bwTools - Documentation

General / 24 March 2020


Hi all!

Today is the first release of a group of plugins I have been working on to help organize and layout our substance designer graph networks. In conjunction with this, comes the release of bwTools, a Substance Designer plugin consisting of the tools I have been working on and will provide a platform for me to share any future work. As a bonus, my previous optimize graph plugin is bundled with it. This post will serve as documentation for that, so for an overview see links below.

You can find an overview video here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ckh0mgwYcA 

store page:

https://www.artstation.com/benwilson/store/ewNd/bwtools-substance-designer-plugin 

Please contact me for support through artstation or email!


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Installation

Open Substance Designer and navigate to Tools > Plugin Manager...

Click Install at the bottom

 Navigate to your bwTools.sdplugin file and click open


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bwTools

bwTools consists of 2 parts. A toolbar at the top of the Substance Designer application and the various plugins which make up the tools.

All settings for individual plugins currently installed can be found in the settings window here.


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Layout Graph

This tool is designed to help speed up the laborious task of neatly arranging your nodes. Is it best used as a helper tool when laying out your graph to your personal style and to make the most of it, we must understand how it wants to layout your node selection.

Node placement behavior

Nodes are always placed behind their outputs and always inline with the one which produces the longest straight line.

Nodes have a concept of height, which means they will correctly stack on each other.

However, be aware that due to a limitation with the Substance Designer API, the plugin assumes all inputs/outputs are visible. In the example below, the top two nodes have many hidden inputs/outputs, leaving artificial gaps.


Nodes which start a chain are called root nodes. These are left untouched and all nodes input into it will arrange accordingly. Therefore, it is important to provide enough space for the network to expand if there are multiple root nodes.


The Mainline Concept

The tool wants to find a mainline through your selection and provide space for other parts of the network to feed into it. It typically assumes the network with the longest chain is the mainline.

If it thinks your network is equally important, it will simply place them evenly.

This makes it possible to influence the layout based on  your selection.

Other nodes are inserted into the mainline relative to their input position.

The tool will generally favor the middle node chain if possible however.


The Network Cluster Concept

Group of related nodes will form network clusters and these are what feed into the mainline. They will also be given space and positioned such that they never overlap with the mainline. The darker frames below are network clusters.


Looping Networks

Nodes that loop back into the network at various points form looping networks. These are often very complicated and can sometimes stretch the entire length of the graph. 


While the tool will successfully handle these types of networks, it is often better layout your graph more contextually, using the tool as an aid to speed up the process. Taking the network above, we run the tool on smaller network clusters instead (shown in the darker frames) and position them more contextually and to fit your personal style.


Settings

Hotkey

You can define your hotkey here. Requires a Substance Designer restart

Node Width 

Sets the width of each node, generally you can leave this untouched.

Spacer

Sets the distance between each node

Selection Count Warning

The plugin processing time is exponential, meaning large selections can take a very long time to compute. A warning is displayed before running the plugin if the number of selected nodes surpasses this threshold.

Consider Splits Nodes For Mainline

There are two styles for laying out the network. If Consider Split Nodes For Mainline is on, the algorithm will reason on split nodes first, generally preferring to use them as mainlines. This results visually larger encasing loops.

If Consider Split Nodes For Mainline is off, split nodes are given the same priority as everything else. The visual result here are more defined node clusters and grouping. Unless there are a lot of complicated looping networks in your selection, there may be no difference between the settings.


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Straighten Connection

This tool will create dot nodes out of a given node to each of its connected outputs. Which helps reduce visual clutter and readability.

Dot nodes will be chained together.

Works on multiple selection too, handy to clean up the entire graph at the end of a working session.

There is a tool to remove dot nodes connected to your selected node too. Found in the toolbar

Settings

Straighten Selected Hotkey

You can define your hotkey here. Requires a Substance Designer restart

Remove Connected Dot Nodes Hotkey

You can define your hotkey here. Requires a Substance Designer restart

Distance From Input

Defines how far from the input of each node to place the dot node


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Optimize Graph

This tool can be used to optimize various parts of your graph.

Remove Duplicate

Composite Nodes - Evaluate Input Chain

If this is on, the plugin will identify chains of nodes which are identical and remove them too

The plugin has some rules to what it regards a duplicate.

Settings must be identical for a node to be considered a duplicate

A node with an exposed parameter is not considered a duplicate

Uniform Color Nodes - Output Size

Will reduce all selected color nodes to 16x16, the optimal output size for a node in designer. Connected outputs are automatically set to relevant to parent


Blend Nodes - Ignore Alpha

Any selected blend node which only have grayscale inputs will have its alpha blending mode set to ignore alpha. 

Note: This setting requires a recompute of the graph, so is disabled by default. 


Graph Layout Plugin - Part 3

General / 27 February 2020

Hey folks!


Its been a while once again since my last post. Life got in the way again, quite literally this time, as my son was born just after new years! Hes super cute and very demanding! I did have the occasional spot of time to continue working on this plugin though so heres the update.


I took a step back a little and developed a tool to manage my plugins (spoiler!). I was often wanting to toggle settings with a nice little UI when trouble shooting, so I bit the bullet and built this thing. The nice part now is the UI dynamically builds itself based on a .json file. That way I can easily add modules or settings without having to rewrite any UI. From here on named bwTools!


But back to the main topic...I did a sort of re-write once again. After struggling with ironing out bugs, my logic was becoming very specific. So I went back and tried to simplify how I reason about the graph. Now instead of making an best guess about what a lane through a graph should be, the plugin tries to figure this out itself. This results in much more structured and understandable layouts. I am still doing everything is passes though, as this lets me make some assumptions about the state of the chain, so it was more of less the logic surrounding what a lane structure is that has changed.

Briefly, I first order the nodes into a proper hierarchy, then consider any chains that are deep, to more likely on the mainline. Sprinkle in some awkward setups such as chains equal in length, connecting to numerous parts of the graph or belonging on a different lane entirely and you a logic nightmare to solve!

You can notice on the .gif below however, that the blend nodes do not always assume the middle input is the mainline anymore. The other inputs also respect location and shift accordingly.


So if it does consider all the branches of a given node to be equally important, it will now divide them instead of trying to make lanes


With this, comes proper support for any number of inputs


Height has also been implemented, but with some drawback, unfortunately. There is no way of knowing how many input and output slots are actually visible and a lot of nodes have visibleif statements setup. The only information the API provides is the total number =( Until this gets added, I just had to reason on a node, assuming all slots are visible.


Another big challenge came with nodes that output multiple numbers to the same node. So now I try to make an educated guess by weighting all the inputs/outputs relative to each other. At the very least, it gives me a single value to work with, making it much easier to position nodes consistently.


So I still have an awful lot of weird bugs and behavior to figure out. I am trying to keep the logic as node agnostic as possible though and the results are starting to feel a lot more natural I think.


Im sure there are some tech artists face palming at me struggling through this, but we all start somewhere! It is now comfortable with most graphs, but I hope to solve this problem fully someday. 

Thanks for reading

Hiring Material Artists For Avatar Project - 1 Position (Full-time)

General / 29 October 2019

Hey all!

We have opened up a full time position for the Avatar Project down at Massive, Malmö!

This will mark the beginning of a core Material team for the project and the chance to help shape what that means. While we have many artists delivering texture content for the game, this role is the second dedicated to material creation and together we will bring the beautiful Pandora to life.

The world of Pandora is so lush and vibrant that it offers material work you rarely get in other projects. There are not many worlds which look quite as incredible as Pandora, especially at night!

All the details of the role are here, so please apply or reach out to me here on Artstation Messenger!

Thanks!


Graph Layout Plugin - Part 1

General / 26 September 2019

In typical fashion, instead of finishing anything, I start something new. A plugin to organize Designer graphs!


This has proven to be a very interesting and challenging problem. A lot harder than I initially thought, but I have managed to reach a point where I can reliably sort a simple non recursive chain into my preferred layout style. 


The current implementation involves traversing down the chain building a coordinate system, then going through the chain again actually placing them according to the coordinates. The goal was to build these lane structures that respect the dimension of other parts of the network, so when finding a branch node (such as a blend), I step down each branch and return with its dimensions. This doesnt sound too bad, except how much to offset the nodes up and down also depends on which input slot the entire chain belongs in to begin with! It took some late nights and what was left of my balding hair, but I have a working solution now!


Networks that feed back into itself are a whole other beast, but I have made some progress here. There is a concept of a queue, where a split node (node with multiple outputs) will only position itself if all of its parents positions are known. If it cant successfully position itself, then it gets placed back into the queue, otherwise the whole process above repeats, building a brand new chain network. Theres are issues with this that I still need to work through, but its working well enough to show at least. So if there are any wizards reading this, tell me the magic! 


None the less, it has been a great exercise for me and I am learning a lot. In fact, the biggest challenge so far has been trying to work out exactly how I want the layout to behave and what that rule set is mathematically! Perhaps I can be a little better at blogging my process going forward too!


Thanks for reading!

Lets Talk Color Pickers - Part 2

General / 02 June 2019

Hey folks!

In my last blog post about color pickers, I was exploring a way to procedurally generate color charts based on an input color and exposing different variation sliders. Since then I got the chance to work on a Substance Source Signature Series which meant I got extensive time working with the node and I discovered some things I was not happy with.  Some revisions were made for the Source release, but these mainly related to removing the dependency on a px processor in order to work with the CPU engine better. What you see in that series is more of less the node I detailed in the previous blog, but CPU friendly. I do go through the inner workings of it during a live stream, so if your interested check that out or you can grab it directly from the .sbs files if you have a substance source subscription. https://youtu.be/jp2qOxJGzq8


Now however, I am doing another pass on the node. Giving it a big tidy up, making it more robust and reverting back to px processor based (A CPU friendly version is now on a switch, instead). Value and hue variance is done in two passes as before, except its now packaged with the node and inputs exposed. Additionally, there is a mask input to provide a way to blend back the input color, which is very helpful in making sure you don't stray from the original intention. I found I rarely used the saturation variation, so that's gone. Along with the seed offset sliders for each channel. In practice just having a single seed was more than enough and was barely used anyway.


The main problem I had was mostly to do with how I was generating samples. I was using the same value for both generating sample points with a tile generator and to dynamically control the output size of the color chart. This meant the sample counts grew exponentially and very quickly became noisy or nonsense data. So my first step was to fix this and generate a sensible number of samples points. This is now done with a 16x16 fx map so its super fast and much more understandable.

This did pose a new problem though, as when these samples upscale to full res, they were not interpolating correctly. So I also do my own linear interpolation during the upscale to ensure I get precise gradients between each value. Below are the sample points being linearly interpolated correctly.


Hopefully now the sample count is more understandable and intuitive. (Sorry for the .gif compression)


I was also unhappy with how the hue blending worked with low saturation colors. Previously I was forcing the Saturation to 1 with a HSL node in order to blend it back on top of the original color. While this does produce nice results, it had a weird side effect of brightening the overall values. Instead, I now convert to HSV, so when adding hue variance it will not affect the brightness. This is the default behavior for the node and means it will respect the original saturation correctly.


Of course, the hue variance slider remains. That is, how much to blend in the variation. And also the value variation and hue range sliders; How much to offset the value and hue respectfully. Except now that it is px processor based again, the hue offset is truly random, rather than a blend between two extremes.


As before, you can choose to blend the hue back on top instead of preserving Saturation, which now feels nicer with the HSV and sample changes. As you expect, some colors are better suited for this than others.


I also found soft light in particular has nice results, so that's available as well.


The graph independent seed also remains, which with the high hue values, allows for some really interesting colors!


Thanks for reading!

Optimize Graph Plugin

General / 04 May 2019

Hey folks,

I have recently been exploring Designer's Plugin API and working on a tool to automate some graph optimizations!


So far, the plugin is doing 3 main optimizations, the first of which is detecting, deleting and reconnecting any duplicate generators you have. Nodes like noises or tile samplers for example. It will also recognizes if you have any exposed parameters on the node and make sure not to delete those!


Next up uniform color nodes. The plugin will force the node to 16x16 (the optimal size for the Substance Engine) and set all connected nodes back to relative to parent, unless the given node already had manual edits to its output size


Finally, it will set a blend nodes' Alpha Blending mode to ignore alpha if it detects both inputs as grayscale.


The goal being to simply select an entire graph and let the plugin do its thing.


If you have any other ideas of what could be automated, let me know!
  

Substance Manager Tool - Part 2

General / 19 April 2019

Hey all,


I have been fairly busy recently so took a bit of a break from the Manager tool, but I now have a new update! 


I got myself setup with my own Perforce server so I can properly backup content and use version control, bringing me closer to how I am used to working in a studio. Following this, I wanted to learn a bit of PyQT ( a more robust GUI library for Python if you have not heard of it ),  so actually took a step back from the main app to develop some new things.


One of the issues I now have as my library grows and I do more projects is all the junk flooding designer. For example, if I search for a ground, I get wip files, renders, psd files, exported textures you name it.


This is because I had basically set up designer to point to some root path and recursively search everything inside there. And after my last foray into shuffling files around, I have all source files nested with the parent graph.


Thats pretty messy, so instead I wanted to path designer to specific directories and not do a recursive search. Thing is, that could be a lot of paths.


So I developed a project app, that will create a .sbsprj file with my perforce details and given a root directory, automatically locate child paths for designer to watch, with dark skin too ;)


It does this by looking for a shelf.ini file, which I place in each directory I want designer to read. If I want to add a new path or project, I simply add this file and re-save from within the tool.


So I created a project for all my personal work and set their related watched paths.


Since I don't always need content from older projects, I wrote a supplementary app to manage the installing of the projects.


This tool will write a config file with the projects selected and then tell designer to use that config file. Now everything is really easy to manage and the shelf is super clean!


At least for now.

Podcasting!

General / 04 April 2019

Hey all!


Alex Beddows was silly enough to invite me for a podcast. We have a nice chat about all things game development. I wonder if he regrets it now?

https://www.artstation.com/alexbeddows 



Stone Layering Series 50% off!

General / 01 January 2019

2019 is upon us and it has been incredible seeing the community grow over the last year, so lets continue improving and kick things off with a 50% discount! Make sure to use the discount code newyearsubstance or the links below!

https://www.artstation.com/benwilson/store/8yP/stone-layering-generator-tutorial-series

https://gumroad.com/l/TXDJC/newyearsubstance

Happy new year everyone!

Lets talk color pickers in Substance Designer!

General / 11 November 2018

A common problem I seem to have when building an albedo texture is finding the balance between material flexibility, user friendliness and uniqueness. 

I like using uniform color pickers instead of HSL nodes because I find visually choosing your color is more intuitive. It also means you can set up the color pickers in such a way that your albedo can have a primary, second and tertiary colors. The problem is, its very hard to get a good variety of colors when only using uniform colors.

The gradient node does a good job of solving the variety problem by letting you sample many colors at once from reference, but then you loose the color picker flexibily and it becomes very unstable if using the gradient dynamic node or building color variations. How many hours have you spent getting your colors to look good, only for it to fall apart when you change the random seed value of the graph or the overall color of the material. If your anything like me, a lot.

These problems are what iv tried to solve with this node. Lots of videos below, so keep scrolling!


At its core, it's a simple color picker with HSL variation sliders:


Whats neat is the HSL channels are totally independent from each other.


You can also adjust the number of samples that should be taken too


When you start to layer these up, you can get some nice variety of colors. Its still controlled by a simple color picker though, giving good reliable control over the material. In this example, there are two layers.


And the built in seed value will sample different colors.


The important feature here, is the node is totally independent from the graphs global random seed value. Meaning what ever colors you set, will remain consistent regardless of the input.

 

This decoupling from the random seed value is really powerful when you plug in a color chart to the color input slot. Here I sample some colors from a reference image and use that information to sample colors from instead.


Notice its still preserving color when changing the random seed and instead we use the internal seed value to sample different colors from the chart. As before, we can choose how many samples we should take too.


We still have access to the variation slider too!


That is as far as iv gotten for now, so let me know your thoughts!