Creating a stylized Diorama with ONLY Substance Designer

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About the Artist:

My name is Dylan Salvalaio, I’m 25 years old, and I actually live in Belgium in the town of Grâce-Hollogne.

I’ve been doing graphic design for three years now but I only started learning substance designer a year ago in my free time. I also work on Blender and Zbrush.

Passionate in video game art, I’m currently looking for a position as texture artist in a studio and in freelance.

My artstation account: https://www.artstation.com/dylan_salvalaio

Inspiration

I wanted to make as many different materials as possible and gather them into the same texture, as I wanted to challenge myself.

Inspired by the graphics of Dark Souls 3, I wanted to create a texture based on the theme of exploration with an Overwatch style.

References

I took individual references of each asset that would compose my scene.

After a quick sketch, I’m ready to hop into Substance Designer.

Workflow

I start by creating the different elements that compose my texture. Here are some examples:

Parchment:

To make the base of my parchment, I used the Splatter circular node to give the silhouette of my parchment, which will serve as input for the extrude shape node that will give me the first basic shape of the scroll.

Then I use the mirror node to create the entire parchment.

For the unrolled part, a simple humble square shape is enough.

To create a weary effect on the parchments and to make it seem old and worn, I use noise and tile sampler nodes to jitter the final silhouette in order to give it an organic aspect.

Then I choose the right layout for the parchment in my composition.

To create the parchment holder, I started to make the basic shape of the object out of a simple rectangle shape, blended with a linear gradient controlled by a Curve and a Transform node.

For the metal rings, I used the same process.

I used some noise to give the whole section an organic look.

Then I place my parchments in the right spot into the parchment holder and blend everything with the blending mode set on max.

To create the rocks I use two tile sampler nodes.

For the first one, I create a set of four parabols that will give me four different stones.

The second one is some parabols in disorder to create a cell noise with more contrast than a basic cell node. I use the tile sampler because it allows me to have a better control over the desired effect than what I would have with a simple cell node.

To add some detail to my shapes, I work on them separately thanks to the flood fill nodes.

The flood fill gradient with random angle variations gives me fractures in the stone and a level will control the size of those fractures. A slope blur node in min mode with different noises will give more details to the overall organic look of the piece.

Then the splatter circular node allows me to arrange the stones around the fire as I desire.

To break the continuity of a noise that will add some detail over a texture, I usually vector warp it by using it as second input some random tiles that go through a flood fill process to extract a random value per tile, which will then alter my noise in a nice fashion, as you can see in the example below.

Height Map

Once all the elements are created, I blend them one by one in the order in which they naturally stack in the scene.

I use the height blend node because it outputs the height mask that I need for the later coloring.

Once the final height map is ready, I use it to create the ambient occlusion and the normal map.

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Coloring

As a reference for my coloring, I took my inspiration from the game Overwatch.

I first prepared all the masks of the different objects thanks to the height blend node.

Once it’s done, I put a uniform color to all the elements that compose my texture in order to see with clarity all the materials that I work on and adjust their values accordingly.

I took the parchment as an example.

Coloring the Map

For the map, after inputting the basic color, I create the patterns that give me the details I want for the paper and enrich it.

I generally create my patterns by using shapes I’ve made before and transforming them according to the detail that I need.

For the following example, I put my ink stain shapes in a slope blur gray scale node in blur mode with as a second input a fractal sum base node to obtain the desired effect, them I finish this pattern thanks to a histogram scan node to gain wider flat areas with a slight gradient on the shape boundaries.

Once these shapes are done, I use them as input in a tile sampler node with random scale, position, rotation and color, to vary the levels of detail. Then I blend it with a uniform color to give it some tint variation.

Here are different patterns that I used to add some detail to my coloring.

The first pattern is the one used on my scrolls, the second one is used for the rocks and the third one is used for the ground.

At this point, I just have to improve the first detail map according to the detail I want and choose the color that I need.

Once it’s done, I start to make the map ornaments.

I create the boundaries between the sea and the land by creating a tile sampler node with my rocks as input and I dispose them according to a perlin noise node.

After this step, I make a histogram scan then an edge detect to outline the land on my map.

Once those details are set, I create the mountain and wave shapes that will complete my map.

A simple waveform node controlled by a shape parabol in a directional warp node gave me the two silhouettes that I need.

To differentiate the mountains from the waves, I create a stroked shade effect with a tile sampler node that receives the same treatment as the mountains, then I just have to blend it all together.

Parchment Holder:

As a first step, I start to separate all the different parts and give them a uniform color.

For the wooden part, I use a detail map that I prepared beforehand, transformed with a histogram scan node set at 85 percent in position and 70 percent in contrast to give it flat areas and a slight gradient, which  I then blend to the base color in subtraction mode with 0,02 opacity factor to have a two tones wood contrasted by the gray scale gradient.

Then, I use the wood detail map as it is and blend it in subtraction mode with 0,04 opacity factor to add a third tint and some more variation.

 To further enrich the color, I simply add some slight details thanks to some other finer noises.

Regarding the metal rings, I create a new texture pattern that I blend in copy mode with 0,22 opacity factor to the base color. Then I overlay my height map details on top of the coloring.

As for the parchments, I use one of the detail maps I made earlier in their coloring, blended in the same way as before.

For the roughness, don’t expect anything too fancy.

I’m still using the masks from the height blend nodes which allowed me to give my materials a base roughness value. Then I add the details I need with the detail maps done before.

In Conclusion

As I am constantly looking to find better techniques to get the desired results and improve my skillset, I tried to learn and create a new workflow to achieve this material, and little by little reach the professional standard.

My hardware being quite old, and some back and forth in the construction of my node graph led me to take more time that I thought to get the final result. So I definitely recommend any texture artist who wants to make some dense materials to invest into buying a few gigabytes of RAM and a decent GPU.

Among other things, the shape extrude node came out quite handy in the whole process, as much as the height blend node with all the masks that it gave me.

I can’t wait to start the next stylized texture project, hopefully I’ll make way less mistakes for this one, and it would be a new milestone for my own artistic growth.

At last, I’d like to thank Nathan Lebon for his deep knowledge in substance designer and the procedural workflow in general, Daniel Thiger for the great tutorials he made available and Thomas from Stylized Station for giving me this opportunity to have my first public article ever published on his website.

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