Bring the Outside In: Creating a Calm Retreat

How Daniel Margunato built the Substance Alchemist Archviz scene

When I worked on the Substance Alchemist release, I was confined at home. This very particular context gave me the idea of the concept. At first, I wanted to create a large-scale, feel-good sensorial experience that could take me out of reality… into a dream space. 

But even though the space was a form of fantasy, my references came from personal experiences.

A lot of it, I found in my memories of wonderful holidays in Tuscany. When I was there, every material I set my eyes on seemed to have a rich patina. The light brought a bright and shiny mood, the space was wide, and everywhere was calm, tranquil – disturbed only by the birds singing.  

References from Adobe Stock

It was a place where time disappeared. Days were gone. Only seasons, and their impact on vegetation and light, remained. There’s something terribly romantic about this sense of timelessness, and I wanted to reproduce this for my invented safe haven.

References from Adobe Stock

Creating the scene

I began by modeling the high roof space – an in-and-out space, full of light, with tall windows. 

Then I tested different lights in Corona 6. Lighting is very important in this scene, because we wanted to show the beauty of the materials, while still matching the drama of the environment. It took many tries, and I ended up with three main settings.

This is what they look like in the final renders.

I set up 3 cameras to get a good overview of the space and the details. With the different lighting options, I could set a camera anywhere and get cool renders – that’s why I played so much with the point of views.  

Once the space suited me, I started adding furniture. As Italians are well known for their taste for design, I tried to match that by mixing different style and epochs (Antique, to Modern, Art Déco, and Bohemian). 

The pottery is very particular of the south of France or Italy. I used Substance Painter to paint the patina a bit, and all the patterns on it.  

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A big part of the project was to build up the trees and plants that would have a huge role in the story I wanted to tell. For that, I used Grow FX to make my own assets – most of the plant textures were captured in my own garden, and created with Substance Alchemist. 

Using Substance Alchemist 

In the archviz industry, artists always need to create material from a client’s reference. Finding the material that matches perfectly and that works in 3D (with tiling issues, definition, and so on) can be a massive concern. As such, any tool which can help transform the reference material into a 3D material can be a lifesaver.

I could, from a simple photo (either taken with my phone or my camera), extract just one part and make a good material that tiled perfectly without any repetition. And on top of that I could easily add an effect – for instance, if I needed to blur any parts. 

It was my first experience with Substance Alchemist. Before, I was using B2M, or an alternative library. At first, I found it very frustrating, because of some misunderstandings with the tool. But as soon as I understood the mechanics, it became very handy. In addition, it’s powered by NVIDIA, and an RTX card makes it very fast! All in all, it took me about a week to understand how to properly use the tool.

Image to Material (AI Powered) was incredible. Of course, the result depends on what you are trying to do, but with a simple drag and drop the tool generates all the separate layers. I guess that today it doesn’t work perfectly for any type of materials (fabrics or tile), but it looks very promising in the near future. 

Another cool feature was the new paint tool, which adds diversity simply by painting on the shader. It’s as simple as Photoshop – except the fact that this time, you get all the different layers that create your material in one brush stroke. 

I used it on the white stone around the door. A friend gave me a photo taken in his garden, and with a simple drag and drop into Substance Alchemist, his little photo was integrated into the scene. 

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For the terracotta floor tile, I had a photo taken on holidays of a nice floor. I extracted only one tile to get a good reflection and normal, tiled it, added some cracks and dust: and voilà!

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For the leaves, I went in my garden, took a photo of the lemon tree with my phone, did a quick cutout on Photoshop, and put it into Image to Material. And that was it.

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I worked with the Substance team to get additional tools made with Substance Designer. So when I needed to do something specific, like the black and white floor, we could make it happen that way.

To make this happen, I used two materials from Substance Source: Black Marble Clean and Etowah Marble.

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To get to this result, I used two materials from Substance Source,

With everything made in the Substance ecosystem, exporting is simple. Just select your rendering engine (in my case Corona) and export all the maps that make the shader. Drag and drop in their respective slot; that’s it. 

Thank you to the Substance team, and NVIDIA for the support! I’m excited to see what you everyone is going to create with this super-cool tool. 

Meet Daniel

Daniel is a passionate 3D artist with 13 years of experience. Coming from a video game and animation academic background, he found interest later in Archviz instead. After several years working for different companies, he decided to have his own studio called Oneblock.city. As a co-owner and artist, now he works on many types of projects including architecture, product design and retail.

Follow Daniel on Behance

Daniel will be live on YouTube Thursday at 11 AM PST with the Substance team. Don’t miss it!