Author Topic: Artsy stuff - how do you guys breakdown materials?  (Read 3602 times)

So I have u question regarding basically art related stuff.  I have no artistic background (mechanical engineering) and I would really like to know how to do it, but for real, since I always feel like I cut the corners when trying to do a breakdown. Every time feels like I have no idea what the hell am I doing. At least for materials. So my question is how does one learn how to break down material in big, medium and small forms?

a) Mechanical Engineers rule!!!

b) Try, practice, observe, practice, look closely at the world, practice...  I don't know a magic technique to become artistic.

c) I sure have become more "aware" of textures that surround me.  Sometimes I notice "real-world" textures that I would probably think are unrealistic or fake-looking if I saw it on a rendering, and that amuses me in a strange way.

d) My biggest issue (or one of several biggest issues), is I simply don't use Designer or Painter enough to become proficient.  In Designer, I am constantly searching through the various nodes and noises and patterns, looking for one that will work well for me.  In a similar way, I can read music, and I took piano lessons when I was young, but I can't sit at a piano and play a song; I have to laboriously pick it out note-by-note.  I know a lot about playing piano, I can appreciate when it's done well and I can hear when mistakes are made, but I'm not proficient at it myself.
Last Edit: April 23, 2017, 06:33:51 pm
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Procedural (node based) visual art tools, like substance, Houdini, etc, are about as close to an 'engineers approach to art' as you could get!  Rule-based, repeatable and editable in a non-linear way.

But even if it's technical art, it's still art - and required a practiced eye.  The example of playing the piano from justaviking is perfect.

One good exercise is to find a texture you want to create, and break it down into it's most basic constituent parts.



I can see 4 base materials in the rock:

-rough white barnacles appear almost everywhere, apart from vertical or worn faces
-smooth rock appears rarely on vertical surfaces and exposed or worn edges
-reddish staining / dirt appear in cracks, crevices, and near to the water line
-black seaweed appears mostly on flatter surfaces, apart from some streaks

Each of these in turn can be broken down into a series of simple shapes or noises.

-at this scale, barnacles are a series of small, circular dots with a roughly broken centre
(Simple shape shaders + distortion + splatter)
-smooth rock is a cloud fractal with horizontal stratum
(Noises + gradient maps)
-reddish staining is a rougher fractal with larger areas of colour variation
(Noise + gradient map)
-seaweed is made from small clumps of rounded fronds, gathered together in patches
(The most tricky - could use a scan or B2M, but the procedural approach is probably nested FX maps or splatter nodes)



a) Mechanical Engineers rule!!!

b) Try, practice, observe, practice, look closely at the world, practice...  I don't know a magic technique to become artistic.

c) I sure have become more "aware" of textures that surround me.  Sometimes I notice "real-world" textures that I would probably think are unrealistic or fake-looking if I saw it on a rendering, and that amuses me in a strange way.

d) My biggest issue (or one of several biggest issues), is I simply don't use Designer or Painter enough to become proficient.  In Designer, I am constantly searching through the various nodes and noises and patterns, looking for one that will work well for me.  In a similar way, I can read music, and I took piano lessons when I was young, but I can't sit at a piano and play a song; I have to laboriously pick it out note-by-note.  I know a lot about playing piano, I can appreciate when it's done well and I can hear when mistakes are made, but I'm not proficient at it myself.

Hey thank you for your answer, it does clear up a little. But still same struggles remain. Although some comments on your points:

a) if you like mathematical formulas a lot then yeah :D

b) doing it every day, at home and on job, thank you for reminding me anyway

c) Know the feels, doing the same for geometry :)

d) Probably one of my biggest issues anyway

Procedural (node based) visual art tools, like substance, Houdini, etc, are about as close to an 'engineers approach to art' as you could get!  Rule-based, repeatable and editable in a non-linear way.

But even if it's technical art, it's still art - and required a practiced eye.  The example of playing the piano from justaviking is perfect.

One good exercise is to find a texture you want to create, and break it down into it's most basic constituent parts.



I can see 4 base materials in the rock:

-rough white barnacles appear almost everywhere, apart from vertical or worn faces
-smooth rock appears rarely on vertical surfaces and exposed or worn edges
-reddish staining / dirt appear in cracks, crevices, and near to the water line
-black seaweed appears mostly on flatter surfaces, apart from some streaks

Each of these in turn can be broken down into a series of simple shapes or noises.

-at this scale, barnacles are a series of small, circular dots with a roughly broken centre
(Simple shape shaders + distortion + splatter)
-smooth rock is a cloud fractal with horizontal stratum
(Noises + gradient maps)
-reddish staining is a rougher fractal with larger areas of colour variation
(Noise + gradient map)
-seaweed is made from small clumps of rounded fronds, gathered together in patches
(The most tricky - could use a scan or B2M, but the procedural approach is probably nested FX maps or splatter nodes)




You just have demonstrated my problem. I cannot see all of the details you just mentioned on a texture. For models it's easy for me to break it down to shapes. But for rocks, and amorphous stuff... hella hard. I will try to practice the way you said. Take a texture and try to see what is there. But I would love to hear how did you learn to do these? As and example I would really love to know how to see a material from real world and break it down to something like thse:

Is it only way to do it by going trough loads of textures and breaking it down. Or is there some elegant way to do it, learn it? Something like pushing it trough the texture through filter in PS?

Hmm...  You do pose an interesting problem.  I have already confessed I'm not an expert, but I'm willing to babble a bit more.  Who knows, maybe someone will be so annoyed with what I write that they come in with a better answer.   :o

I think we may have blended answers a bit, between Substance Painter and Substance Designer, possibly.  Alex's reply included a lot of depth, but you wouldn't make the whole scene in a single substance, of course.  (I'm not implying he meant that, I'm simply trying to clarify the scope, at least for my response.)


But consider this thought process of breaking it down...

1) Separate it into the different real-world materials you see.  Rock, moss, grass, bare metal, paint, plastic, wood, etc.
- Each of those materials will be built (in Designer) or painted (in Painter) separately.
- Even if you created a "mossy rock" substance, you would have "moss nodes" and "rock nodes" that are separate from each other.

2) Look at the base color, and try to ignore shadows
- Brown rock, green moss, or maybe a collection
- Then consider some of the variations in those colors across the object

3) How shiny or reflective is it?
- That's your "roughness" channel

4) How bumpy or textured is it?
- That's your normal (and maybe height) channel

5) What makes it real (imperfect)?
- Dents and scratches
- Dirt, smudges, worn edges, etc.
- Other subtle variations

For 3 and 4, above, consider a piece of aluminum foil that you crumpled and then tried to smooth out.  It will be shiny (low roughness) but lots of bumps and creases (an interesting normal map).

I don't know, maybe that doesn't help, but I'm having fun trying to quantify how I look at something, and I'm not sure if what I described above is really my process or not.  I think it feels reasonable.

Anyone else?
Last Edit: April 27, 2017, 02:35:10 am
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I think Viking had a pretty good answer here. I'll talk a bit about my own strategies... One difference, maybe, is that I find I do most of my thinking on my feet, so to speak. I won't always know how to tackle a substance until I have Designer open. After this, I usually have a basic process.


So, for most things, I start with a height map. Almost anything natural is going to have differences in height, and these usually play a big role in their final appearance, even if your engine won't be using height maps. For rocks, I'll make a rock shape generator and splatter it around, maybe add pebbles and noise. Foliage works the same way. A blade of grass turned into a clump, several clumps splaterred around to make a field. Some clumpy dirt to go underneath...

Sometimes its not so easy. Anything with cracks, translucent-looking marble textures, wood grain... these all require different techniques, and I'll imagine how these things might be imitated mathematically, and I'll experiment with node combinations to find a system that works. Often I'll hit dead ends here, and scrap what I have and try a different technique. It's all playing, tweaking, responding...

But soon I have a base. Either a heightmap, or a basic pattern. From heights, I can easily get normals, AO, and curvature. The second tricky part is coming up with the basics of a basecolor. Noise is my friend here, and gradient maps. Real-world examples might give me hints about what kind of noise, what color combinations (gradient selection is enormously helpful here!)
At this point, The thing that sells the texture is going to be damage. Even relatively new objects will show some damage, even if it's just in how glossy the corners are. It's amazing how much a little bit of scratching against the concaved parts can sell a material! Use the built-in damage nodes or try to come up with your own. Damage, dirt, and whatever else will make it seem alive.
Finally, the various damage/dirt masks and sometimes height or color can be mixed to form the roughness. although uniform roughness can work in a pinch, having a proper roughness map with some variation, even if it's small, adds to that subconscious sense of realness, like damage. Especially anything that moves... We're pretty good at picking up on things that aren't real, and I guess something that reflects uniformly as it moves in space catches some part of our attention.

I think that's it, really. The rest is just testing, and coming up with inventive solutions to unusual challenges. There are some tricks that can be learned, for situations that regularly come up... For example, a slightly perturbed or cloudy gradient can have a Slope Blur filter run on it, with the gradient inputted for both channels, with a high Quality and low blur amount, to turn the perturbations into chips, for the corners of bricks, rough tiles, or rocks. These things I learned just from looking at how other people's materials worked.

Great comments, Cory.
The part about doing the height first sounded good to me.  It made the think about when people post "plain white" pictures of their models, without any color, and how the shapes can really become visible because they're not obscured by all the visual clutter of colors and reflections.  Most of my materials have been "flat" (plastic, paper, cloth) and I haven't made many that are like rocks and sticks, but your tip sounded like a good one for those sorts of materials.

These things I learned just from looking at how other people's materials worked.

Indeed.  Go to Substance Share, and dissect other people's substances.  Learn from the masters.  :)
And if you get really stuck on a specific issue, the forum is your friend.  ;)
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Hey guys thank you very much for the extensive replays. I am now trying to tackle all the tings you have suggested. It's sort of a differnet bur similar perspective as when modeling things/ props. There is a good chance that I will open a sketchbook (not sure is there a place for that here on forum) and you will see my progress there hopefully it will attract some good feedback as these was :) Thank you again, and I have much more questions but first Ill make some substances than see will my answers come by themselves if not I will sure ask.

There is a good chance that I will open a sketchbook (not sure is there a place for that here on forum) and you will see my progress there hopefully it will attract some good feedback as these was :)

I'm glad you feel our responses here were helpful.  If nothing else, I at least try to be encouraging.

For opening a sketchbook, you might want to look in this area:  https://forum.allegorithmic.com/index.php/board,15.0.html
Here is a specific example:  https://forum.allegorithmic.com/index.php/topic,3962.0.html
But that area is more for "showing and sharing" and not so much for technical questions.

Perhaps a better idea (that I've seen in other forums) is to start a thread in the "Discussion" place and call it something like "Staughost's miscellaneous questions."  Then you can use that one thread over and over again for little questions that might not justify being in a thread of their own.
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