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Texturing Epic Games’ Robo Recall: Substance Painter for VR Workflows

Texturing Epic Games’ Robo Recall: Substance Painter for VR Workflows

Texturing Epic Games’ Robo Recall: Substance Painter for VR Workflows

Pierre Bosset on May 18 2017 | Stories, Game

Epic Games’ Robo Recall is arguably one of the most fun arcade shooter games for Oculus Rift out there. Besides that, it’s also one of the best looking VR games to date. We interview Edward Quintero, who was responsible for texturing the characters and weapons for the game.

Hi Edward, thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Can you tell us more about your background?

I’ve been working in the visual effects, animation and video game industries for well over 17 years now. I’ve done a little of everything including surfacing material/texture artist, matte painting, concept art and recently creative direction.

I’ve been lucky to have worked at great companies like Tippett Studios, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Dreamworks Animation and Epic Games.

I’ve also had experience as an entrepreneur. Back in 2003, I co-founded a design studio called Massive Black with some friends and most recently, started Mold3D.

How does your VFX background influence your work in the game industry?

I had experience working as an art manager for the games industry in the past, but it wasn’t until recently that I had the opportunity to work in a creative role in games. About a year ago I got a call from an old friend and mentor, Kim Libreri, who is currently CTO at Epic Games. He asked me if I would be interested in coming on board to help out on some of their projects.

Of course, I said yes! So over the course of a year, I worked on Paragon and Robo Recall as a contract artist.

The quality of video game art has been kicking some serious butt in the past decade or so, especially with the advent of real-time lighting game and PBR workflows. I felt it was a perfect time to try video games as I could now use a similar artistic approach that I’m used to working in VFX and animation.

In regards to painting textures, I’d say the biggest difference in games vs. VFX is the number of maps you need to create in order to help “drive” a material shader into telling it what look or effect you want to create. In film work, you really have to think ahead and be able to visualize the look of the final product in advance, and only knowing the final result at render time.

This is a disadvantage in many ways. With programs like Substance Painter, you get a “what you see is what you get” approach which makes creating so much more enjoyable, not to mention more efficient.

What I do credit my experience in film is my approach to painting. I think a program like Substance Painter makes it too easy, sometimes resulting in a procedural or similar look. So I’d like to think that my experience in VFX helps me aesthetically approach my work more carefully, and add the subtlety and realistic aesthetic that I’m used to creating for film assets.

What was your role in the VR game Robo Recall?

I was brought onto the team to help develop the look for the robots. I textured all the in-game characters, weapons, gloves and some props.

How did you start using Substance Painter? How did it change your workflow?

My first time using Substance Painter was actually on Robo Recall, now I’m hooked! I fell in love with how the app uses the generators and smart materials to quickly create wear and tear on the models, and the rest of the tools are amazing as well.

I’d say the biggest change to my workflow was how closely the look of the assets in Painter mirrored what I was seeing in VR using Unreal Engine. The advantage of painting inside a realistic lighting setup is a huge plus!

What this meant was less back and forth trying to nail your look. In VFX you have to rely on your test renders to make sure you are going in the right direction. Substance Painter was able to help me see my results in real time.

Could you describe us in detail your workflow with Substance Painter on this project?

Sure. I used Substance for painting, but more importantly, I was able to develop an internal material pipeline to make my work more efficient.

The first step was to develop the look of my first character, which resulted in a library of smart materials that were reused on every asset moving forward.

From then on, it was only a matter of custom edits to make sure the materials were assigned to the correct parts, and to control where grime and scratches were placed.

So developing these smart materials as-as first step saved me a ton of time moving onto new characters, especially since most of the assets shared similar materials.

After painting, I’d save out the textures and import them into Unreal Engine, where they would be assessed in VR using an Oculus headset. This was an amazing experience for me. Something about walking around your asset, in real time and in real scale is unexplainably fun.

Working in VR is something I definitely look forward to going back to, and I personally can’t wait for the future where we can do final paint and look development completely in VR.

Are there any tip or tricks you can share with the community?

I would say the biggest tip is to use the paint layer inside your masks to customize your Substance Painter generated smart masks. I see a lot of texture work online where you can easily tell a smart masked was used. The result is a procedural look that is easy to spot.

While smart masks are amazing, they aren’t 100% accurate. So always go back and edit your scratches and grime, or add your own custom work. I use photographs and my own masks in combination with the Painter generated ones, to give me a realistic and custom look.

What is different about creating materials and texturing for VR games?

Aside from what I’ve already mentioned above, I’d say game shaders are not as complicated as what you’d see in a VFX or film pipeline. Especially when you start going in deep with things like hair, or skin. You just don’t have the level of control yet as real-time engines have to do a lot of heavy lifting. This means lighter shaders and less resolution in your maps. 2k maps are common in games, wherein film you can be working with 8k+ resolutions for extreme detailing for closeup work.

What this means to the game artist is less texture map creation and output. In film, you rely more on creating custom alphas and maps that drive and control many material attributes. I spent more time painting black and white maps in film than anything else. The advantage is greater control and authorship over the final look.

In games, you have fewer maps to worry about but you do get the added plus of working in real time and with a “what you see is what you get” approach to painting. This makes it feel more artistic and enjoyable and you worry less about the technical aspects of creating images.

There is a pro and con to each discipline but every year games are getting closer to what we are used to seeing in a VFX pipeline. Without a doubt, real-time technology and creating for real-time engines is the future.

You are co-founder of Mold3D. Tell us more about it!

I started Mold3D about 4 years ago with a friend and colleague Robert Vignone. It was our intent to create a brand/website that would focus on art and education. At its inception, we were focused on 3D modeling and 3D printing but recently have started to cover emerging technologies and design.

One of the results of creating Mold3D was our online school, Mold3D Academy. We offer online classes taught by professional artists and are happy to announce 2 upcoming Substance classes to our summer term lineup.

We are developing a Substance Painter class taught by Christophe Desse of Naughty Dog fame, as well as an in-depth Substance Designer class taught by Pete Sekula. Also in our lineup will be classes that focus on real-time character and environment creation. So VR and video games are definitely a focus for us this year.

Will you be using Substance for future projects?

Yes! At the moment I am working on a secret VR project for an upcoming VR platform. I try to occasionally take on side projects in order to stay relevant in the industry and I’d like to think the experience reflects in the type of classes we develop for Mold3D as well as my personal work.

Arkane Studios: Texturing Prey’s Retro-futuristic Visual Style

Arkane Studios: Texturing Prey’s Retro-futuristic Visual Style

Arkane Studios: Texturing Prey’s Retro-futuristic Visual Style

Pierre Bosset on May 12 2017 | Stories, Game

Last week Arkane Studios released the highly anticipated and visually stunning Prey. They were kind enough to share some parts of their texturing pipeline for the game, which features a retro-futuristic style.

Hi Eric, thanks for taking your time for this interview. Could you introduce yourself to the community?

Thanks for having me! My name is Eric Beyhl, and I’m the lead environment artist on Prey at Arkane Studios in Austin, Texas. Previously, I’ve worked on titles in the Lost Planet, Ninja Gaiden, and F.E.A.R. franchises, and in my spare time, I am really into pushing the limits of VR!

Before I came onboard, Arkane Studios had shipped the critically acclaimed Dishonored, where the visual bar was set unbelievably high by the incredible artists in our Lyon, France studio. One of my first responsibilities was to help assemble and lead a new environment art team in Austin as we geared up for our own project. Subsequently, it was also my responsibility to establish and execute our environment art pipeline with the new team on an engine with which we had limited professional experience.

How did you start using Substance on Prey?

We first considered Substance Designer in late 2013, after our fellow environment artists in Lyon gave us a few demos of what they had been experimenting with on their assets for Dishonored 2. Being developers in France, they had been familiar with Allegorithmic for some time. After that, our principal character artist (at the time) and I evaluated Substance Designer, and we decided to select it over the competitors in early 2014.

This was very early in production, and we were working to develop our own unique visual style for Prey, and what was apparent to us right from the get-go was that the node-based sandbox nature of Substance Designer allowed us to create a wide range of textures very quickly. This allowed us to explore and experiment with a lot of ideas. We started to hone in our style pretty quickly, and together with the use of Photoshop, really refined it over time to what you see today.

For which aspects of the game did you use Substance?

For environment art, we used Substance Designer. However, Substance Painter was used together with Substance Designer for characters and weapons.

Was your usage of Substance different or similar according to the types of asset you worked on (Environments/Characters/Weapons)?

I’ll let our character artist Billy Lord and weapons artist Tim Alexander explain their side before I sum it up:

Billy Lord [character artist, Arkane Austin] – Character assets vary greatly, although they all share a similar approach in technique. For character heads, I would start with a base skin material (spec and gloss) that I created and then layer on color in a traditional, hand painted method. Substance Painter’s layers and blending modes allowed me to work in a fluid, non-destructive way to add a unique look to each character while still maintaining a consistent style. For costumes, I loved having the ability to seamlessly (no pun intended) switch from Substance Designer to Substance Painter to edit the garment materials to suit not only art direction, but the game needs as well. The masking ability of Substance Painter is crucial to making decisions on the fly to test different material ideas. Without it, there would have been much more painful iteration.

Tim Alexander [weapons artist, Arkane Austin] – Substance Designer was useful in quickly setting up material foundations for several of the weapons in our game. Weapons went through a continually iterative process through the course of an aggressive schedule, so being able to make substantial changes quickly was of great importance. Both Substance Designer and Substance Painter allowed us to do that more effectively.

Eric Beyhl – The environment art team’s workflow was very similar to what Tim just described, which makes sense given that Tim and I were the first two artists to put Substance to work in production. We found that it was best to let the artists have the freedom to create their own base materials, especially early in the project.

How did Substance help you achieve the retro-futuristic visual style of Prey?

The art style in Prey was accomplished through a combination of influences and factors such as modeling and architectural choices, but texture work proved to be one of the most important. While Dishonored’s painterly textures evoke oil paintings from the era the game is set in, Prey is influenced heavily by retro-futurist artists like the legendary Syd Mead. In these works, one of the many things that make them so interesting is that while the surfaces clearly feature noticeable brush strokes or pencil marks (enforcing that they are hand drawn), the material values are still quite realistic – especially on highly reflective metals and glass. This was ultimately our goal: hand painted/non-photoreal texturing with realistic material values.

We used a PBR pipeline which allows for very realistic materials, and Substance Designer allowed us to quickly create a range of Substances that were physically accurate but were also visually clean and without the “noise” or “splotchiness” that comes with most standard, photo-sourced PBR materials.

Internally we referred to the 80/20% dividing line – where Substance Designer would get you 80% of the way there – almost instantly – and the remaining 20% is where we’d apply most of the hand painted detailing and deliberately noticeable brush strokes in Photoshop (in the diffuse for non-metals, and gloss for metals.) “80/20” was just a saying, though, as sometimes we’d return to Substance during the final 20%, and with some Substance textures we were able to replicate some of our “hand painted” techniques in the graph that would get us beyond the “80%” starting point.

Could you make a breakdown and show us how you used Substance on one or several assets?

Using some of the art assets worked on by William Hewitt [senior environment artist, Arkane Austin], we put together a couple of examples that show our Substance usage, as well as a final, in-engine shot for comparison.

After getting all the bakes we need from our high poly sculpt, we begin to lay out the foundation of the asset by creating some basic materials for the asset.

In this case, the entire chair can be constructed with three materials: decorative leather, decorative wood, and brass:

If we take a closer look at one of the materials, the wood in this case, you’ll see a nice base created entirely in Substance Designer. We do the same for the other materials.

When creating these base materials, we usually exclude fine detail, such as texture, cracks, scratches, wrinkles, etc. Our focus is on the overall material values, the colors, and the variation. In the case of wood, we do include large detail like the wood grain, because we are able to achieve a ‘stylized’ version of it.

Separately, we create the fine details as new maps, which will be composited in Photoshop using hand painted masking techniques using custom made brushes. This leather texture is an example:

Because of Prey’s setting and our studio philosophy we don’t do things like dynamic/procedural wear or aging. We are strong believers in functional, targeted wear. To us, wear tells a story. Every bit of usage on an asset is deliberately hand selected, applied, or painted. Sometimes this is done with Substance where we layer on multiple details, and composite them together in Photoshop, but even then we use hand painted masks.

A simpler example is our Winged Lion statue which can be found adorning the main tower of Talos One’s main tower, which deliberately mirrors the look of a skyscraper. These statues act as gargoyles that overlook the rest of the station.

If these were actual metallic gargoyles on Earth one could expect oxidation, but in the oxygen deprived vacuum of space, this process does not occur. So, we were able to create a simple, gold material with soft blemishes in the gloss map to stylize it just enough. The sculpt takes care of the rest.

What were the main obstacles you overcame on this project with Substance?

Time was a big obstacle. Because we had a new team and a new engine on a new project – there were a lot of problems we had to solve. One of the most important was developing our own unique art style, and the speed of Substance allowed us to focus on other critical parts of the asset creation process, like modeling, sculpting, and hand touch-ups.

Are there any tips and tricks you would like to share with the community?

I think more important than any individual tip or trick is to understand exactly what the goal of your project is at key intervals, and allow the software to work for you. Substance offers a LOT of function, so use only what you need – and don’t force what you don’t – until you are ready.

For example, we originally created a full library of common (but generic) Substance textures before we had truly established our ‘style,’ let alone before we could even use it to create assets. Unsurprisingly, the library grew obsolete very quickly.

In practice, everyone started to use Substance on individual assets when they felt it was necessary. Some Substance textures were shared and collectively improved upon as we developed, but we never went back to using the centralized Library features. Once the project ended and we had a moment to breathe, we immediately dusted off our library and updated it with the many individual Substance textures we had created. Now everyone on the team has access to the entire Library. We also have a pipeline so we can curate new additions as well as ensure it stays current.

What is your favorite feature in Substance Designer/Substance Painter?

Eric Beyhl: For me, the baking tools. They are fast, look great and are customizable. Having everything linked right there in your Substance project is so convenient. Also, not having to explode your mesh is such a time saver!

Billy Lord: Dynamic up-res. It’s nice to work at a lower res to help your system and to not be bound to the starting resolution is AMAZING!

What is the next feature you would like to see in Substance Designer/Substance Painter?

Tim Alexander: a CLONE tool in Substance Painter. Would be super helpful to be able to paint over imperfections in seams with a tool like Photoshop’s clone stamp.

Eric Beyhl: A closer representation of CryEngine’s rendering in the 3D viewport out of the box. I assume because Substance isn’t natively integrated like other engines, we couldn’t ever get the look of the substance viewport to be 100% the same as how things looked in engine. It was close, but there are noticeable differences. We were able to overcome these differences with a little bit of Photoshop correction, and after doing it a few times it became second nature, but it would be nice to not have to do so. We’re currently experimenting with importing a custom shader and environment cube maps to try to alleviate this difference.

A last word?

As you can probably tell, I am incredibly proud of what our art team at Arkane Austin achieved on Prey. I really look forward to seeing what our fans think about the style and substance we were able to inject into the amazing world of Talos I (unlike Billy, I intended that pun!). I am also thankful that we had software like Substance Designer and Substance Painter to help us accomplish what we set out to do when we began this journey.

A big thanks to the team at Arkane Studios, Austin and congrats for the release of Prey!

Interior Design: The Fingerprint of Ibrahim Saad

Interior Design: The Fingerprint of Ibrahim Saad

Interior Design: The Fingerprint of Ibrahim Saad

Pierre Bosset on March 17 2017 | Substance Painter, Stories, Architecture

Who are you?

Ibrahim Saad.


Where are you based?

Cairo, Egypt.


What do you do?

I’m a CGI artist, I work mainly in architectural visualization and sometimes in product visualization.


Where can we find you online?

Can you tell us more about yourself?

I’m a freshly graduated architect and a CGI artist from Cairo, Egypt. Before I knew anything about the CGI and 3D world, I used to make identity designs using Photoshop and Illustrator, and while working with Illustrator I started to see how powerful and easy it was to create a 3D element or an object with a 3D software! I then switched to 3D modeling and it all started from there.

Can you tell us more about the Black & White Apartment project?

I was looking for inspiration for a personal project and I saw the concept on Archdaily, I really like it because it was very simple and small. At the beginning I was aiming toward a clean render, but I then decided I want it to be a little bit dirty and that’s where Substance Painter came in handy.

The modeling was quite simple and easy and I also used a lot of pre-made models, but most of the time in this project I spent on textures and materials.

Can you describe your workflow on this project?

Most of the time I start any project with sketches but in Black & White Apartment everything was already there (Archdaily photos) so I went straight to the modeling. After I finished modeling everything I started the UV unwrapping process which is always tedious (but I kinda like it now :)).

After that, I move to ZBrush if I need to add more details to the model. Then comes the texturing and materials part. I prefer to do the materials/textures for every object separate and in different lighting conditions.

How did you discover Substance?

Throughout my work I was always in need of a 3D painting tool. I started to use Mari for a while but I figured out it is very complicated for my workflow and takes a lot of time too, so I tried Quixel and it was very simple but with very few tools so it was like the opposite of what I had in Mari. But after I heard about Substance Painter, I gave it a try and it was just in the middle of Mari and Quixel: very easy but yet powerful and a lot of tools so I think it was perfect for my workflow.

What tools and materials did you use in Substance Painter?

Substance has a lot of tools but most of the time I use brush painting and generators (which I really like). Also creating metal materials in it is so much fun. Metals are one of those materials where you can’t just crank the reflections and colors, and then you are off to go! You must work on the glossiness maps bump (which is always very small) and most importantly, edge wear and dirt. Then, generators will be your friend!

One of my favorite tools is the particles brush. You can’t imagine how cool and amazing this brush is 😀 Maybe it’s not very good as a final output since it uses a particle system but it gives you an almost-perfect correct result. For example, if you’re painting an object with burn marks, is burned, it can show you exactly where the fire and the flames would go! This is amazing because then you can paint over these areas with your own brushes.

Do you have some cool tips and tricks you want to share with the community?

Sometimes when we add tiny details in modeling or texturing (like scratches or fingerprints) we add a lot of them so that they will be very visible. Sometimes this is realistic and great, but sometimes it’s not. Maybe we can fool our eyes, but not our brains. The brain instinctively knows exactly how much detail is involved and can tell you yes, this is fine or not (sometimes one scratch over an object is much better than an object covered with scratches, and in some cases just the opposite).

Adding very subtle details can make your model or material very different, so don’t be afraid of adding an extra layer of detail with 20% opacity or even a 4%. It will make a difference because in the end, we are just filling a bunch of pixels. So don’t leave it as a solid color!

What new feature would you like to see in Substance?

Maybe integration with 3Dconnexion’s SpaceMouse, that would really help and make the painting faster!

Now that Substance Source exists with the architecture selection, would you use it for archviz projects?

Yes, of course! But not in every project because the pace of the archviz industry is very fast. Sometimes you don’t have time at all, and the senior/client won’t wait until you texture your models – maybe all they want is just the standard materials and textures.

We noticed you are also interested in automotive rendering. Did you use Substance in one of these projects?

I haven’t used it in automotive yet before but sure I’d love to try it out!

What are your future projects?

My next project is an exterior project for a small house surrounded by a green area and a small pool – it’s very simple, actually! And I’m also working on another interior project but it’s a bit classic.

What do you do besides 3D archviz?

I used to do automotive and also product visualization which I like very much! I’m very interested in studio lighting, but in the meanwhile I’m focused on archviz, plus 2D architectural presentations.

Is there a 3D artist that inspires you a lot?

Many, actually! Jesus Selvera, Grant Warwick, Joel Langeveld, Tamás Medve and many more!

Can you add a picture of your workspace?

The Mill: Creating Kia’s Super Bowl Ad with Substance

The Mill: Creating Kia’s Super Bowl Ad with Substance

The Mill: Creating Kia’s Super Bowl Ad with Substance

Claudia Vance on April 22 2017 | Stories, Film/VFX

Visual effects studio The Mill creates visual narratives for some of the biggest names in industry and media, including carmaker Kia, whose Super Bowl LI ad “Hero’s Journey” featuring actress Melissa McCarthy was crowned most popular by USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter. The commercial was produced in collaboration with creative agency David&Goliath and directed by Matthijs Van Heijningen of MJZ. We had the privilege of interviewing The Mill’s Sharlene Lin, who used Substance in the asset creation for the spot.

Hi Sharlene, could you present yourself to the community?

My name is Sharlene Lin. I’m a VFX Artist at The Mill in Los Angeles.

What’s your background?

I grew up in China where I studied at a Top 5 fine art school, and later I moved to New Jersey. When I immigrated to the U.S. I went to college and graduated from the School of Visual Arts in NYC. It was there that I was able to intern and work with several amazing artists and studios before moving to California.

I began my career in visual effects and film production around 2009. I was able to contribute to several movies, including Snow White and the Huntsman and its sequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War; The Avengers; Jack Reacher; Looper and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. At The Mill, I’ve worked on many commercials for brands including Hay Day, Game of War, Halo, Honda, and Kia’s 2017 Super Bowl spot, ‘Hero’s Journey’. I also worked on HELP, the VR short film for Google Spotlight Stories.

Tell us about your role at The Mill.

Working for a VFX company like The Mill means I get to work on a variety of projects from week to week. As an artist here, it’s important to be equipped with a diverse skill set. For example, one day I could be creating a photo-real car, the next day I could be building a robot for a science fiction piece, and another day I could be making cute creatures for a mobile game.

Why did you choose to use Substance Designer/Substance Painter for the Kia ad?

As VFX artists, we end up using different tools all the time to achieve the highest quality look. The unique and attractive offering that Substance Painter provides is the ability to see a good material representation of what I’m working on in real time – especially when calibrating proper roughness values that involved more back-and-forth tweaking before using Substance Painter. Some of my look-dev artists who focus on the final shader and render have said that this has made the process a lot easier for them. I started to really see the value of the Substance toolset – especially Substance Painter – through the Allegorithmic tutorials.

Our Modeling and Texturing Supervisor at The Mill, Felix E. Urquiza, was fortunately very open to looking into this new tool, which gave me proper time to work with it. I started using Substance Painter and Substance Designer in my spare time which also helped me provide more examples of how we could use it. Kia ‘Hero’s Journey’ was one of the main projects at The Mill that saw a lot of use with Substance Painter.

Can you walk us through the texturing pipeline you developed for the boat?

With the Kia project, which was shot mostly on green screen, our responsibility was to create believable environments and creatures that would hold up the realism. Once we had previsualization, we started to model all of our assets provided by reference. The boat model took one week and it took three days to get the main texture in Substance Painter.

Due to some changes, the entire boat project took around two weeks. The important part with Substance Painter is that due to the ability to work quickly, I had a rough material pass in one day which later went out for approval by the director, Matthijs Van Heijningen. We assigned base materials to all the geometry to decide the look. After approval by Matthijs, we worked on the details of the material, such as dirt, rust, grime, and water. After that, it was really just quick iterations that ended up changing the body color a few times before landing on a final version. The iterations and process would have taken longer in other programs. The boat also had multiple texture udims, around 40 of them.

After all maps were exported using the Arnold Udim preset, it went back to look-dev artists who connected them with the Arnold shaders.

Next, compositing artists got our scenes from the Arnold renderer and made them look nicer! They composited the acting scene, CG environment, and particles.

Was this the first time you used the Substance toolset? If so, what were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

I used Substance Painter and Substance Designer on some other projects, but this asset was one of the more complicated ones. Using the toolset for the Kia project has helped in developing our company workflow. It had 40 texture udims and required high quality, photo-realistic texturing in a short period of time.

One of the main challenges for me was changing the model as I textured; the main scene became really large and heavy for our systems. I decided to split the scene into two sections to speed up the process. When I presented the finished texture of the ship, I could not render all of it together in Iray. The solution was to connect all the texture maps into a look dev scene to render a turntable to present the final look.

Given what you learned, and that updates have been released since then (making the tools more suited for VFX), what would you look forward to doing next with the Substance toolset?

I would like to use it more within our jobs, of course. We are working on building a workflow around Substance Painter when it comes to texturing, and I plan to help in that process. I would also like to use it more in my spare time and make some new projects.

There is obviously a long list of feature requests coming from the VFX world, and users can be reassured that we are working on them. What would be your top 3?

  • Able to paint across multiple udims (so we could develop Substance Painter character workflow and use on organic assets.)
  • Allow non-square images in stencil (many reference photos that we took were not square, and it takes time to edit all of them.)
  • Master Layer- A layer in which I could add a material or effect on all udims at once would be very helpful, especially when dealing with an object that is mostly made of the same type of material.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I would love an auto UV or a UV-less workflow for Substance Painter. So we could use this like Zbrush with Keyshot for concepting and maybe later baking out.