After Daniel Thiger’s travels through ice, jungle, and desert, it is time for Substance Source to welcome Chris Hodgson, a texture and material artist with 11 years’ experience in the games industry. He’s worked on titles such as Watch_Dogs, Tom Clancy’s The Division and Payday 2, and has recently started working at Naughty Dog on The Last of Us Part 2. Chris hails from Pontefract, a small town in West Yorkshire, England, and he’s been using Substance Designer for over 3 years professionally.
When asked what theme he would like to use for his signature release for Substance Source, Chris absolutely – and to our great pleasure – wanted to introduce science-fiction materials. And so today we have 18 high-quality sci-fi materials, now available on Substance Source!
Christopher Hodgson: I’ve had a huge interest in science-fiction and all things associated with space exploration for as long as I can remember. This fascination no doubt came from watching what I would now consider the sci-fi classic films of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Alien, Blade Runner, Terminator, Robocop, The Thing, to name a few – these all became a source of enjoyment and inspiration throughout my childhood, a time when I probably shouldn’t have been watching such graphic and violent content
The art and design of science-fiction films and games throughout the years has provided me with a great deal of inspiration in both my career and personal work.
So when given the opportunity to be part of the Signature Source series I jumped at the chance to create a set of materials inspired by some of my favorite science-fiction themes.
Substance Designer has allowed me to be more creative with my texturing than I ever had been before I began using the software. To me, it is one of its most important features. I wanted to create a set of materials that showed how you can use Substance Designer to invent effects and materials that are unusual.
The possibilities with Substance Designer are so broad, and the tools so flexible, that I felt this project was as much about learning and pushing myself as about sharing my knowledge with the community.
Chapter 1: Alien Growth
I wanted to really push the foreign look of the materials so they would feel very distinctly out of this world; I wanted the observer to have an element of disgust when viewing the materials, so making sure they looked sufficiently sticky and slimy was a must.
Some of the inspirations for this category were internal organs, flesh, brain matter, weeds, ground plants, cell structures, fungus, and mold. All kinds of organic material made it into my reference mood board for this category. Often, it wasn’t the most pleasant mood board to look at.
In the creation of materials for this category, I often generated cellular patterns as a base shape. These cell patterns informed the placement of other elements later in the graph. I also used slope blur in combination with an HQ blur to inflate the details in the height input; this adds the look of tension to the inflated areas useful for the creation of veins, flesh, and skin.
A key part of creating the materials in this category was to explore the sometimes unexpected results whilst building the graph. Using Substance Designer can often be a journey of discovery, finding techniques and getting results you didn’t expect but that look great. With these organic materials, letting the happy accidents occur helped create interesting results that have an alien quality whilst still remaining grounded in reality.
One of the difficulties I experienced whilst creating this category of materials was producing a good base color map. Organic surfaces tend to have many subtle changes in hue and saturation. Lots of color combinations I tried simply looked artificial and It took patience and multiple layers of color blending to get a consistent color scheme in each material.
Chapter 2: Alien Panel
The structures and panels in these materials have potentially existed for thousands of years and are exhibiting signs of wear and even abandonment as a civilization dies out, leaving only its technology and architecture behind.
The inspirations for this category were bones and skeletal structure, with some direct influence from H.R Giger’s sets created for the first part of the Alien franchise. The alien structures of the Halo franchise inspired some of the more rigid and angular forms. The intricate details of the Alien Ship Techno Panel are heavily influenced by the complex detail seen in many spaceship designs, including the Borg cubes from Star Trek.
I wanted each material in this category to represent a construction style unique to entirely different alien races, on different planets, in different star systems, in different galaxies.
The Alien Exo Structure material was created to resemble a bone or exoskeleton-like material that could line the walls or corridors of an alien structure. To get this look, it was important that each plate in the structure conform to the surrounding pieces as if they had grown together over time – as bones do. I achieved this by warping and deforming the patterns as a whole. I filled in the gaps between each plate by using the same inflation technique I used on the Alien Growth materials.
The soil-covered structure in the Alien Surface Panel Overgrown material was created using a series of simple shapes and gradients. They were transformed into position and blended together using the lighten blend mode to combine details, and the darken blend mode to cut away. This technique can be used to model clean hard surface-like forms in 2D. The shapes can be modified non-destructively later to alter the look and placement of the details. The soil and plants were then blended in on top, using the underlying structure as a base.
To create the intricate but angular randomness of the Alien Ship Techno Panel material, I used multiple tile generators that sequentially add and subtract height information from one another. Using this technique multiple times on the same height information eventually leads to a very complex and intricate pattern that is relatively simple to create.
Parameters allow the user to tweak the age of the materials: this can have a drastic impact on the overall look of the material, and so it’s important to have this level of control.
Chapter 3: Sci-Fi Industrial Panel (Industrial Panels)
This type of sci-fi world design, a mainstay in films and games today, incorporates very detailed features, exposed metal and cables, bolts, and screws with an emphasis on damage, worn paint, and dirt buildup.
Here, I aimed to create materials that looked used, dirty and somewhat neglected. This kind of wear creates opportunities for interesting material changes over the surface. Paint often peels away exposing bare metal. Rough dirt collects in the crevices of otherwise shiny painted areas. All these details come together to create a material with a history and a story to tell.
I wanted to get high-quality edge wear and the look of heavy industrial use to the textures. I also wanted to show the methods and techniques for how to effectively build industrial-looking panels with hard-surface details directly within Substance Designer. This kind of non-organic detail would normally be created by baking down from high-resolution hard-surface models from external packages. Still, this type of detail is very achievable inside Substance Designer.
The hard surface details for this category were created using various techniques: the shapes are defined using simple black-and-white masks and given height using the Bevel node. These shapes then get sequentially blended together using additive and subtractive methods to eventually create the more complex forms like panels, bolts, and hinges.
The various paint colors are layered on top of the shapes. Metal is then exposed in convex areas using grunge and multiple edge detection techniques, thus giving a realistic scratched metal effect. Dirt is then applied on top of all the other layers to make sure all the different elements feel cohesive and grounded.
In this category, the color of most elements can be altered. This allows the user to set a color scheme for their environment and style the panels to fit.
Chapter 4: Sci-Fi Panels
These materials could be found in the offices or living quarters of a spaceship or space station. They have an emphasis on cleaner, softer shapes, large buttons and lights with a retro style; they are made of formed plastic rather than the commonly used metal discussed in the previous category.
Because the design of the materials in this category is simple, it focuses the attention on the quality of the surface detail. So it was important for me to get the rough plastic and leather to look subtly dirty and worn.
I used reference photos of grubby old personal computers so I could replicate the suitably sun-bleached plastic so reminiscent of old computer hardware. Dirt buildup in crevices and on flat surfaces was key to making the materials stand out.
Chapter 5: Alien Terrain
To create the materials I first began looking at real-world Earth and Mars terrains and altered colors, details and added extra elements to make them look otherworldly. I used Martian landscape photographs, Icelandic geothermal pools, Yellowstone Sulphur springs, and solidified volcanic lava flows as references.
A constant theme in science-fiction is the exploration of new and uncharted worlds. By creating these materials, I wanted to explore interesting geological features found here on Earth with a sci-fi twist. I also wanted to try using some of the newer nodes in Substance Designer, namely the Flood Fill and Vector Morph nodes to create realistic rock formations and flowing terrain features.
The relatively new collection of Flood Fill nodes are incredibly useful when creating rock formations. The Flood Fill To Gradient node can give you a base for rocks when used with cell-like patterns. By adding randomness to the direction of the gradients, you can quickly create realistic scattered rocks of various shapes and sizes.
To add erosion and sediment detail to the rocks, I used some new techniques I discovered with the Vector Morph node. I was able to get realistic rock detail with very few steps.
It has been an amazing opportunity and a fun process working on this signature release. It has also been a pleasure to work with the team at Allegorithmic and give the community full access to my processes and techniques.