Oct. 27, 2022, by the Adobe Substance 3D Assets team
Environment Stages Arrive in Substance 3D Assets
Environment stages let you position your 3D model within ready-made environments, and rapidly get a high-quality render.
Today, the Substance 3D Assets platform introduces a new type of content: environment stages. These resources allow you to place your 3D model within a wide range of pre-prepared environments, and get a high-quality, photorealistic render, fast.
Environment stages are a combination of three elements: a parametric HDRI panorama, backplates, and a selection of 3D cameras.
These assets have been created by a world-class photographic team, ensuring that you can use the environment stages out-of-the-box, confident that everything has been set up by experts in the field. Moreover, the environment stages are tailored to specific sectors of activity: in the kitchen environment stage, for instance, the cameras have been placed to reproduce the style of photos typically found in the marketing materials for kitchen appliances.
Meet Lionel Koretzky
Lionel Koretzky is a photographer, director, and lighting designer, as well as founder of PIL2, a company specializing in lighting design, 3D content production, and consulting. In all, Lionel has over 25 years of experience in photography, and a vast range of credits that includes publications such as Vogue, GQ, and many others. Lionel and his team at PIL2 created these environment stage assets for us, bringing their extensive knowledge to the task at hand. When you use one of our environment stages, you are lighting and staging your 3D model within a setup created by absolute experts in the photographic field.
At Adobe MAX 2022, Lionel discussed his professional trajectory so far, and how his team created the environment stage assets. Take a look at his talk.
Lionel and his team working on a photoshoot setup for environment capture.
What is an Environment Stage?
To better understand environment stages, let’s first talk about High Dynamic Range Images (HDRIs) and Image-Based Lighting (IBL).
High Dynamic Range Images are essentially images with extended precision and dynamic range. This allows them to display, for instance, increased color precision, or lighting information.
Image-Based Lighting is the practice of using an HDRI to light a 3D scene. The model is realistically illuminated by the light sources present in the HDRI; moreover, if the model is shiny, the HDRI will be reflected on its surface.
How is using an environment stage different to existing IBL methods? In two main ways:
First, our HDRI panoramas are parametric, allowing you to control light intensity and temperature, blend light sources together, and switch lights on or off as needed.
Second, our environment stages contain 3D cameras and backplates, which combine to create a perfect setup for you, helping you to get fantastic-looking renders, whatever the needs of your sector of activity might be. Use these resources out-of-the-box, or continue to tailor them to your own preferences.
How Do I Use an Environment Stage?
This is the easy part. The environment stage is compatible with Substance 3D Stager and all major rendering apps. You start by opening your environment stage asset; in Stager, you simply drag and drop it into your viewport. You then do the same to place your 3D model, which will position itself automatically. Then you adjust the lighting of the scene as needed, perhaps modifying its exposure or color temperature to suit your taste. Finally, you render the image in whatever format you need, whether landscape, portrait, wide shot, mid shot, close up, or something more bespoke.
Lights: Additive Blending, and Switch Lighting
When it comes to lighting, we have two types of environment stage. The first incorporates image-based lighting that can be controlled incrementally – changing parameters allows you to play with light intensity, and rely on additive blending to combine light sources together in a custom way.
The second type incorporates lights that you can toggle between multiple configurations of the same setup, taking into consideration differences with the spatial setup of the lighting – you can switch between light positions, or add blockers, for instance. Essentially, this lets you customize your lighting setup as needed without blending lights together.
A Range of Locales, for a Variety of Needs
This collection of environment stages now comprises 99 diverse environment backplates, including a kitchen, a spa, a warehouse, and many more. Each of these locations has been selected thanks to its appropriateness as a context for a photo shoot within one or more sectors of activity, such as product design, fashion design, interior design, cosmetics, and food and drink.
Each environment stage’s suitability for a specific sector of activity goes beyond its choice of backplate. As mentioned above, Lionel and his team have positioned each camera to reproduce the photo styles common to each sector.
To learn more about Lionel’s journey from conventional photography to Image-Based Lighting production, take a look at his article discussing the subject.
Environment Stages for Virtual Photography
Virtual photography is becoming an increasingly popular method for companies to generate photoreal images of their concepts or products while greatly reducing the costs and time requirements associated with physical prototyping and more conventional photoshoots.
Environment stages are an excellent fit for virtual photography. The exact same creative principles apply to rendering with an environment stage as they do to classic photography – the artist will reveal the volumes of the hero object, in order to highlight its central premise, and set a narrative; creative decisions concerning the lighting of the scene will create a range of stories around that object.
Moreover, you don’t need to be an expert in 3D to start creating high-quality images. Lionel and his team have created awesome lighting setups, so you can get great results just by sticking to the defaults – and yet, thanks to the parametric nature of the environment lighting, you have fine control over lighting, and you can also combine them with additional 3D lights, if preferred.
How to rapidly create photorealistic renders within an environment stage.
Environment Stages for Ecommerce and Product Design
The main use case for rendering with environment stages is clear: creation of a professional visualization for a 3D object in the smallest possible amount of time. In our case, this will mostly be about the creation of images with harmonized, high-quality lighting, such as for ecommerce platforms.
Traditionally, if you’re creating hundreds or thousands of images of a product portfolio to feed online retail platforms you have to set up an expensive photoshoot – a process that requires heavy logistics to get everything on location. Doing the same thing in 3D provides huge time and cost savings, and opens new grounds for creative freedom, as well as real scalability for production.
How to rapidly create a range of product variations within a 3D scene using an environment stage within Substance 3D Stager.
Environment Stages for Game Design and VFX
Environment stages provide a way for game and VFX artists to work on the lookdev of assets within a controlled lighting environment. The wide range of environment stages available allows you to test out the look of your assets in diverse surroundings, each one detailed in 360 degrees. The parametric aspect of the environment lights lets you easily tweak the lighting to match the needs of your project.
You can use environment stages in all major 3D software – the parametric HDRI panorama that governs the environment light is available as an SBSAR file. This can be converted to EXR in Substance 3D Designer or Substance Player, as well as downloaded directly in EXR format; this lets you use the panorama HDRI in 3ds Max, Maya, Blender, and more (though note that EXR files don’t retain the full parametric functionality of the SBSAR format).
To learn more about how Lionel and his team created the parametric environment lights, take a look at his article on this point.