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Creating Ceramic Creatures For Adobe’s Project Aero with Stuart Lynch

Pierre Bosset on August 25 2018 | Substance Painter, Stories, Cinema 4D, v-Ray, ZBrush, AR, Design

Today we interview Stuart Lynch, a freelance 3D artist currently working on Adobe’s Project Aero. For this project, Stuart created a series of outstanding ceramic creatures, which will be used to demo an upcoming augmented reality application developed by Adobe.

My Background

Hello, I’m Stuart Lynch, a 3D generalist living in Emeryville, California. I’m originally from the UK, but I’ve lived in the US for 18 years.

I’ve been working in the industry in one form or another since I was 18, starting out as a graphic designer in a print shop. I made the transition to a full-time 3D artist in 2001 when I landed a job as an animator in the pharmaceutical industry, creating interactions within the body. I stayed in this role for 3 years until I’d gained enough technical knowledge to confidently go it alone as a freelance artist.

Freelancing has allowed me to experience a lot of different industries, namely: broadcast motion graphics, gaming, architecture, concept design, as well as a significant number of digital installation and projection-based work.

For the past couple of years, I’ve focused almost exclusively on virtual and augmented reality, working full-time as a director of immersive technologies, then moving to Google. Most recently I have been working for Adobe, assisting them creatively with the launch of their upcoming software ‘Project Aero’.

How I Discovered Substance

Google invited me to join their UX design team but provided little information about the actual role. They did, however, question my texture painting abilities, which I claimed were “sufficient”.

The truth was that for years I’d been creating all of my work without painting or UV mapping. While some of my designs certainly have the typical edge wear and damage associated with painting apps, those effects were always the result of high-poly counts, projection techniques, layered materials and creative ways to blend them all together. Sadly, none of this can be easily baked down into a meaningful cross-platform result, so I realized that I needed to learn some new techniques, and fast.

With two weeks before the start date of the job, and after conducting a little research, I determined that Substance Painter was the best choice for the solo artist. I dove straight in with the Allegorithmic tutorials and was up and running creating rusty metal spheres in a matter of hours. Although slightly intimidating at first, the workflow quickly becomes second nature, the UI is highly intuitive and stunning end results were much easier to create than with my previously described methods.

Fast forward to 8 months later and I now consider Substance Painter an essential part of my creative pipeline.

Adobe’s Project Aero

Thanks to a friend, I was recommended for a creative position at Adobe to assist them in creating an asset for their upcoming AR platform. Working with Stefano Corazza (founder of Mixamo and Senior Director of Engineering at Adobe), we collaborated on creative ideas and settled on a metallic vine surrounded by interactive butterflies. The resulting artwork was used during the ‘Project Aero’ announcement at Apple’s WWDC keynote and later used to promote ‘The Festival of the Impossible’, an Adobe-sponsored 3-day event showcasing work from creative talent in the emerging fields of AR and VR.

In the second phase of the project I’m working on creating a variety of additional assets that are also designed specifically to work in AR. Substance Painter continues to play a very important role in the delivery of these designs, often as the last step in the process before final deliverables are due.

The Ceramic Statues Textured with Substance Painter

I had been struggling for inspiration when I stumbled upon a tutorial regarding the use of ID maps in Substance Painter. Typically, if the creative juices aren’t flowing, I at least find the time to up my technical game.

I had whipped up a quick and dirty creature creation in ZBrush, exported to Substance Painter and started playing around with color assignments. It was about an hour later when I realized I was stumbling into the ‘happy accident’ zone. That place where you’ve been aimlessly clicking buttons and then something that resembles art begins to emerge on the screen.

So, taking inspiration from that first model, I decided to take my week-long vacation creating a whole series of similar designs, instead of camping and enjoying nature as originally intended.

My Workflow

I begin simply by freeforming some straightforward models in ZBrush, which are then auto-retopologized to a manageable poly-count with a quick UV map for good measure.

In the second phase, I start cutting the model with ZBrush’s slice tool, converting the shape into meaningful groups. Typically, I’m trying to follow the flow of the topology or trying to isolate parts of the body. These groups are later converted to a color texture, which in turn provides Substance Painter with ID maps that help to isolate material effects.

Again in ZBrush and now working with a 2-3 million poly object, I add slightly extruded panel loops, some wear and tear, followed by procedurally-generated height maps. The finished design is intended to have the appearance of a ceramic glaze, so I try to keep the height detail to a minimum.

Moving over to Substance, I follow the standard baking procedures using a low/high-res mesh, import the generated ID map, and then I’m ready to assign colors. I prefer to start out in the simplest way possible, building the look over time, working with simple diffuse colors and patterns, and assigning those to each specific ID channel. This is a process I typically go through until I land on an aesthetically-pleasing color combination that feels right to the eye.

Once I’m happy with this process, I start blending those colors within smart material channels, adding subtle wear here and there, finally layering with some dust and dirt to achieve the desired final look.

The end results are brought back into Cinema 4D and rendered with VRayForC4D.

Future projects

In an ideal world, this time next year I’ll be directing a kids’ film about saving the environment. Pipe dreams aside, I always have personal projects planned but rarely the time to commit to them. Such are the joys of having a full-time job and raising two children!

Saying that, I believe Substance will play a part in both my professional and my personal work forevermore. I don’t see myself ever putting it down. Substance is to the painting workflow what ZBrush is to modeling. It’s highly intuitive, very unique, stable and it has really changed my perception of texture painting.

Thanks for the opportunity to let me talk about this fun project, if you’d like to see additional works from this project, please visit this page.