Allegorithmic Interview auf der FMX 2018
DP: What did you like about FMX this year?
Allegorithmic: “We really love FMX so far! It is big enough to attract interesting people and small enough to actually meet the guys. So, it’s always very effective in that sense, not like a big GDC or SIGGRAPH where you have a harder time finding and talking to the right people. Everyone seems to be super relaxed and I like the fact that a lot of European guys working in the US have time to come back and see their families, so they feel good, too.”
DP: For people using your tools for the first time – what are the main features and benefits?
Allegorithmic: “We have two main tools – one is Substance Designer and the other Substance Painter. For Substance Designer it’s the node based, non-destructive and procedural way of building Materials. So, it comes with all the good features of non-destructive workflow using a node graph system. That way it’s possible to modify your Material setup at any time anywhere in the graph. In general, it’s more used by technical minded artists. Substance Painter on the other hand is a painting software for 3D Assets. You can think of it as a Photoshop for 3D, which uses layers and brushes to paint materials. But Instead of applying only one color or one grey scale mask at a time, you can paint a full material right away, modifying all the different channels (like base color, metal, roughness, height and normal map) simultaneously. To simplify things – Substance Designer is used for creating base materials that are less dependent on 3D assets, whereas in Substance Painter you really paint for a specific asset. So, there is an overlap in between the tools which, depending on the job, helps to make an efficient workflow. Both are very easy to pick up and used by many artists around the world.”
DP: Can people also share and reuse their materials?
Allegorithmic: “Yes, we have two libraries for that purpose: The first Library is called „Substance Source “, with currently over 1200 high quality Substance materials, that are curated by us. Each material has parameters, that are tweakable, so actually you can create a much greater variety, maybe hundreds of thousands of materials out of them. The second library „Substance Share“ is a repository full of free stuff coming from the community. It’s not only materials you can find there, but also tools, brushes, meshes, filters and more, that help you create the content! What is also good about getting a material from Substance Source is that you get the whole node graph as well. We think this is a great source to learn how to create specific materials.”
DP: What other ways are there for artists to improve their skills and processes to create materials?
Allegorithmic: “The tools themselves allow you to continuously evolve and discover new ways of producing content. We try to make them easy to pick up, but then at some point they are hard to master. With Substance Academy we offer a lot of tutorials in different languages, that are organized into different skill levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced). Additionally, we just released the third version of our PBR Guide, giving an overview on the basics and theory of Physically Based Rendering (Volume 1) and the practical guidelines with our tools (Volume 2). Apart from that we have several blogposts, explaining different processes, for instance focusing on how to scan materials with a smartphone. In some cases, we even provide blueprints. We currently work on more books and blogposts to inspire and at the same time to create sources people can learn from. Also, what I like, lately we realized that there are nearly 10000 videos produced by the community every month, that explain how to use our tools for very specific things. We really love the community for that.”
DP: Speaking of community – do you plan to get involved in more open source projects?
Allegorithmic: “Yes definitely – we haven’t done that much yet to be fair, but we want to get more involved, since opensource is really making life easier for everybody. A year ago, we used to work a bit on USD, although we haven’t published it. We are very interested in initiatives like MaterialX and we will probably participate there. Apart from that we try to support the blender community as much as we can. There are still some doubts about integrating our engine with Blender, but we help the community, so they can build their bridges for the tools.”
DP: You already support MDL, what are your plans for MaterialX?
Allegorithmic: “MDL is very much focused on BRDFS and appearance of illumination. There is a little of pattern generation, but it expects you to do the work mostly with textures. MaterialX comes from a background, where procedurals are even more important. Also, MDL is a language, whereas MaterialX is entirely a node graph. We plan to have both inside our software, as we don’t think that supporting both is a conflict – actually you could embed an MDL in a MaterialX file.”
DP: What new features do you want to integrate in the upcoming releases?
Allegorithmic: “The main new product we are looking forward to is „Project Alchemist“, that will be dedicated to material production management and exploration. You can imagine it as what Lightroom is to Photoshop – very dedicated for managing libraries and applying filters, but in our case focused on creating materials. We are very excited for that and plan to release a beta this summer.
For Substance Designer and Painter, we want to expand our reach in the film industry. One of the upcoming features will be an advanced UDIM support, where you can paint from one UV tile to the other without manually switching. Another aspect will be Revamping the User Interfaces, to simplify the workflow with larger data sets. While we already support color profiles, we will integrate better color management as well. We want to include standards like ACES to be easily configurable through OCIO, so the artist does not need to worry about picking the right profile anymore. Especially if you are in a medium or even larger studio, like Pixar, you just want the software to work the way it should.”
DP: Since you mentioned Pixar, are there any plans to support Ptex?
Allegorithmic: “Without getting to technical – the Substance Engine works in 2D buffers and it requires some 2D parametrization, which is both necessary and unlocks really powerful workflows, that a tool working natively on Ptex would never be able to do. It doesn’t mean you couldn’t export to Ptex – but we haven’t scheduled it for our tools at this point. If you push the concept of Ptex to the limit it would be like having a UDIM per face – so in some form, we have that kind of support. Unfortunately, Ptex is not the most efficient format to read in a path tracer or renderer. The only exception is Disney’s Renderer which is designed for being fully optimized for Ptex.”
DP: What are your visions for the long-term future and research topics?
Allegorithmic: “Ultimately, we want to answer all the questions about content creation and materials. This includes new ways of managing, processing and creating the content. So of course, AI is an important topic for us, which we think will empower the artists in many ways. We want to make sure it’s easier for people to get to work with our tools. For instance, UV parameterization is something that is painful for everybody. At SIGGRAPH and Substance Days we already presented a preview of SeamCut. Eventually we want to have something like that directly inside of Substance Painter and Designer, so you can easily create or modify UVs and start painting. It’s already in the works for years and very time consuming, so we can’t really say, when it will be implemented. With our research we are exploring topics, like meso and macro structures, and are moving beyond materials at that point. These fields are touching the intersection of geometry and materials. So, in a way, we are looking into expanding from a texture to a look development tool. You can get more information about our research activities at AllegoRI.”
DP: For people who got interested, where can they test your tools?
Allegorithmic: “You can find all our tools on our website with 30 days trials. If you are a student they are completely free, you just have to send us a valid student certificate. Depending on your income you can also get a very low priced but fully functional „Indie version“ of our tools. If you chose the monthly plan, after twelve months you even have the option to upgrade to a perpetual license for 49$. Since we all have been students and broke, we want to make it super accessible and fair!”