Allegorithmic Substance Designer

CGSociety :: Technology Focus

17 October 2012, by Paul Hellard





In 2003, Sebastien Deguy started the Allegorithmic company, one and a half years after he completed his PhD in Computer Science. The goal was to turn the cute formulas he’d developed during his academic research days into real life products. “At the time I thought it would take two guys and a year or two,” says Deguy. “It took more than 20 people and about ten years.”

From the start, Allegorithmic was built to produce the most advanced and empowering texturing tools in the industry. The Substance product line is the expression of that, and last year was one of the most important years in the life of the company. This was the year Substance Engine was natively integrated by default into 3ds Max, Maya and the Unity Engine. This has made Allegorithmic the de facto texture format standard for game developers.

Substance Designer is the flagship product of Allegorithmic: it is the creation tool that artists use to produce textures for 3D.

The idea behind Substance Designer was to provide the ‘TextureShop’ for 3D creators. Contrary to Photoshop, Substance Designer is explicitly dedicated to texturing 3D environments. Its foundational mechanisms are now industry standards. It is a non-linear, non-destructive tool built around a node graph. In addition, Substance Designer has a 3D preview feature so you don't have to exit the program to see what you actually are doing, it has multi-output functionality to match the real life shader inputs (diffuse map, but also normal, specular, etc.), and so on.



“We see Substance Designer as a Photoshop replacement and a great Mari companion. The new pipeline will look like ZBrush for sculpting, Mudbox or MARI for 3D painting, and Substance Designer working as the hub for texturing,” says CEO Sebastien Deguy. “We see more and more studios dropping Photoshop as it is by far the least adapted tool for making 3D. Photoshop allows you to work only on single images when the current shaders need at least three maps: diffuse, specular, and normal. Photoshop, as a linear tool, also doesn’t have a 3D preview which means you have to switch tools to actually see what you are doing, painting a specular map becomes quite a challenge for instance.”

“Substance Designer can manage as many outputs as you want. Being a node based tool, it’s highly non-linear and it has a 3D preview of course. It is parametric at its heart so all your knowledge can be recorded and encapsulated into custom filters and operations that you can recall at any time, even via scripts. We are bold but very confident when we say that utilizing Substance Designer over Photoshop and other tools like xNormal, Crazybump, etc. can save you 80% of production time.”

Advantages Substance Designer is required if you want your texturing process to be simple and empowering at the same time.



This video demonstrates how quick and easy it is to texture a mesh and how much time is saved by reutilizing templates. Not redoing the same, mundane task again and again allows artists to concentrate on their art.

Case study

Bigpoint San Francisco is currently utilizing Substance Designer to texture all the spaceships of Battlestar Galactica the MMO. Matt Norton, Studio Director, Bigpoint Inc. had this to say about the Allegorithmic tech: “Substance enables us to produce high-quality art without creating sizing issues. Since we can easily scale assets down from megabytes to kilobytes, we can use higher-res textures all while still minimizing download times for players in the game.”

Having Substance built into Unity was a big win for the Battlestar Galactica Online team. The amount of engineering time was minimal, and allowed the art team to focus on creation of the skins. Without the Substance feature, the development team would have been required to change how ships were bundled in order to handle the increasing number of textures for each skin.

Immediately, the main benefit the team realized was a drastic reduction in the size of the ship bundles. Before using Substance, a ship bundle was over 6Mb, while after using Substance it shrank to around 900Kb. The Substance version of the ship skins only use one texture file that contains the Normal, Emissive, and Ambient Occlusion. Because Substances are dynamically generated at runtime, the team now has the ability to generate unique versions for each customer, and add in paint chips and dirt. Another benefit is that the quality of the ship detail increased. The size of the texture can be scaled/optimized up or down based on the pilot’s computer.

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Maybe the most common misconception about Substance Designer is that it is only a procedural textures design tool. While it’s true that you create procedural textures, this program encompasses way more than that.

Substance Designer is a texturing tool that relies upon parametric processes. But you are not bound to use these features though; you can always just use Substance Designer to simply paint or color correct a bitmap texture! Parametric does not mean bad or ugly or incomprehensible math anymore. It just means the power of parametric is at your finger tips, and available to you if you need it.

Another point of distinction is that Substance Designer is the only tool that mixes vector, procedural and bitmap design features, making it by far the most powerful texturing tool out there. It was made to facilitate a workflow that can accomplish whatever is most appropriate to your needs: you can paint, vector draw, procedurally process, and record your most common operations in scripts and effects that will complete your library and save you hundreds of hours of work for your next textures.

“There is a continuum between painting a bitmap in Photoshop and designing smart textures in Substance Designer,” says Deguy. “It is not a matter of binary choice; it is a matter of utilizing the right tool at the right time for the job. In fact, most of our AAA game developer customers use Substance Designer as the hub for their creation pipeline, as a replacement for Photoshop. Some use the power of Substance in all their DCC apps and game engines; some only export bitmaps straight from our tool. We are fine with that. Each type of customer uses Substance Designer for what it’s the best at: producing textures for 3D environments. And every year we see our textures spread out farther and farther into the industry. It’s fun to watch.”