Substance Source and Magdalena Dadela: Skin Micro Details

  • Technology

Welcome back, skin material fetishists and character artists! Today is dedicated to you, and to the beauty of diversity. The Substance Source team is bringing you a selection of procedural skin micro details. In this way, fully customizable freckles, pimples, acne, birthmarks, scratches, and scars add the little je-ne-sais-quoi element that makes all of us differ from Ken and Barbie.

Artwork by Magdalena Dadela

The team partnered with Magdalena Dadela, a modeler at Framestore in Montreal, Canada, who sculpted and textured wood creatures just for the occasion, and kindly agreed to explain her work.

What do we mean by skin micro details?

Simply put, all of the small elements that make a person’s skin unique. We are not equal in the face of acne, and perhaps some of us suffered more than others during puberty and squandered up all our pocket money on cleansing lotions… But enough about me!

Some of us have a cute little mole on our chin, or freckles on our noses, or a small scar that’s a reminder of the time we fell off our bike as a kid.

All these elements are usually modeled, which can be time- and resource-hungry, and may lack flexibility when it comes to iterating on the final design.

But when these details become part of the texturing process, artists gain precious flexibility without compromising on quality. Rather than being just a static reproduction of skin imperfections, each material is in this way a procedural generator of an infinity of variations. Custom parameters enable you to create unique elements in terms of shape, size, and colors to meet your creative intentions.

Our team used very serious references: dermatology publications and vivid reference images helped us to reproduce accurately most of the common skin imperfections – and even diseases, sometimes, so that you can digitally recreate skins that possess a variety of, let’s tactfully say, different conditions…

Aside from having an ever-growing respect for medical professionals, some of the team still shiver when we remember the last few months of production.

The skin micro details are not regular tileable materials – in fact, quite the opposite. They were designed for a Substance Painter-based workflow. The goal? To use the procedural material like a brush in Substance Painter, which lets you paint the details layer by layer.

Like this, adding localized elements becomes so simple! And since these materials are procedural, you still have access to modifiable parameters. You can tweak every aspect of the element to make it blend with the skin.

But we wanted to make absolutely sure that these details would interact seamlessly in a character artist’s workflow. They had to be easy to use and user-friendly. So rather than working by ourselves, we thought it would be better to partner with Magdalena Dadela, Character Artist at Framestore in Montreal.

Magdalena proved invaluable to help us optimize and finetune the materials.


My name’s Magdalena Dadela and I am a character artist with 12 years’ experience in the video game and film industries. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on games like the Assassin’s Creed series, Splinter Cell and Tomb Raider as well as movies like Warcraft: The Beginning, Predators and Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald. I’m currently a creature modeler at Framestore in Montreal.

I made a couple of fun and simple characters, a father and a daughter, to test the new skin generators from the Substance team. I wanted to create an appealing couple of adventurers, the father bearing a bit of war scarring or history on his body – but not in excess. This allowed me to test the materials on both the subtle skin of a child and on the rougher skin of a male adult.

I also decided to use the tools available to me to make game-resolution meshes rather than high-resolution renderings, to see how this would work in situ.

Below, you can see a selection of the materials in action.

Moles always add interest to skin. They break up the monotony of the pinkish surfaces and can add highlights to otherwise perfect features. The mole generator is very easy to use and allows for color adjustments to match your choice of complexion. I also appreciate the control we get over the uneven edges as well as height, since moles are not always the same shape.

I used scratches very sparingly on this project, but you can get great bleeding effects if you choose to. I wanted my characters to be appealing and not too roughed-up; I decided that just an old colorless scratch on the surface would do.

Freckles were what got me most excited about this release. I love adding multiple layers of dots and sprayed-on spots to add more realism and breakup to the skin, even if I’m not working on a fully realistic character like these two. I also used them to add a little redness to the girl’s face by tinting them something other than a brownish color. They definitely speed up the whole process. The variation in size and opacity also spruced up the textures a lot.

Adding acne to the available generators was a great idea. It easily breaks up the surface of the skin, as well as adding character. I gave the father a bit of acne spotting across the chin for color and texture variation.

The short hair is one of my absolute favourite new materials. Adding stubble or short, shaved hair to the head is really easy now. I’ve always found it a tedious process to get right before (unless one had a set of perfect photos to project). With this generator, we can layer different colors of stubble or rotate the hair direction easily to add believability and realism very quickly.

This was a fun project to participate in and I hope everyone will love the new tools as much as I do. They add a new layer of realism to the skin and speed up the workflow by leaps and bounds.

Next week, the Substance team releases even more micro skin details, this time in collaboration with Pablo Munos Gomez! Stay tuned!

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