Procedural materials and decals for fashion design

The Substance 3D Assets team likes to study new environments. After a foray into the world of sportswear, and a long drive on the road of automotive design (interior 1, interior 2, exterior 1, exterior 2, & prototyping), we spent weeks in coupons and released a collection of procedural materials and decals dedicated to fashion design.

This release was a great opportunity to explore color, texture and movement inside a new highlights video. This video is the result of two experts meeting. My job as a CMF designer encounters that of Ronan, 3D artist who worked in many video game productions. Our skills would seem to be from opposite ends of the creative world, but we play to each other’s strengths. We still needed to find a common language to understand each other! As Ronan says, over 7 collaborations, “We’ve developed a workflow, a common creative language and the room and respect needed for us to collaborate.”

Theme selection

First, I tracked the color and material trends of the year. There are a few excellent references out there that many designers use, like Peclers, and Paris color books, among others. I extracted several themes and general ideas that fitted best in a video about fashion. I came up with 3 themes—we’ll only talk about one of them today, as the process is the same for each theme.

This theme, which I’ve called Botanical Sensitivity, needs to be explained to Ronan so he can create the video: that’s when I need to make a mood board.

Artwork by Ronan Mahon

Mood boards

Mood boards are universal information boards to define the visual design language, as well as the style, and other elements (color, texture, surfaces, patterns, materials), and bring them together to provide an emotional snapshot of the final result.

Written Summary

All this crystallizes with a few words. This is what I wrote:


Botanical Sensitivity

A journey in Korea to illustrate the sweet and delicate botanical world, inspired by the textiles, and to mix scales and materials in subtle ways.

The design of the theme has a soft, feminine color dimension with a strong line cut. It is important to pay attention and examine designs closely: everything here has a sweet and light flavor. Soft pastels with wash treatments illuminate darkened blues and poppy reds.

One of the inspirations central to this theme is Minju Kim. With vibrant colors, bold prints and a penchant for billowing shapes reminiscent of the hanbok (Korea’s national costume), Kim’s whimsical pieces have a distinctly Asian inspiration. Her design based on her roots is a big inspiration for this theme.

Digital CMF Palette

Once my theme is clear and my mood board solid, I design a digital CMF Palette. Here, this comes in the form of Substance Source materials. I bring together a combination of parametric fabrics and their presets. This is like a curated selection of possibilities that match my theme.

Material presets

I use Substance Player, Substance Alchemist and Substance Source to produce the material presets. I can tweak materials quickly and screenshots are a great way to track my references and ideas.

Reacting to the concept package


I take this package, react to Anaïs’s concept and explore it with the process I use when creating worlds for video games. When I am forming a space for the player to explore, my task as an environment artist is to guide gently, communicate and direct. I ask myself two questions:

  1. What am I trying to say? (What is the story?)
  2. How do I want you to feel?
Artwork by Ronan Mahon
Artwork by Ronan Mahon

First Draft

Ronan: Using these touchstones and the mood board, I build a draft of the piece blocked out to the music and explain my thoughts to Anaïs. Seeing this first draft and how our piece hangs together is often surprising and generates further ideas and exploration for both of us.

It’s amazing how we can fine-tune and work in parallel from this point. I might be dreaming about which modeled shapes convey weightlessness or what camera movement might support a feeling of standing on the red carpet; meanwhile Anaïs sends notes reminding me why a certain color is important or just mails me whole new Substance materials, preset files, Hex colors and other content to swap directly in or out of the video.

Ronan: We’ve never met, our backgrounds are diverse and yet we’re able to work together to inspire!
The world of fashion is very fast-paced. Our production was just as fast! On average, one video takes less than two weeks to create, from the first concept to the final render.