repeat from step 3 for each type of brick/stone and blend them together in ‘Screen’ mode.

To create a new facade we therefore only had to move Position and Range for each ‘Histogram Select’.

Blending inner natural stones with regular bricks. I preferred to blend inner/outer stones together using a new graph to be able to work on them separately.

It took me two days to create the material, but then it took just five minutes to generate the individual facades. And since the customer wasn’t happy with the first test, these were two days well spent.

About Academy Day

One of the most important times of the year, here at SOA, will be the first weekend of October, when our international event will take place for all fans of architectural visualization, and of CG more generally: the Academy Days (this year called ADX, as we have reached the tenth edition).

The Academy Days is a meeting where hundreds of geeks like us meet to talk about their work and listen to the advice and lectures of dozens of the best artists from around the world.

The Academy Days will take place over two days in October, on Friday 4 October and Saturday 5 October – but to make the experience even better we have included a full day of workshops prior to this, on Thursday 3 October. There will surely be some content that concerns Substance Alchemist so, if you are interested, here is the link to register and stay updated on future developments!


Thanks a lot to all of the Substance team! See you at SOA Academy!

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