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What do I need to learn to become a Material Artist?

Hello everyone!

I want to specialize in creating PBR materials. I like the works of Daniel Thiger, Joshua Lynch, etc.
Honestly, I don't really like modeling, UV mapping, baking.
Since I just started learning, I have questions that I can't find answers to.

What are the duties of a material artist? Should a material artist to model and bake? What is the workflow? What software should I know and use besides Substance Designer, Painter?
And in general, does the industry need artists who only make PBR materials? Or is it necessary to be a more versatile specialist? For example, an Environment Artist.

I would really appreciate the answers. And I apologize for possibly foolish questions.


  • Larry
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    Larry interpolator
    Not working in the industry but from the material techniques i've seen there's the workflow of sculpting a tileable plain in Zbrush and the workflow where you take a picture, make it tileable and create a material out of it (substance alchemist/designer and/or photoshop)
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis godlike master sticky
    I find it difficult to imagine a junior texture artist breaking into the industry with poor UV and texturing skills, even if they have solid material authoring skills. That being said, some studios (like mine) have separate departments for modeling and texturing, so if you really hated the modeling part, you could always download free models and texture those (although I don't know if I'd fully recommend skipping getting good at modeling).

    Making materials is rad though, keep practicing at Substance Designer, and maybe pick up ZBrush as well.
  • poopipe
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    poopipe grand marshal polycounter
    My specialist subject...

    I reject over 80% of applicants to these roles before interview. This is sometimes because they are objectively awful but mostly because I see a wall of heavily displaced material balls replicating tutorials by the artists mentioned in the OP and just switch off. 

    The people who get through to interview generally demonstrate the ability to create sets of related materials that can be used to complement each other in the context of a wider environment . They all demonstrate the ability to work from reference since that's what the actual job is.
    And, they all demonstrate a capacity for problem solving.

    After that it's down to having a decent understanding of the physics of light and materials, a solid handle on the technical aspects of designer and painter and of course the ability to actually look at the world/reference and interpret it (i.e be a good artist)

    The duties depend on where you work - in many studios they just  make textures, in others they act more like lightweight technical artists - having responsibility for managing memory, defining authoring standards and designing shaders.

  • Brian "Panda" Choi
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    Brian "Panda" Choi high dynamic range
    So you stil want not just material balls, but at least a small diorama of those material balls on actual objects as the minimum?
  • poopipe
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    poopipe grand marshal polycounter

    Material balls tell you very little about the utility of a material - you can't see how it tiles, you can't determine scale and in most cases you can't even see the whole texture. These are very important things in terms of making something thats actually useful.

    The best thing to do is as you say, build a small diorama that illustrates the various materials in a way that represents their intended use. By all means use a shader to blend materials together etc. - whatever produces a nice little scene. . 

    Having material balls and flat single tile shots of your textures is a good way to break things down and explain your working but they should be used to back up the final result in the same way you'd use shots of your UVs and wireframes for a model.
  • Pixelbit
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    Pixelbit polycounter lvl 4
    Alex Beddows wrote a blog post on this topic that you may find useful: https://www.artstation.com/alexbeddows/blog
  • Jillk
    Thank you all very much, especially poopipe!
    Now I can make a study plan.
  • another caveman
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    another caveman greentooth
    It's also a lot about managing the library, supporting artists, be ready to explain how you work and how it's efficient.
    example: first you'd submit a placeholder material that gives an intention on the shapes, the texture ratio, the tone and whatsoever else.. so people can UV map with it at least and not be hanging with a checkerboard texture, and then update it over time etc........
    If you're able to provide pics of this flow or your flow whatever, even better! Show some in production context things will help.
    your input on when to create a new mat instead of just reusing some with X or Y parameter being tweaked as a good-enough variation etc.
  • poopipe
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    poopipe grand marshal polycounter
    Not bad advice at all. Demonstrating a capacity for organising your shit in a sensible and forward thinking fashion would be a big plus. 

    Library management itself strays into the more technical side - it's not something I expect material artists to deal with beyond working cleanly and being conscientious. They should understand the system and so on but dependency management and pipeline design really falls under the remit of tech art - it's something that requires a holistic/cross discipline point of view and also a load of code to do properly so it's best punted off to people who's job it is to sort out 
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