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Substance and the New Potential of Arch Viz


Metal Architecture, November 2015, Tech Notes, Allegorithmic

We live in exciting times. With the resurgence of virtual reality (VR)-this time in a form that is highly suited to architectural projects-we seem to be entering a golden age of immersive experiences. And if there is anything you can say about VR, it's that it is definitely an experience.

But behind the glitz and glamor that follow new technologies remains a simple fact about 3-D visualization-people take as much pleasure in familiarity, as they do in what's new. For every abstract design that makes someone go "wow!" there's another that leans on the traditional and delights that way. Tried and true is enough for some people, but even then, you still have to represent those surfaces and shapes with a level of realism that reads as accurate.

At Clermont-Ferrand, France-based Allegorithmic, we make a tool that reproduces accuracy and restores creativity to the 3-D material making process. It's called Substance Designer and it's been re-engineered to target the needs of architects and visualization teams.


So what is it?

Substance Designer is a node-based compositing tool that helps artists texture assets (like metal beams) and bake information into pre-existing models. While you can make anything from scratch, it comes a wide library of tools, materials and procedural effects to help artists achieve their goals, all with a non-destructive workflow. It also started in the games industry, where it's used on the vast majority of high-profile AAA games.

With Substance Designer 5.3, we just built NVIDIA's Designworks technologies like Iray, their physically based rendering (PBR) engine into the software, which produces a level of quality that is primed and ready for the photorealistic world of arch-viz.


Metal Architecture, tech notes, november 2015, allegorithmicWhy do you want a renderer in your texture creation package?

It means no more switching in and out of different programs to create your marketing or pitch materials. You begin and end in one piece of software. It also means you have a state-of-the-art, GPU-accelerated, unbiased path tracer linked to the best texture creation tool in the world. Beauty shots are incredibly easy to create now, with high levels of detail and photorealism. It also brings sub-surface scattering, true emissive materials and more to an architect's workflow, opening up even more ways to build immersive experiences. If VR truly hits like a lot of us think it will, tools that promote realism are going to be everybody's friend.

As you can guess, when you design software, half of the release process is thinking up ways for people to use it. You imagine plenty on your own, but it really takes field use for you to get a great view into what works on the ground. In France, where we are from, architecture firms have been working with Substance Designer 5.3 since the beta, and have reported back to us three immediate uses that have enlarged their workflows.

The first, they can now create complex and innovative materials (like patterns in concrete, creative materials assemblies, etc.) any time they want. With all the training resources we provide online, learning to make Substances is pretty simple, especially when we are talking about bread and butter elements like metal, wood, dirt, etc.

The second, they can add a light patina to any imported 3-D assets. As we all know, sometimes 3-D comes out a little too perfect, and perfect is distracting to most people. One of the things Substance Designer excels at is adding the little bits of wear, scuffs and random features that make something appear real, and when done right, immersive.

And third, those beauty shots we were discussing earlier. With Iray on board, architects have a tool that can produce pitch-worthy renders that will look and feel natural. From the furniture to the foundations.

Being new to the architectural world makes us excited to see what the community will do with Substance Designer. It's obviously a powerful tool, but a tool is only as good as the artist that wields it. We look forward to working with this community as it shows off its stuff. And remember, we are around and easy to get ahold of. If you want something built in, ask for it and we'll do our best.


Francois Cottin is the chief marketing officer for Allegorithmic, Clermont-Ferrand, France. To learn more, visit

Images (from top): David Lesperance; Marcin Mazurski