We all know the name of Substance by now, right? This suite of texturing tools has reinvigorated the games industry and is used by the biggest game studios, but that doesn’t stop indies from giving Allegorithmic’s software a try. Allegorithmic’s MAT Contest, which was launched for the first time in 2017, was a first for the company, and a huge success to boot, too. “We received 1,200 entries which might be one of the biggest contests in the digital art world and in the 3D media and entertainment world,” says its CEO, Dr. Sébastien Deguy. There was a real diversity in entries, from seasoned game artists to students and new texture painters. “The winner used Substance Painter for the first time, and it shows that it’s a tool that’s easy to pick up!
“We had to pick a couple of winners, but it was so difficult and I gave too many names for the winners! We ended up creating more prizes to give to more winners!”
The genesis of Allegorithmic and the Substance tools began in 2002, when Deguy was a PHD student, “I was working on mathematical modelling of physically realistic clouds – to do with random processes, it was really hardcore maths. I was also teaching Softimage 3D, which was the ultimate package at the time. I was so much in love with that product, it was awesome, but I realised that [when I was teaching Softimage and texturing] that my prototype that I was creating for my PHD – a noise generator – was more advanced at the time! So I was like okay, maybe I can use my stuff from physically realistic clouds and produce textures, and I found a way to create visually interesting textures.
“So I decided to do my first talk in a computer graphics community, and the feedback was great! Then one guy in the audience was head of the R&D at BUF and at the time they were super highend, and were working on the Matrix and Fight Club. So he said to me, ‘Please visit me and tell me how you did that.’ So I visited the guy, and he said ‘That’s super impressive, I like what you do, we can use it in the visual effects industry, what are your plans?’ So I said ‘I dunno’, but I realised that I wanted to use it in a company, so I needed to start a company and that’s how I started Allegorithmic.
One version for all
With Substance Painter and Substance Designer making up the core texturers of the toolset, the Substance suite has since been used in a plethora of arch vis projects and games, from Horizon Zero Dawn to Uncharted 4 and Call of Duty Black Ops III. It’s also starting to see use in visual effects, having been utilised in Logan, the Assassin’s Creed film and The Man in the High Castle.
One part of the attraction to the tools is the payment model, where everybody gets the same set of tools – no light version, no non-commercial version, no restrictions. “When we think about our users, we think of the big guys and the small guys,” says Deguy. “We don’t have light versions, it’s the same product. We don’t like light versions, light versions is like treating people as light people!”
Key to Deguy’s core business principles at Allegorithmic has been the idea of fairness that stems from his father, “My father was a CEO for a plumbing company, so I’ve seen him managing his own company. It’s something I always respected. What I’ve seen is that you need to be close to your users and close to the people and fair to everyone. He was fair and serious. I could see the respect people developed for him by being a good person, before being a good business guy. I’m trying to convey that.”
“I look back at it and I think it’s one of the most important things when you want to do business in a proper way. When you’re fair, people get back to you again and work again with you. My favourite expression is that ‘life is not a zero-sum game’.”
Numberless version releases
It’s not a surprise, then, that generosity is also a core value for Deguy, as he admits that in the past Allegorithmic may have given ‘too much’ – making some of the product releases unfair on the development process. One of the reasons that Substance Painter and Substance Designer became numberless in Summer 2017 cycles back to this idea, “It’s an unnatural and fake structure – the big releases. At some point the big releases are very exciting but it also means that sometimes, we have to save things for big releases so that it’s a ‘big’ release. It’s like, should we withhold and wait for this feature to go in a big version? We wanted something that is fair and modular to our users and that is fair and manageable to us too.”
Another interesting part of Allegorithmic’s business is the rent to own scheme as part of Substance Live, where users can rent Substance software and each payment goes towards the full licence, “When we first started it, we were the first or one of the first to start this business model. It’s for people who want the option to not pay the full price, to try it out for a few months – if they like it, maybe they keep paying for it. From our side, it’s interesting because we are procuring revenue somehow, but it takes more risk than benefits from this business model.”
In five years time, however, Substance may change completely. “We’re having fun,” says Deguy. “Growing this fast is challenging. But what we really like is making products. I’d like to see a more complete portfolio, to do asset creation, what we can do for the left side of the pipeline, like parametrisation, and more hybrid ways of producing content – mixing textures, surfaces and meshes maybe, but also rendering and visualisation, we’d like to improve on that, too. And being more present in films and architectural work – seeing Substance in as many places as possible!”
Don’t miss out on Sebastien’s talk at Vertex! Book your ticket now at vertexconf.com. There are still some amazing workshops we’ve yet to announce so keep an eye on our website, where you can also find out more about the other amazing speakers, workshops, recruitment fair, networking event, expo and more.
This interview has been edited from its original version in issue 110 of 3D Artist, the magazine offering practical inspiration for 3D enthusiasts and professionals. Subscribe to 3D Artist here.