Texturing Game of Thrones' Opening Credits with Elastic
Today we chat with Kirk and Ian from Elastic, who worked on the Game of Thrones Opening Credits. They explain how they gained time and were able to take Season 8's opening credits a step further thanks to Substance Painter's ease of use.
Kirk: My Name is Kirk Shintani. I was Art Director for the Game of Thrones main titles for seasons 7 and 8, and I’m Head of 3D here at Elastic.
Ian: Hello! My name is Ian Ruhfass, and I’m a lead 3D artist at Elastic. I was the Lighting/Shading Lead on the first seven seasons of the Game of Thrones main titles, and the 3D Lead on season 8.
Kirk: Here at Elastic we are a collective of visual storytellers. We’re focused on creative development, and use various media to achieve our creative goals. Our work is pretty diverse, running the gamut from main titles, films and commercials, to interactive, social AR and print work. Our more recent title work includes Game of Thrones, Altered Carbon, The Alienist, Ant-Man and the Wasp, I Am the Night, One Dollar and Doom Patrol to name a few.
Game of Thrones Opening Credits
Kirk: I’ve been working on the main titles since the very beginning. For seasons 1 to 7, I was the 3D lead for the project, a role which Ian seamlessly took over in season 8. I think one of the important things this season was to give the main title the correct mood and tone to reflect the changes in the show. We pushed the idea of localizing the light around specific locations and dropping the backgrounds out to give the locations a feeling of isolation, and to focus the visuals. We also wanted to push the level of detail across the board for everything. We went all the way back to concept design and scrapped everything we had done previously so we could approach this last season with a clean slate. The irony is, just because we could visually change everything, didn’t necessarily mean we should. So we were very conscious of keeping some visual continuity between season 8 and all the seasons before.
Ian: I’ve been working on this since the very first season! We had to keep the same art style and world-look for the first 7 seasons, but this 8th season gave us the opportunity to improve everything, as we were literally starting from scratch. In this final season, we really wanted to bring as much realism as possible to the textures, materials, and lighting using everything we’ve learned in the past nine and a half years. This included Kirk and I going to an exotic wood shop and taking as many reference photos as we could of real woods. Sticking to realistic wood tones was key for us, as was sticking to realistic edgewear/damage. We decided that the lighting would also have to be cooled down quite a bit this season since winter has started to overtake the continent of Westeros in the show. We couldn’t stray too far from the previous look, but we wanted to take it to a new level and improve every individual aspect of it. Kirk and I had to constantly keep the work in check to make sure we weren’t straying from the language that we’d already established. Luckily, all of the 3D artists on the team were incredibly talented and familiar with the look we wanted to achieve.
Use of Substance
Kirk: If I think back to what it was like almost ten years ago, it’s really hard to imagine. The tools we have now put so much more control into the artists' hands. Here at Elastic, we try to push creativity as far as we can. So being able to iterate and react quickly is paramount to what we do. The more versions we can do, the better the final output. Substance Painter gave us the flexibility and speed to lay out a base look quickly, and iterate on that to find just the right look. We wanted to make sure everything felt more tactile than for seasons 1 to 7, so things like wear, edge damage and dirt were extremely important. Substance Painter was a fast way to implement and adjust this.
Ian: Substance allowed us to create many iterations of our damage maps in a short time. With most of the other seasons, we had to go in and manually paint each drip and scratch. By combining various generators and particle brushes in Substance, we were able to spend less time trying to create believable textures, and more time on everything else. The best part is that there isn’t too much to mess with in Substance when it comes to creating realistic outputs - you just tweak a few sliders and instantly you have realistic maps to work with. Want to change the type of edgewear on an entire city? Just open it back up, adjust a few attributes and bake it out again. It was a very fast way to work. Using just Mari or Photoshop would have taken exponentially longer for us to achieve what we wanted.
Ian: Our goal with Substance Painter on this project was to use it to create various damage masks which we could utilize inside VRay for Maya. This consisted of black and white masks showing edgewear, scratches, dirt, and worn surfaces. This differs, I think, from most standard Substance workflows where the full materials are created in and exported from Substance. Since we had so much geometry to handle and a certain timeline to finish it all, we found it much more efficient to create seamless and repeatable realistic wood materials in VRay, and then use the Substance damage maps to blend between different variations of these materials. This way we were able to make big changes in real time in VRay without having to go back in and bake out all the textures for an entire city. The generators within Substance were a lifesaver, because without them we would have to hand paint all of the masks. They are super-intuitive to use, and it’s actually quite fun as well.
Since most of the built-in generators are so great-looking out of the box, there wasn’t much to it on the technical side. Most of what we did was just tweaking some sliders to get the desired results; however, what I found very useful was combining and layering various generators to create something unique for our needs. A lot of what we ended up with involved some of the edge damage generators in one way or another, and using those as a mask to reveal some of the other more intricate generators, or as a starting point to hand paint back in where that detail shows up.
In the beginning, we played around with Substance Designer - trying to create our own seamless and procedural wood maps. We had great success with this, and Substance Designer was amazing at creating believable textures with unlimited resolution, but due to time constraints, we decided to stick with our own textures and just use Substance Painter to generate damage maps for us. Even though we didn’t use it on this project, Substance Designer is something I can see us starting to use more on future projects due to its flexibility and power.
Kirk: Our pipeline changes a lot depending on what project we’re working on. For season 8, our pipeline consisted of Maya as our base package, ZBrush for sculpting, VRay to render, Substance Painter and Photoshop for texture work, and Nuke for compositing. Substance Painter was really seamless from the very first day we used it. Getting files in and out is painless, and it did so much over the last few years to speed up our texture workflow. From texture maps, to masks, to custom assets from Substance Designer, it’s all very intuitive, and it plays well with all the packages that we use.
Tips & Tricks
Ian: I really do believe that realism comes from the subtleties. I’d much rather layer ten subtle texture variations than have one super-evident edge wear pass, for example. The way that Substance works with the different blending modes makes this very straightforward. I’d also encourage people to try out our workflow - where we use Substance to generate various masks, which we then use in our 3D package to blend between different versions of our triplanar/seamless shaders (perhaps ones that you make in Substance Designer). It’s a great workflow when you have a lot of stuff to cover in a limited amount of time, or if there are going to be constant changes/experimentation. The faster you can lay out the basic stuff, the more iterations of it you can try, and the better the end product will be. In the end, you can go back in to pick and choose what to add extra detail to.
Kirk: We’re always working on a ton of main titles and commercials. I can’t really talk about specific projects, but I will say that Substance Painter is being used more and more across all aspects of the facility. From Design to 3D, we are relying on Substance to push our creative exploration on all different types of projects. We’ve done more and more with Substance Designer, and it allows us to stay as creative and efficient as possible
Kirk: We keep evolving as a company and as artists. I’m excited to see how Substance Painter and Substance Designer help us do that. The speed, pipeline integration and creative freedom it offers are compelling to us, and I only see our reliance on Allegorithmic going up.
Ian: Substance Painter has come a long way since we first started using it, and it has completely transformed the way we approach texturing and material development. It’s now a very fun and intuitive process that anybody can pick up quickly. I’m very excited to see what the future has in store, and how it will integrate with all the different software packages out there!