Interior Design – Lighting And Materials With Hussain Almossawi

Winter is coming but it will be cozy in this winter cabin designed by Hussain Almossawi.

Introductions

My name is Hussain Almossawi, I am a product and CGI designer. I come from a small island called Bahrain, and I’m currently based in New York City working for some of the world’s biggest brands. I was a senior designer working with Adidas until three months ago when I left and started my own studio, Mossawi Studios.

I’ve been into 3D since I was a kid, the early days of 3ds Max. I was always interested in creating things that look realistic and trick the eyes in thinking if its CG or a photo. I started out as a graphic designer and soon realized that it was not enough to design things in 2D, and the true magic happens when you approach design holistically and can combine between the two worlds.

I then moved toward product design, which is what I do today, but my products and designs are heavily influenced and worked on in the 3D world, which I think gives me an advantage when designing rather than doing things with pen and paper the old traditional way.

Inspiration

As a designer, I believe you should be a sponge, absorb inspiration from everything and everyone around you. I personally find a lot of inspiration from the people I work with, collaborating with others, and building ideas together. I also love taking my mind off a project and going for a walk or enjoying the beauty of nature, I feel like a lot of ideas just start flowing and coming when I have my mind off and disconnected from the project I’m working on.

Winter in the Woods scene

This was a fun interior project based on a sketch of my talented friend Reid Schlegel done back in 2016. We were thinking of a way to collaborate and there was nothing better than working on an interior scene and turning something from a sketch into 3D. What I enjoyed most about this project was all the details in the scene from objects to materials to lighting. The aim was to make it feel as cozy as possible and give you a sensation that you were actually in the middle of the woods in cold winter, but feeling the warmth of the inside of the cabin.

My workflow

I’ve always been a 3ds Max guy, I created the entire scene in Max, shaded it using mostly Substance Painter, and rendered it out in Vray. I finally take the raw renders from Vray to Photoshop for post-processing and the final touches and adjustments.

Substance Painter is one of my favorite tools when it comes to shading, it’s fast, efficient, and super realistic. Having access to Substance Source gives you a wide palette of realistic materials to play with, and edit to your taste. Creating shaders can be a very time-consuming thing, and not having all the right maps, in high-res, could make or break a project from looking realistic or something that’s trying to be realistic. With Substance, it just makes it really easy, and I know I can rely on it when it comes to realism and beauty of textures.

Breakdown

Could you give us a breakdown of materials you used from Substance Source and how you then textured with Substance Painter?

These are the materials I used and later modified:

1- UV Setup

A good UV is key, this might be a simple setup, but when working with things that are a bit more complicated like automotive projects, for instance, the beauty of your materials and final renders will only look real if you have a good UV setup. Spend some time making sure your scene is unwrapped properly, as that will serve as the backbone for all materials you apply.

2- Light Setup

Another thing that will give you your realism in your scene, before diving into materials, is the light setup. I’ve seen lots of scenes that use high-res maps, or use Substance, but fall short of realism, and that’s due to falling short on the light setup. Make sure that your scene is well-lit, has nice definition, depth, and shadows, and that will take your materials to another level.

3- Applying Materials

Here is a basic setup applying the wood texture to the interior scene, and tiling it the way I imagine it. I’m using a material from Substance Source and playing around with its values.

4- Editing and mixing materials

I then layer that material with other materials; I sometimes make use of only the Height or Color map to be able to further modify the look and feel of the material. Sometimes a fill layer with a change in the blending mode such as “Overlay” can do the trick too. Once I’m happy with the results, I export the maps and take the material back to 3ds Max.

Photoshop

I used Photoshop to adjust the final light balance and exposure of the scene. I also like to go in and add slight details like scratches on top of the render, as well as smaller fine details on top of objects like smudges and fingerprints. I have done that same process in 3D before, but I feel I have more control to play with those subtle details in post-processing.

I also always add the background in Photoshop, again, it’s just the freedom it will give you in quickly changing it out and trying different options, so I just export the background in the window as a transparent PNG.

Here are two renders, before and after Photoshop:

Tips and tricks with Substance

A technique that I like to use is to just work with the normal map activated in Substance, that allows me to then take that as a bump/displacement map in 3ds Max, and blend it with other custom material setups that I have done in the past, it’s a nice mix between both worlds.

Another thing that I really like to do with Substance is layering materials. I tend to take materials that don’t usually live together and mix different properties. For example Wood and Metal, plastic and paper, and so on. This method works best for me when using it in product design, or even footwear design, where I can start to zone different areas and apply different textures.

Future Projects

I am currently working on multiple projects that I am using Substance for, products such as automotive design, footwear design, vinyl toys, and other products that I am designing for myself or my clients. I would really like to start building out my own materials in Substance Designer.

Substance is definitely a very powerful tool and software, and the potential of the things you can do with it is just scary. I’m also excited to see how this tool starts to expand and evolve over the years.

All images courtesy of Hussain Almossawi.