, by Marnie Pitts & Florence Green

LEGO Cars are Racing Through Your Living Room!

Framestore's Marnie Pitts and Florence Green discuss car texturing in Substance Painter

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Marnie: Hello, my name is Marnie Pitts, I studied Fine Art at university in Australia. After graduation, I became interested in digital work and completed an associate diploma in Computer Aided Art and Design. Following this I started work as a digital camera operator in a traditional animation studio; this was a great foundation for learning from some highly experienced artists. From there I worked on 2D and 3D productions in television and games. In 2001 I moved to London with the goal of working on larger projects. I have worked freelance and full-time for a number of studios, in various roles, from lighting TD, generalist, and art direction. These projects span film, episodic, commercial, VR, and theme park attractions.  

Now, I’m a Senior Texture Artist at Framestore. I spend most of my days texturing and this makes me happy.

Florence: Hey, my name is Florence Green. Exhibitions, architecture and general ‘making’ have always been an integral part of my life. My fascination with combining art and mathematics has led to my interest in using computers to create art both digitally and in the real world. 

I studied Animation and Visual Effects at Falmouth University, a scenic spot on the coast of Cornwall. Starting with traditional 2D animation and stop motion. I then specialized in 3D – predominantly modeling, texturing, and compositing. I came into the industry as a runner at Framestore in 2017, where I learned more about the VFX pipeline. This led to my first project working on a virtual rollercoaster as Junior Texture Artist. Since then, I’ve worked on Netflix’s Jingle Jangle as an asset lead and been an artist on a variety of adverts & TV shows including The Crown and The Witcher.  

Most of my time is spent texturing but also modeling organically and procedurally, processing scan environments and even creating VR experiences as a mid texture artist.

The Framestore London Assets team

M&F: The Assets team consists of modelers and texture artists, and many of the team perform both roles. The team focuses on getting models built, textured, and approved. We work on a great variety of jobs from theme park attractions, episodic productions, immersive experiences, films, and commercials. Tasks can be extremely different from one day the next; we could be creating buildings, cars, food, plants, animals, or bacteria – the list goes on.  

Using the Substance Tools

M&F: Substance came onto Framestore’s radar in 2016, when we were working on MARS. It wasn’t commonly used in our department and, as with all new software, there was a phase of testing and experimenting using small assets and partial sections. We were happy with the tests and found the best way to make it fit into our pipeline. 

Since then, Substance has made a massive impact on the way we work in the Integrated Advertising department at Framestore. We often work on a tight schedule and being able to visualize the final output in real time has been invaluable to get a mock-up to the client or Art Director in the early stages of development.  

Today we have fully adopted a Substance workflow and generally texture in Substance for 90% of our assets. UDIM support has been a massive influence on our switch as sometimes we can work on high-resolution assets with up to 100 UDIMs.

Making of Sky The Collector 2020 Mo’s Best Bud:

Workflow with Substance

M&F: Our projects come in all shapes and sizes. We often have to recreate designs from concept or real-life references. Substance Designer is perfect for making textures and materials that can be used across multiple projects.  

We often make materials in Substance Designer and create a library per project of Substance archives or Smart Materials (.sbsar/.spsm). This can then be built upon, adjusted and added to in Substance Painter. We usually output texture maps for the look development team along with a variety of masks so that they have options when they build the shaders. 

Substance Source and other online material libraries, including our internal material library, are useful for blocking in a base material that we can then adapt, if it is close to our needs. 

Building a Material Library

M&F: The procedural nature of Substance makes it very easy to build a library and expose parameters for other artists. We have an internal texture library that we add generic reusable materials to. Our studios across the world are able to share selected materials with each other. We have a good collection of organic and hard-surface materials including the likes of woods, skin, fabric, patterns and so on. 

Making Of Drive What You Love

Scan Processing

M&F: We use scan data for a variety of reasons. Most often it is for Digi-Doubles, but increasingly it is for an object or set piece that we have to match. Once we process the model in our chosen scan software, we transfer the UVs and move into Substance. 

Often with a scan you can only extract a diffuse/base color map from your photogrammetry. We have found Substance to be very useful, and we use the scan’s base color map along with the mesh data to generate the remaining PBR maps. It has sped up the process of dealing with complex scan data.  

Integrating Substance into our Pipeline

M&F: As texture artists we pass maps on to Look Development to develop shaders and render with Arnold inside Houdini or Maya. Substance was ready to use in our pipeline, but when we first started using it we wanted more control over the colorspace on export, to save us having to convert afterwards. We have an in-house custom tool that converts selected maps on export from sRGB to ACEScg.  

LEGO Commercial Material Breakdown

M: We texture many different kinds of vehicles, from tanks, ambulances, trucks and commercial brands to these F1 and LEGO cars. They are always different. Before starting we determine in what context they will be seen. Will they be close to the camera or speeding by in the distance? Will we see the underside in great detail, because the car has crashed and is also damaged? Or maybe we need a luxury interior?  

Making of Drive What You Love –  LEGO Monster Truck

In the LEGO Drive What You Love commercial the cars were the heroes. The idea was to have a LEGO builder’s imagination come to life for a high-speed race through their house.  

Drive What You Love –  LEGO Monster Truck LEGO Turntable

Drive What You Love –  LEGO Cars Monster Truck 

This meant we had to create a LEGO version of each car along with a matching real-world version. We achieved this using Substance Painter for the texturing which ensured continuity across the pairs of cars in regards to their color and decals. A lot of work was then done in the shaders to get the surfaces looking right.  

Substance Painter Screenshot – LEGO Cars Monster Truck – Material View 

Substance Painter made it easy to set user-defined masks that we used to pass on layers of dirt and other information to the look dev artists, so they could adjust it in the shaders. 

Sky Mo’s Best Bud – Mercedes F1W11 

F: For the Formula 1 vehicles of the Sky Mo’s Best Bud commercial, they had to be completely in check with advertising and logos that were on the cars at the time of creation. The advertising on these cars changes pretty frequently. Substance has a wide variety of tools that are great for enabling these changes on the fly. This includes the Fill tools that enable you to place alphas and logos onto your model and, if they change, you are able to quickly swap them for a new image whilst keeping the original position.

This asset had a total of 20 UDIMs, so to break them up so that they were more manageable in Substance, we split them into materials by assigning sections with separate lamberts in Maya. This enabled us to focus on the materials of the car in their own groups without the scene getting too heavy and the layers being more manageable. This asset was mostly textured in Substance Painter as a lot of the base materials are very generic – such as carbon fiber and painted metal – so there wasn’t a need for custom materials to be built in Substance Designer for this particular asset. The logos and Mercedes design on the side of the car were created in Photoshop and imported as alphas.  

Sky Mo’s Best Bud – Mercedes F1W11 Turntable

Sky Mo’s Best Bud – Red Bull RB16 Turntable

 Substance Screenshot – Mercedes F1W11 Sky The Collector 2020 Mo’s Best Bud 

Although the concepts of texturing these two cars were very similar, they both had different goals. One needed to look like a very recognizable realistic car and the other was meant to look like a plastic toy car. This was taken into consideration when working out the roughness levels and fine detailing such as dust and dirt compared with a new toy’s plastic surface.  

What are the Most Fun Aspects of Being a Texture Artist for VFX and Animation?

Marnie: I really enjoy the research. I get to look very carefully at objects that I may never have paid attention to before. This leads to many beautiful discoveries. I love breaking down the surfaces, analyzing what bits are shiny, bumpy, worn, or damaged. And working out what combination should be procedural and hand-painted, and the best way to convey that through the texture maps. Working within a team keeps you creatively energized as you are always bouncing ideas off each other. 

Florence: It’s been really enjoyable to work on fine details that have provided escape & enjoyment throughout the pandemic. I feel privileged being part of a team full of incredible artists, creating such varied entertainment across multiple genres. I love being able to explore the beauty in the mundane, whilst exploring new technology and where it can take us. A word of advice is to never be afraid to try something new because it could completely change the way you work for the better.  

If you are interested in becoming an asset artist we have these tips for you:

  • Look closely at the world around you 
  • Find beauty in dirt, scratches, dust, and imperfections – these will take your asset from looking CG to realistic. In reality, an edge is never completely 90 degrees or without variation in its surface 
  • Make art in the real world 
  • Go to exhibitions, watch movies, see theatre, look at and enjoy all different styles and forms of art  
  • Don’t just watch the online tutorials, do them 
  • Learn one software really well, once you have learned the first modeling or texturing software these skills can be transferred to a different software much more quickly
  • Practice taking a simple asset right from concept all the way through to a finished asset 
  • Collaborate with friends, this is great practice for working in the industry where you are always handing your work onto someone else 
  • Join a mentoring program 

All images courtesy of Framestore.

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