Travel through ancient Japan with Kyle Horwood

Kyle Horwood joins the team of Substance Designer artists who created a signature collection of 15 materials, of a theme of their choosing, for Substance Source.

I was really drawn to do something that was medieval as I am both interested in the period in history as well as the fantasy it inspires. One day, whilst I was playing Sekiro, I thought I could perhaps do a Japanese themed signature. I was also inspired by other games, such as For Honor and the upcoming Ghost of Tsushima.

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Another reason for this choice was that it was also just months after Artstation was running a Feudal Japan challenge. Unfortunately, I never got past the block-out stage, so making this signature release was a perfect way to vent out my frustration! I gathered up some ideas — pitched them to the Substance team. They liked it.

I began gathering references. I did have some that didn’t quite fit, but after talking with the Substance team we managed to get something that matched not only the theme’s package, but the overall Substance Source library as well.

And so the journey begins in medieval Japan. Through 15 materials, we visit three different places — three spaces at the boundary between history and fantasy: the house, the temple and the castle.

Chapter 1: House (家)

In medieval Japan, the house is the realm of the family. Cloth, wood, paper, and ceramic make the objects of daily life.

Things move within the home: surfaces change with the movement of partitions, and objects go from place to place to give a new function to space — depending on the occasion, it is a dining room, a bedroom, an office, a social or a private space.

Color and pattern are discreet on the walls, floor, and doors, but becomes richer on objects and clothes.

The Kimono (着物) was different for me as I had never really done fabrics before. I wanted to try and match the Japanese fabric that can be found on different types of kimono in one single Substance file.

Some patterns — like the fans — repeat across Substance materials from this pack. It came from a desire the create materials so that they would be as modular as possible, making them adapted to many different use cases.

This is something that Substance Designer is especially good at — and the reason why I chose Designer to use both professionally and personally. I tend to create nodes or functions I know I’m going to use a lot, and then, over time, I collect them into a library that I reuse.

Art by Kyle Horwood

For instance, if I need to create tons of rock materials for a scene or project, I will make a node that generated the main rock shapes and then another node for the surface noise.

Chapter 2: Temple (寺)

Japanese temples have stunning architecture. I decided to select the materials most often used in the creation of these temples. The wood beam, for instance, was going to be an important material as most temples widely use this material for foundations, temple gates and pagodas (塔).

Art by Kyle Horwood

Other prominent elements of temples include massive and impressive Bonshō Bells (梵鐘). I had to try my hands at making one!

But the real challenge, for me, laid in the wood. Woodgrain is a true challenge. Its complexity stems from the randomness of the pattern, quite hard to reproduce in a procedural software. I actually have a similar difficulty with camouflage: unique patterns like these tend to be very difficult to reproduce.

So actually, in the past, I built a wood grain node: it was the basis for my wood grain for Substance Source. Because it didn’t sit totally right, I built up on it to make it even better. I think when it came to this material release, I spent most of the time really trying to get my colors and height on the wood to be as close to reality as possible.

Chapter 3: Castle (城)

The third place we visit is the castle. Traditionally, this is where the soldiers gather. The Kyoto stone pavers really stood out to me and I wanted to create those.

Art by Kyle Horwood

Before, I would always make custom materials, every time from scratch, for a specific use. It always was about the final product. But recently, I have been trying to get into a more modular workflow in Substance Designer.

If I am working on a material, and what I really need to get at the end is 5 different types of this material, then I’m going to want to expose parameters. It could be the thickness of the edges, chipping, or many other elements.

Art by Kyle Horwood

This kind of workflow is helpful, especially when you want your style to be more consistent. And working with the Source team really helped me think that way — and improve!

Another major challenge for me during this series was actually being mindful of how it runs on all kinds of computers. Normally, when I’m creating work personally or for a client it is always down to how the final flats look in the end rather than how well the Substance files run for different users. This was a great lesson for me as I learn a lot from the substance team about what nodes to use rather than the more expensive nodes.

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I really enjoyed creating these materials for Substance Source (and would love to do more in the future 😉). It was a challenge! I’d like to thank the Substance team for giving this wonderful experience. I’ve been using their software for years and I’m sure there are many more Substancing years to come.

About the artist

Hi, I’m Kyle. I’ve worked on games such as Marvel’s Spider-Man and Tom Clancy’s The Division 2.

I first found out about Substance Designer from artists like Josh Lynch and Rogelio Olguin. The first time I really used Substance Designer was for my final university project .

Today, my main role is creating textures using this amazing software. I’m working as a freelance material artist, as well as running a small indie studio called Cloud Colony Games.

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