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Creating Old Disney-Inspired Materials in Substance Designer

Kelly Recco explains the process of creation of the materials inspired by Beauty and the Beast characters and shares her tips on getting into material art in Substance Designer.


Hello, my name is Kelly, I am a 3D Environment Artist at Gameloft Montréal. I studied game art in Belgium at Haute Ecole Albert Jacquard. I was in the art team of Stellar Overload, a game that was a success on Kickstarter.

During school, I discovered the existence of Mapzone. At this time, Substance Designer was at an early stage of its development. I loved its nodal interface but it was very complicated to learn. In 2017, I decided to leave my job to dedicate myself only to building my portfolio and to learning Substance Designer. I wanted to see if Substance Designer could be easier to handle than Mapzone. I quickly fell in love with it. I love its non-destructive workflow, the perfect combination of art and technique. Love being able to easily iterate on my work, to create tools for other 3D artists. With Substance Designer, I can do more than just create tileable textures. I found my creative self, thanks to it.

Working on Beauty and the Beast-Inspired Materials

My portfolio is my personality. I do not want to make a material that I would make for a video game production, like a realistic brick wall for example. These two materials were created for the project called Beauty and the Beast Cylinder:

The idea was to texture the same cylinder to represent the characters of Beauty and the Beast. No modeling, just the Height Map for deformation.

I like classic Disney movies. So naturally, I decided to make stylized materials. The fur and feathers parts deserved to have their own posts on ArtStation. I wanted those two materials to be procedurally generated. Procedural generation works well for a layered material like a roof for example. And I had no idea how to make the characters tile, so the generator helped me find a seamless solution and iterate quickly.

One of the characters in Disney's Beauty and the Beast is a feather duster, I searched for references to study the forms and the movement of the feathers.

They were very big and the little parts of the feathers were clearly visible. I was inspired by Simon Chapman's work, it was very interesting.

Creating the Pattern

When I start working on a new material I do not have a precise idea of what I want. I try many things. To me, it is like drawing a sketch on a notepad. The nonlinear and non-destructive workflow allows this. I try, I look at the result, sometimes I feel inspired. Sometimes I try something different. I love working like that. In the end, the initial pattern of the fur looked like this.

I used this graph and played with the parameters of Directional Warp and Swirl nodes to get three variations. For the feather, the initial pattern looked like this:

I just have one pattern. The variations are generated with the Tile Sampler, Warp, and Non-Directional warp nodes.


For this stylized material I began the color pass like this:

The idea was to have color variation before adding the details. After that, I lightened some parts, used the curvature to add details and I love to use the Light node, to add lighting at the bottom and above. 

I do not use other Gradient Maps, just uniform color or HSL nodes.

Here is pass color of the fur material:

For these materials, I did not stray too far from the base color. Oftentimes I just pick a color at the first gradient and move the sliders a little bit depending on what I want (lighter or darker values).

Adding Depth

For the depth, I mixed two levels, one less contrasted than the second one.

The Grayscale Map before the color pass should have all grey nuances. I used an Auto Levels node for that. It helped me a lot to simulate depth (shadows) in the Color Map. It is very similar to coloring a grayscale drawing in Photoshop.

Using Maths in 3D Art

I love the procedural workflow! Not just in the texture but the modeling process too. I think it is definitely the future, it is very powerful. For example, for 4 hours of work in Substance Designer to create a roof generator, you will get an infinite amount of variation on this material in a few clicks and then it will give you a broken roof, a clean roof, a dusty roof, etc. It is kind of crazy, right?

Substance Designer is very powerful and when you start to focus on mathematical formulas it becomes even more powerful. After all, Substance Designer is made not only for creating tileable materials. I am only starting to learn math formulas in Substance Designer. With the basics, I have created a complete game in Substance Designer which is Corona Game.

And more recently I have also created a baby dragon: 

Definitely, using mathematical formulas in Substance Designer is very powerful and useful for creating tools and all kinds of crazy things. I am very happy to find more and more tutorials on this.


Depending on what I do the challenge can be completely different, for example, a simple material is just about trying to find a good look, but If I make a generator I need to think about my workflow first, what I need, how I organize that, how other 3D artists will use it. Creating procedural materials and tools for other 3D artists are my favorite challenges.

Becoming a Substance Designer artist is the same as with other areas, you need to practice again and again. A good challenge to achieve serious progress is the Nodevember one because you are limited in time, and your brain goes directly to your idea. I do it every year, and each time I learn new things.

Do not be afraid to experiment with the nodes without trying to do material art, I have a file just with some experiments like this :

If you want to begin, do not try to do a complex material or follow a long tutorial, be curious, the best way to learn is experimentation. When you understand the logic and familiarize yourself with the nodes you can try to follow a long tutorial and you will learn fast like this.

I began SD with the tutorials that one of my school teachers (Gil Damoiseaux) posted on YouTube. It was in French, it was easy for me to concentrate only on the software. So If you speak French and you want to begin Substance Designer I recommend looking at his YouTube channel. If not I recommend you check out the Substance Academy, you will find a lot of good things there. Also, you can open the graphs from Substance Source and you will discover many ways of doing it. 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my art. I hope this article was useful to you and gives you the desire to create original works with Substance Designer. You will find a complete breakdown of the fur and dragon materials on my ArtStation blog. Feel free to contact me. I like to discover other artists and discuss all things procedural.

Kelly Recco, 3D Material Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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