Virtual Photography for E-commerce with Bose

Creating product renders for Bose's new gaming headset

Introductions

TJ: Hello, my name is TJ Mitchell. I come from a background in video production, where I worked as an editor and motion graphics artist for several years before eventually finding a passion for 3D animation. I attended the Digital Animation and Visual Effects School in Orlando, Florida, to study 3D and VFX. From there, I got an opportunity to join Bose, where I’ve been working for the past five years as a 3D artist. 

Adam: Hi, I’m Adam Sharp. I also began my career as an editor and motion graphics artist at the same production company as TJ, where we first forged our creative partnership. After a few years, we parted ways, and I joined Bose, helping visualize products early in the development cycle. My education is in video production and graphic design but I’m self-taught in 3D, using the amazing abundance of educational resources online. Together, we’re the 3D team at Bose responsible for many of the images and animations you see for Bose products. 

3D at Bose

TJ: Over the past few years, Bose has expanded its internal 3D rendering capability. We are now responsible for a large amount of the product renders and animations that make their way to Bose.com, reseller websites, social media, and TV. We manage the entire 3D workflow starting from the early product designs to the final renders. 

Adam: It’s a small team and a bit unconventional in the way that TJ and I overlap greatly in our responsibilities and roles. It keeps us nimble, allows us to turn work around quickly, and has been a huge advantage with the abundance of new product launches this year, as well as all of the challenges of 2020. We have gone from handling just one or two of the yearly product releases to being the primary internal resource for 3D and animation. 

Integrating Substance

TJ: I’ve been using Substance off and on for years on personal projects and have always been very impressed with the power and flexibility of the whole suite. We decided to integrate it into our pipeline about two years ago. With the influx of new products, we wanted to take advantage of the amazing Substance Source materials to speed up our workflow. 

A: TJ was the one who introduced me to Substance and suggested it as a tool for our pipeline. I am a heavy Photoshop user and the layer-based approach was immediately intuitive, which made the spin-up process really fast. 

Bose QuietComfort® 35 II Gaming Headset

A: The Bose QuietComfort® 35 II Gaming Headset is new territory for Bose. We’re known for our noise cancelling headphones, but this is our first entry into the gaming market. It’s based on our QC35 II headphones but now includes a wired boom mic. My favorite part is that you can remove the boom mic, and it doubles as a wireless noise cancelling headphone for running errands, working out, travel, etc. 

T: For this project, we were responsible for creating all the product renders that you see featured on Bose.com and reseller websites, on the carton, and in marketing campaigns. One of the interesting challenges of this launch was that it happened at the beginning of COVID when photoshoots came to an abrupt halt. Alongside our amazing design and marketing teams, we had to find a way to pull off a launch that matched the standards Bose is known for, except all from our individual home offices. 

A: We’re both big gamers. Video games are partly what drove us to our line of work in the first place. So many good memories playing N64 with friends. 

T: I would say my favorite games growing up were The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker (yes, I love Ocarina too, but Windwaker has a special place in my heart), Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and the original Battlefield: 1942. Lately, my favorite games have been God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2

A: You could tell my life story through video games. I was a Sega kid growing up, so that meant Sonic, Streets of Rage, and Gunstar Heroes. Then it was Twisted Metal, Road Rash, and Majora’s Mask. GTA, Guitar Hero, and Halo 2 and 3 through high school and college. Recently, Rocket League, Bloodborne, basically anything that Naughty Dog makes. Is that too many? 

Working with CAD Data

T: Our typical workflow starts with receiving a highly detailed CAD file from the engineering and industrial design teams. Then, we’ll typically use Modo and Power Translators for translation to a polygonal model and continue clean-up/retopo in Modo. The CAD translation process can always be a little messy, but we’ve found that with Modo we don’t have to do nearly as much rework and can maintain the great detail that we get from the industrial design team. 

From there, we’ll send to Maya for our rigging, animation, lookdev, lighting, and rendering with V-Ray. Substance comes into play once we’re in the lookdev phase, and we’ll go back and forth between Substance and Maya. Once rendered in V-Ray, we’ll finish with compositing in Nuke and retouching in Photoshop.

Substance Plugin in Maya

A: This is often our starting point when exploring Substance Source materials and experimenting with presets. We have yet to integrate it into our render farm, so we are currently using Substance Painter map exports within V-Ray. 

T: We love that Substance is integrating so well with various other programs natively, so we’re always exploring and evaluating how to use those tools in our pipeline! 

Leveraging the Substance toolset

A: Bose and the Product Design team make very purposeful choices in the materials they choose. Visualizing these choices and representing the product accurately makes the Substance Source library a game-changer. The fact that under a single material category (leather, aluminum, plastic) there might be a dozen or so highly customizable variations helps us stay true to the product vision. 

T: Once we find some great Substance Source materials we want to use, one of our starting points is to use the Substance Player tool to customize and generate some 4k maps to send over to Maya. When working with CAD, clean UVs can be tricky or time-consuming to generate. Therefore, we often take advantage of the V-Ray triplanar mapping in combination with the tileable Substance Source materials.  

This allows us to get beautiful results very quickly. From there, we evaluate where more detailed or custom work is needed, retopologize those parts of the model, and move into Substance Painter. We like that we can iterate quickly with Substance Source/Player to get a strong base and then add the finishing touches in Substance Painter. 

The texturing process

A: The design team sends us a CMF (color, material, finishing) document for reference. That’s the baseline information needed, but physical samples and the actual product are always better. In the early stages, though, these samples are often in short supply. It really depends on where the product is in the development cycle. In the case of the Bose QC 35 II Gaming Headset, we were lucky that much of the geometry and materials already existed from the QC35 II. 

T: We work closely with the product design team, going through several rounds of meticulously detailed reviews to ensure the materials are represented accurately, realistically, and of course, beautifully. Substance helps us reach those high standards we set for ourselves. 

A: There are quite a few materials in this deceptively simple headset, and they each needed to tell a story. The sheen of the sandblasted metal earcup, suede-like finish of the alcantara headband, copper-colored accents, and soft feel of the ear cushions — all needed to be captured accurately. Not only did Source supply high quality materials, it saved an immense amount of time we didn’t have to spend making these materials from scratch. 

T: Exporting out of Substance Player, we use those texture maps in Maya with triplanar mapping to create fully procedural materials. We like this approach a lot because we want our product renders to look as if they are fresh off the assembly line. This method allows us to keep the materials flexible and realistic but also take advantage of the awesome work the Substance Source team has already put into their library. 

Pushing 3D to the next level

A: We are in the development stage of converting this pipeline over to support game-ready assets. Substance has been making this so much easier already, since we can use the same materials, regardless of our platform or engine. 

T: Having compelling interactive 3D experiences are more important than ever, and we see a lot of opportunities to create models for web-based 3D experiences, AR, VR, and whatever comes next. The fundamental 3D pipeline is opening up to support a lot of cool new avenues for customers to experience.  

Final words

T: As gamers ourselves, this was a really fun project to work on. It has been a satisfying full-circle moment to use the same tools game creators use to render a product for the gaming community.  

A: We’re hoping these catch on in the gaming world. It feels good to give back to a community that’s been such a big part of my life. On the 3D side, I just can’t believe the developments that are happening in real-time engines. We’re making the shift ourselves and can’t wait to see where the gaming world and Substance go next. It only makes sense to bring more of these gaming tools into the product design world.