I recently designed a football boot concept as part of a series of concepts that I am creating and wanted to showcase the breakdown from a CGI/Rendering standpoint of how it was done, and what I did to make the final results look as close as possible to a realistic boot. The way the shoe is designed, material application, lighting setup, camera placement, and rendering settings all play a role together in the final outcome and rendering that you see.

In this post, I will try to break the project down into these different parts of the process that play an important role in creating a render that looks very realistic.

  1. Displacement
  2. Leather Material
  3. Creating the Details
  4. Lighting & Camera Setup
  5. Photoshop Details & Final Touches
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The foundation of every render is the model that you are working with, no matter how real your materials and lighting setup looks, if your model looks funny or the proportions are off, it won’t really matter, as that is the first thing that will get noticed and come off as an inaccurate and unrealistic object. Once I finished modeling the shoe, I added a basic level of detail to it using displacement maps, something that you can do nicely and control in Substance 3D Painter or your software of choice. Breaking the flat surface up with some unexpected textures will make it one step closer to a real shoe, which most of the time has something going on in the materials.

I decided to create the displacement in Substance rather than going the traditional route of 3D modeling, mainly because it is much faster, just as efficient, and, most importantly, it gives me the freedom and flexibility to change and adjust it really quickly if I end up not liking the final result or get new ideas.

Leather Material

For the material I worked in 3ds Max with the materials from Substance Source; it’s an amazing resource with very high-end materials with lots of different options to choose from. Given that the shoe has a primary material that covers most of it, it has to look good and have a fine level of detail. For this shoe, I used the “Taurillon Leather Natural Worn” material. Make sure you scale the material right, based on the size of your UV, and set it to 2K or 4K based on your computer’s capabilities; I find that both give a very good look.

Creating the Details in Substance

A secondary level of detail following the main material comes by adding the stitches, seam, tag, and tongue label. I used Substance Painter to add the writing and the stitches to the tongue label, as well as the tag on the side. With Substance Painter, you can easily place things, modify, mix materials — and do it all on the go and be done in no time. The reason I didn’t add some of those details in 3ds Max was that I wanted to make the text part of the material, and I feel when it’s embedded in the maps it comes off as much more realistic.

Here is a preview of how the text was added using a stencil to mask out the material in Substance
And a very quick way to do the stitches using the Seams and Stitches Brushes,
Once I finished working on those details in Substance, I exported and took them back to 3ds Max.

Lighting & Camera Setup for Material Details

Materials and lighting setups go hand in hand and are probably the most important things in any setup. For the lighting, I used an HDRI map, along with a soft light box facing the shoe, which allows the leather bumps to better catch the light as it turns and makes it look as real as possible.
For the camera, I ALWAYS love using DOF, it makes the scene more exciting and dramatic, and it also focuses more on the details. I’m sure the same scene without DOF would look pretty realistic, but people would not appreciate the details as much. Nonetheless, DOF is always cool and a big win in any render for a product shot as it gives the shot a lot more depth and visual excitement.

DOP on

DOF off

Photoshop Details & Final Touchups

I added the swoosh logo in Photoshop, as well as the speckles and some more text. As a quick workflow, I think Photoshop is sufficient, but traditionally it’s best to keep everything part of the texture maps and embedded in them, to allow for a cleaner finish, and not have to redo any of the details for different angles or an animation.
I finalized the renders by bringing in the render element passes from Vray, and compositing them in Photoshop. I also worked on adjusting the curves, masking the shoe, and adding a slight background gradient with light being emitted from behind the shoe. I find that this technique adds an extra layer of depth to the final render. Photoshop is also great for doing some final color changes using the hue/saturation.


Here is how I used the different render element passes in Photoshop:

AO Map – Set to Multiply to intensify the shadows of the final show; the opacity can be adjusted or masked out in certain areas.

Vray Wire – This is basically used as a mask; it makes it very easy to mask out the background from the shoe in case you have rendered it with a backdrop, like I have. It also makes it easy to quickly select different parts of the shoe like the laces, studs, etc.

Normals – I like to desaturate this map and set it to Overlay; it always gives an amazing level of depth and brings out a lot of details in the final render — a must-have!

These where essential parts of the setup of my football boot scene, the common thread between all the points is just building layers and layers of detail and depth. It’s usually not enough to have one level of detail, at least in 3D. Finding the harmony and balance between everything in our setup will give us a pleasing and pretty hyper-realistic final look.

Future Projects

Looking at future projects, I’m very optimistic, as the technology in our hands keeps improving and progressing really fast, and it’s a very exciting time to be a designer, as the possibilities of what you can do are endless and very fast. Being able to find a workflow that best suits you and fits within your comfort zone is key, and luckily, there are many different ways to try to achieve the same results.

Since I have introduced Substance into my workflow in the past two years, it has both elevated my work and allowed me to do so much more. It is a great tool for footwear, product design, CGI production, and everyday explorations and R&D.

Finally, I will leave you with some more shots from the project:


All images courtesy of Hussain Almossawi.