Substance Source: Mark Foreman’s Medieval World

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We gave the keys to Mark Foreman, Senior Environment Artist at CD PROJEKT RED, with over 10 years of experience creating art for games. He currently holds the world speed record for live material creation, from Substance Days 2017. He recently contributed to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine.

Master blacksmith of Substance nodes, Mark will take us on a journey back to Medieval times! Mark made his mark (aka ‘Mark’s mark’) on the graphs of 15 highly detailed assets reviving the ancient construction crafts. Winter is coming! Light your torch and cross the threshold into Mark’s shire to meet earls, villagers and peasants.


Medieval textures felt like the right choice. A lot of the work I’ve been producing recently has revolved around alien and science-fiction themes, but I’ve been cultivating a collection of medieval material references, which I wanted to explore in Substance.

Some came during a fairly recent trip to a nearby open-air museum in the UK. The photographs from my reference served as initial inspiration for each material, and then I let my imagination take care of the rest.

Photos taken by Mark Foreman

I decided to work with three subgroups based on architecture associated with varying levels of wealth. These became Peasant Hovel, Vassal Townhouse, and Crown Castle. Each material set, even though it is born of distinct inspiration, will work quite happily with materials from the others. Each set features at least a single floor, wall and a roof material. On top of that, I added a couple extra somethings to each set that fits the character.

From a technical point of view, I found myself really digging deeper into the power of parameters than I have before. Usually parameters in my materials serve as simple switches or minor adjustments to get different yet specific variants from a Substance file. This works perfectly fine for my own needs; I’m more than happy to go and edit the graphs themselves or create parallel branches to get the various appearances I might need.

For this set, however, I really wanted to make sure that end users were going to be fully empowered to create exactly the look they wanted from each material by using the parameters alone. Most of these materials can be adjusted to create very distinct styles.

Chapter One: Peasant Hovel

Although I didn’t work through the materials in order, I did begin with the ‘poorest’ materials. I wanted to represent the simplest construction methods of the period. Rough-hewn wooden timbers and straw thatch made sensible starting points.

Thatch is a very iconic old-timey material, so I knew I wanted to include it in my set from the very beginning. I built it a lot like a real thatched roof, first creating strands of straw, before grouping them together into bundles, and finally laying these bundles across the roof.

I exposed parameters that let you adjust the tidiness of the thatch, as well as the buildup of moss. Between the available options it’s quite easy to make a brand spanking new, freshly laid thatch roof, or a worn and weathered mossy roof. Options allow you to create an alpha map, so you have the option of using the material as card strips to build up a more three-dimensional roof.

I followed up with the rugged old stone wall and a wattle and daub wall. Wattle and daub in particular has captured my imagination since I first learned of it. This is possibly because of the quaint name; whatever the reason, it was fun to try my hand at a virtual reproduction.

The graph has control over the number of staves and the density of the wattle weave. There are also various controls for the daub itself, from the level of damage to the surface colour. You can decide if you feel the resident peasants deserve the cheer that may be provided by brightly coloured homes.

Chapter Two: Vassal Townhouse

For the second set, I wanted to raise the level of craftsmanship represented in the materials to represent the wealth of someone living in the middle tier of medieval society. I was interested in recreating the materials you might find used in the construction of a manor, or possibly a place of business such as a large tavern.

The materials from the Peasant set would serve as the foundation of a building created from this collection, so the new materials I’d create for this set would add the feeling of wealth. For example, the timber-framed tudor brick represents a far sturdier wall construction, as well as being easier on the eye – and somewhat more refined than the muck of the wattle and daub.

The graph allows for a range of customization options, from the number of vertical and horizontal beams, down to the roughness of the brickwork.

Into this set I added the leaded glass window: you could tell a homeowner had wealth if they were able to install intricate glass in their homes. These windows would allow light to enter a dwelling, while at the same time filling the drafty holes. It would insulate much better than the thinly-stretched gut on timber frame the poorest people would rely on to seal their homes.

The graph has a number of parameters that allow you to customise the shape of your windows. There are options for various shapes of cut glass, as well as the thickness of the border around the wooden frames. The frame itself is fully customisable, and features the option of outputting square or circular windows.

I made extensive use of the parameter functions available in Substance Designer which allow the various parts of the graph to react to each other. For example, the window automatically scales to fit the frame correctly as the width is adjusted. I hope this will make customising windows with the graph a breeze.

Chapter Three: Crown Castle

In the final set of materials I wanted to both further incorporate fancier construction materials and methods, but also provide some pieces that would be useful when erecting a strong fortification or edifice. Again, I wanted materials that would compliment and work with the preceding materials.

I created the almost compulsory castle stone wall. To spice it up, I incorporated some moss and wall plants which have their placement and coloration exposed in parameters. When coupled with the options available for the block, the parameters allow you to output a wall with a softer fairytale look, or a bold angular wall fit for the most imposing keep.

For the monarch on the go, I chose to create a wooden spiked palisade wall. The graph features controls that allow you to choose whether the staves should be sharpened, or the bark should be stripped. Depending on how you set the parameters, this graph could also easily be used to create materials for a log house.

To show off the wealth of construction, I felt a material featuring ornate carved stone would make a suitable demonstration of stature. I chose to create a tileable material that could be used to wrap around a stone column. You can also easily make use of the features in the material on other elements of a stone building, such as around doorways or as decoration on the surface of a wall.

The graph has parameters filled with various patterns and profiles for the carving of the column. You can set the number of repetitions around the circumference of the column, as well as adjust the various heights and placements of elements within the column.

I had a lot of fun setting up the parameters for this piece. Adjusting the height of the column pedestal properly shifts the distribution of all the other column elements up the surface of the material. I hope the flexibility in the parameters means you’ll never have to settle for any two columns looking the same. I haven’t tallied the possible number of different variations, but that number is going to be up there.

Mark Foreman will explain the construction of his Tudor Wall material in a January livestream. Stay tuned for the date and hour! In the meantime, check out his Artstation page.

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