How a New York Archviz Studio Mastered Substance Source

Introductions

Hi there, thanks for inviting us to share our work with the Substance community.  We are Moso Studio, a small studio located in the Financial District in NYC founded by me, Martin Solarte, with the help of my brother Oscar Solarte. We comprise a team of highly experienced artists that loves everything visual, including photography, renders, films, VR, and everything in between. 

Francesca Bergamini and I will be telling you a bit about a couple of recent projects we worked on. 

Moso Studio

At Moso, we work primarily in architectural visualization. Our projects are sometimes commissioned by architects who need to present their designs or, perhaps more often, by real estate companies that need visual content so that their projects can sell. 

We do a lot of renders, but perhaps our strongest suit is in film. This area is where we probably stand out a bit more amongst our peers; below is a recent reel we put together. 

Play

Substance toolset

Being a small studio, we’re quite nimble and we often like to look at new ways of doing things, so that we can improve our pipeline and/or our quality. We’re often asked to create a new fabric or floor pattern or ceramic tile, etc.; often the references are very low quality or nonexistent.  

With Substance Designer, we can create almost any type of material, separating all the elements (color, height, roughness, etc.) so that it can be used on any software. 

Substance Source allowed us to export all the texture maps and use them directly in the rendering software, making the whole workflow easier and more efficient. Substance Source is the material library we’ve always dreamed of; we can choose the workflow and style that works best for us and, on top of that, we can customize all its content. 

In this render, for example, we used Substance Designer to create the unique terrazzo floor specified for this bathroom. We’ve since used Designer, and the other tools in the Substance family, in many other projects. 

Our pipeline

Our pipeline is pretty simple. We usually get the design info in either drawings or 3D models. We then create or organize the 3D model and start to plan the views or camera paths (in the case of film). 

We use 3ds Max for most of the modeling and scene assembly; to select the view we usually just use generic materials and show the images in black and white. 

Once we get some direction on the view angles, we start to refine things. We start adding materials, furnishing, adding entourage, and so on. To refine the assets, we use tools like 3D Coat for sculpting and painting, Substance Designer and Substance Painter to create and refine some shaders, and Photoshop for touch-ups.  

We render using Corona renderer, which we find to be the quickest to work with, and it provides extremely high-quality results. We don’t do a lot of post-processing; when this is necessary we mostly use either Nuke or Photoshop. 

The Trinity Church project

This was a great project for us. The Trinity Church has been going through a rejuvenation process, and we were approached to create a film that would show what the church would look like when completed.  

Working on an existing building of this iconic importance presented many challenges; the primary one was that we needed to be completely accurate regarding the representation of those elements which were not going to change… And then, of course, we needed to be very delicate modifying and adding the parts that were, in fact, being updated. 

Below is the final video produced. 

Play

Capturing data

Luckily for us, our studio is just a 10-minute walk from the church, so we first went and scouted generally. We took a lot of photos of details, textures, and created some HDRI of the interiors and exteriors. 

Prior to us being involved, a team of engineers had carried out a full survey of the interiors, and had done a complete laser 3D scan that was provided to the architects. We were able to get a copy of this data, which saved us an enormous amount of time and gave us an extremely accurate base to work from. 

We used a trial of Sequoia by Thinkbox, which allowed us to create a useful 3D model from the point cloud data, and then we started a process of retopoing and general modeling using this point cloud mesh as a reference. 

We wanted the materials to be as realistic as possible — and photos weren’t enough as we didn’t get info on bump/displacement, or roughness — so, we decided to create some of the main shaders for the church floors and wall in Substance Designer. 

Below are is what our Substance Designer looked like for the floor.  

The Fifteen Fifty San Francisco project

We have recently completed a package of illustrations for the marketing campaign of Fifteen Fifty, a 40-story glass high-rise with 550 luxury apartments sprouting up in San Francisco, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, with interiors by AD100 design firm Marmol Radziner.  

The biggest challenge and, at the same time the client’s top priority, was to find the most effective way to ensure that the materiality of the facade was conveyed accurately and realistically: the curved shell of the tower with its cascading setbacks is composed of complex precast modular walls of multiple materials. 

All those components have to stand out, even from faraway cameras, like the Hero shoot or the flying Park View. 

All these details needed to be expressed: the transition from the light rough concrete at the center of the panels to the smoothness at the edges; the contrast between the uneven light concrete versus the polished dark tone of the sills.  

Substance Source

We immediately started our research on the Substance Source library and found exactly what we were looking for: the Cellular_Concrete .sbsar for the rough concrete panels. 

 And the for the dark stone sills we combined these two .sbsar files. 

Breakdown

Substance Designer came in handy when we were working on another image, the Roof Pool. We used the software to create the displacement map to generate the water caustics. 

In Substance Designer every noise can be reproduced, so it’s very easy to create a displacement map. In our example we tried to reproduce the same effect visible on the floor of a swimming pool lighted by the sun as in this reference photo below. 

This is the reference image we tried to match for the water caustics. 

We used an inverted Cellular and, in order to add further details, the initial noise was distorted with a Warp node and then blurred to unsharpen the final map. Finally, we projected our Displacement texture onto the water plane. And here’s what we got:

Tips

An issue when using render nodes: since the Substance plugin for 3ds Max fails when using render nodes without a dedicated graphic card, we had to work around it.

One way was by using the 3ds Max plugin to bake the different maps, after customizing them:

However, our preferred way is to use the Substance Player, to generate the textures from the original .sbsar file.

To avoid texture repetition: Substance Player not only allows us to tweak the material settings and export all the outputs, but one of the biggest advantages we found is that by pressing the ‘Randomize’ button, we’re able to generate unlimited variations for the same map, avoiding any visible texture repetition (it only works for procedural materials).

We have different ways of combining all these texture variations, either by using the Bercon tile — make sure there is no color in the edge slot (so that seams are invisible) and add noise to the edge in order to mix the maps — or by mixing the maps with a Noise node (see the example below in Corona engine):

Working in archviz

Working in archviz is like being a VFX generalist, we need to be very good at many trades to be able to deliver a great visual/movie at the end. 

We would be happy to share the Substance Designer materials we created for anyone who wants to play with them — they are relatively simple but totally serve our purposes. 

The Moso Studio team

All images courtesy of Moso Studio.