Meet MAT 3 Winner Talks Contests and the Beauty of Substance 3D

Meet MAT 3 Winner Talks Contests and the Beauty of Substance 3D

Giacomo Cervi from BigRock School triumphed in the Meet Mat 3 contest, showcasing his skills with Substance 3D Painter. Gain insights into his winning strategy and enhanced workflow in this article.

Giacomo Cervi, a graduate of BigRock School, rose to the challenge when the school tasked its students with participating in the Meet Mat 3 contest. Giacomo emerged victorious, clinching the top spot in the competition, which centered around unleashing creativity solely using Substance 3D Painter to texture MAT. In this article, Giacomo shares insights into his winning entry and how mastering Substance 3D has enhanced his texturing workflow.

Hello everyone! My name is Giacomo Cervi aka 'Paul Various'. This is my entry for The Meet MAT 3 Contest, representing BigRock Institute of Magic Technologies. Everything you see is done with displacement. No extra geometry has been added. Check out the whole article to discover my working process.  Hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did!

Gathering reference

As with every project, I kicked off my work with an extensive search for references, drawing inspiration from various sources and using them as the foundation. I gathered all the references using PureRef, my go-to software for this task.

At first, I looked for various camera models to collect as many elements as possible. I gathered images depicting various perspectives of the cameras and even extra gadgets such as lenses and tripods for more inspiration. As I delved into the creative process, I focused on one particular model trying to replicate and connect all its details in the best way possible.

Below you can see all the custom alphas I created for this project. Some of them made it to the final version, some were just place holders or simply bad ideas!

Displacement in Substance 3D

The contest is famous for having as its main feature to "model and sculpt" using only displacement without modifying the mesh of the Meet Mat. I must say that this really challenged me as it was my first attempt at tackling something of this nature.

I was looking at the winning entries from previous editions thinking "How!? How is it possible to create something so beautiful without sculpting?!" After some trial and error, I came up with the camera idea. The video tutorials created by the Adobe team and the community were definitely crucial and helped me a ton!

The idea I tried to keep in mind throughout the entire process was to create not only a good-looking Meet Mat character, but also something that could remind a really working camera trying to give all the details a sense of cohesion.

The "modeling and sculpting" phase was done entirely using Substance 3D Painter using only displacement.

I started focusing only on the general shapes, creating a rough block of primary forms and ensuring that the silhouette and main volumes of the mesh were in place. Once the primary forms were established, after checking that everything was working correctly, I transitioned to the secondary: I began to modify the main volumes adding various details preparing Meet Mat for the texturing phase.

The most complex part has been for sure the front camera lens and since a lot of you asked how I made it, below you can find a little breakdown of the process.

As you can see, the main “trick” that allowed me to achieve such an extrusion was to use not one, but two different overlapping alphas as starting base.

All the details, such as the red line or the dents on the border, that appear to be modeled on the side of the lens are actually on the front of one of the two alphas, but due to the strong displacement, they get stretched on the sides allowing me to achieve the desired effect.

Another big challenge was being able to find coherence between all the parts of the model to make it both good-looking and functional as if it could be a truly functioning camera.

Texturing Mat

My first experience ever with 3D was in September 2022 when I started the master's in CG at BigRock School. Here I first got my hands on Substance 3DPainter, during the Textures Module, and from there I completely fell in love with it!

Substance's features such as the Smart Materials system and the ability to use and customise them to my specific needs greatly improved my workflow.

Substance's continuous updates, extensive library of shared materials and community support have created an amazing environment invaluable in expanding my skills and keeping me inspired.

In terms of materials and textures for C'mon Camera Mat, I tried to keep as faithful as possible to the colours and characteristics of the real cameras.

I focused on recreating two main materials: black coloured plastic and various leather patches. I started with basic smart materials available within the program and customised them using various generators and filters to suit my needs. To achieve the most realistic rendering, I meticulously referenced close-up images captured by various cameras to replicate all the intricate details of the materials.

The idea was to represent a used, but still in perfect condition camera. To achieve this I played with some details such as some light scratches on the plastic and the halo of fingerprints on the front screen in order to make it clear that the camera was used.

Using Substance 3D Painter

For me one of the standout aspects of Substance is its user-friendly interface, which made the learning curve extremely manageable, even for someone relatively new to the software. The logical layout of tools and the availability of extensive tutorials and documentation have been one of the best instruments that helped me grasp the nuances of Substance efficiently.

I particularly like Substance for its dynamic and non-destructive workflow. Being able to make adjustments on the fly and experiment with different textures without compromising the entire project has been a game-changer. This flexibility not only enhances creativity but also allows me to iterate more rapidly, ultimately improving the overall quality of my work.

My dream is to become a character artist. That is why Substance Painter has become a major part of my workflow. As far as simple preview work is concerned, I often stay within Substance itself for the Render phase as well. Iray really does a great job!

On the other hand, when it comes to more complex work, importing the model from ZBrush to Substance to create the textures is a breeze and the advanced bake features make the transfer of details from high to low poly extremely accurate.

The endless export possibilities make the next steps extremely fast as well and exporting textures for Maya or Unreal, where usually I create my render scenes, becomes extremely simple.

Going forth and back between Substance and these software and edit the textures on the fly based on the rendering preview results makes the workflow lightning fast. Once the right shader is created it's just a matter of refining the textures until you get the desired result.

Entering the Contest

Well, the fame of this contest precedes its name. I still remember the first time I saw the entries of the two previous editions and when I read the news that The Rookies would be hosting the third edition, I couldn't believe my eyes! I jumped on it and I have to say that I had an absolute blast!

The Rookies  provides a space where emerging artists can not only showcase their talents but also learn from industry professionals and connect with a global community that encourages continuous growth and development, making it an invaluable resource for aspiring artists like myself.

Winning the contest for me was really like a daydream, I still can't believe it! Beyond the prize itself, the thing that I loved the most was the whole journey that this contest has been. Seeing my colleagues and the students here at BigRock School taking on this challenge, helping each other and exchanging ideas and opinions was priceless.

This contest was hands-down one of the best experiences I had as a 3D artist and I'm looking forward to the next one...Oh yeah, I'm talking about the Rookie Awards 2024!

Next Steps

At the moment after finishing my 6-month master's degree in CG and the R&D period, I have been hired as a 3D artist at BigRock School.

My goal for the immediate future is definitely to prepare as best as I can for The Rookie Awards 2024 and more generally to continue studying to hone my skills as a character artist.

In the long run, my big dream is to enter the world of major productions, see my work on the big screens and inspire new generations of artists as it happened to me.

Check out Giacomo's entry and Rookies portfolio via his profile here.