Getting Arty with Substance Painter 2.5: New Features

  • Game
  • Workflow

You’ve probably seen the news about the Substance Painter 2.5 release back in February, but you may not have gotten to know all of its features yet. In this post, we’ll be looking at some new stuff that widens Substance Painter’s possibilities for artistic expression.

Animated Shaders and FX Development

By Froyok

Controlling shader parameters via the scripting functions available is now possible in Substance Painter 2.5. It allows implementation of more advanced shaders and opens a new form of content to create and fiddle with.

Emissive flickering

Sometimes, this can be as simple as bringing a character to life by animating the emissive texture. In this example, the character has two emissive colors which are displayed with a certain rhythm by the shader. The colors can be tweaked in the layer stack directly while the post-process system allows simulating the intensity of the final colors:

Get the shader on Substance Share.

Mask blending

Another common situation in real-time is creating a shader that blends between two states of textures, creating dynamic effects that can be linked to gameplay. Often artists have to create the texture in one software and then go into the game engine to see the final result, which is not convenient. Instead, now we can simply replicate the shader in Substance Painter and work directly from there.

For example, let’s say we want to simulate snow accumulating on a character. With the dynamic material layering feature introduced in Substance Painter 2.2 we can create two layer stacks in a specific texture set and use a mask to blend them together progressively based on the elapsed time:

Flow map painting

By using the normal channel (as explained in our documentation) it is possible to paint flow textures and simulate water movement, but now that we have the possibility to control the shader with the scripting functions we can also preview the final result in real-time inside the viewport of Substance Painter.

Color Profile and VFX Pipeline with Substance Painter

By Damien Climent

Model provided by CKI Vang, texturing done by Damien Climent, Technical Artist and QA Analyst at Allegorithmic.

Substance Painter 2.5 also integrates a set of features for VFX artists who need to work with color profiles for color management.

Color Profile

You can now assign Color Profiles to the viewports in Substance Painter by loading LUT textures. A color profile can be used to calibrate the final color of the screen to match a target, such as a specific camera. For more technical details you can check out our documentation.

VFX pipeline: Linear workflow and gamma correction:

In the VFX industry, most motion picture camera sensors capture images in the log gamma space. However DCC software such as Substance Painter, Autodesk Maya, Chaos Group’s V-Ray or even Adobe’s After Effects use linear gamma space.

Camera sensors Log Diagram & DCC Linear Diagram

Why do we need to bother with gamma spaces? The human eye can tell the difference between dark and light shades. When images are compressed to save space, we want better accuracy for dark intensities at the expense of lighter intensities. We solve this problem by using gamma correction, which defines the intensity of every pixel in an image (via a power function).

Diagram: VFX pipeline linear workflow and gamma correction

In order to match with the gamma space used in post-production, a compensation must be applied to match the linear workflow. By contrast, screens display images in a non-linear gamma space called sRGB. This means additional compensation must be applied to allow an accurate visualization for the user. These compensations are applied by another LUT file.

VFX Pipeline: Color workflow and color management

Diagram: VFX Pipeline Color Workflow and Color Management

LUTs allow control of the gamma but also the management of the colors. In each visual production the Data Lab, which is an internal department in a studio dedicated to data management and technical constraint, defines a custom “LUT” as a function of these constraints of capture and projection. This LUT makes it possible to harmonize the display of the images in all the stages of the post-production pipeline. It is therefore very important that the DCC tools support the color profile via the LUT file.

Creating your own LUT

Substance Painter supports LUT textures of any format as long as they’re in 32 bits (floating). This means we can use the latest version of Substance Designer to create our own color profile.

In the example above, the identity LUT (which outputs a linear curve) is split into three separate channels (R, G and B) where we apply a custom curve. We changed to color to match a cold white balance. We then recombine the channels and apply an additional level to contrast and subtly more luminous exposure of the colors.

From there the LUT can be exported and used in Substance Painter. The LUT can be loaded via the Display Settings window. Simply check the “Activate Color Profile” checkbox to enable the Color Profile in the viewport.

Here is the final result (in comparison to the default sRGB):

Custom LUT example generated with Substance Designer and applied in Substance Painter.

Brush Opacity Control

By Jeremie Noguer

Substance Painter finally introduced opacity control for the brushes. Contrary to the Flow settings, which controls the amount of paint deposited on the mesh with every stamp, the Opacity controls the maximum amount that can be deposited in a single stroke.

By default, the opacity of consecutive strokes will add up, resulting in a more opaque result with every layer of paint, this is a very common way of working when hand-painting stylized textures or painting concept art.

An alternate mode (hold A while painting) allows multiple strokes to be considered as part of the same paint layer, keeping the initial opacity intact even when strokes overlap. This is especially useful when you want to paint a complex shape with the same opacity and need multiple brush strokes to complete the shape.

For those of you who are used to Photoshop’s opacity/flow settings, you will notice that the tablet pressure option is located on the Flow parameter in Substance Painter while Photoshop’s is on the Opacity. It is because in both cases, the pressure actually drives the Flow; the Opacity -the maximum opacity of a stroke- is constant during the entire brush stroke in both Substance Painter and Photoshop, so the end result is exactly the same, the difference is purely UI logic.

The 2.2 and 2.5 updates of Substance Painter are just the first step towards building software that suits game and VFX pipelines alike. Expect more new updates designed to boost your creative expression within the coming months!

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