Behind the Production - MicroSkin Collection

All the precious support that you have been providing us throughout the years inspires us everyday. We would like here, at TexturingXYZ,  to thank you with a quick look behind the production!
In this article, we will give you all the tips and tricks you need to create your own Micro-Tileable maps!

Like in every story, there is a start... And there is an end.
Of course, we won't reveal our first steps in this journey, where we captured the skin data we have in the UHD displacement collection.
But we will give you everything else: a lot of valuable tips and tricks, and even how you could actually create your own micro skin maps... With the tools currently available on the market.

1- The Needs
Before starting a new collection, we make sure we ve got requests from our users.
Through the years, TexturingXYZ's community has massively grown, and our client's requests have always driven us to establish the best roadmap to fulfill your needs. The idea of the MicroSkin library came up a long time ago.
Many artists, especially working in real-time engines such as UE and Unity, wanted to get a dedicated collection, with the goal to achieve something believable in their engine.

2- Research & Development
The first stage in a production always begins with an RnD phase:
We allow a budget to invest enough resources into solutions, machines, hardwares and software.
Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't... But when you feel in your guts that something is achievable, we believe at TexturingXYZ that it is always worth trying.

As usual, we tried multiple approaches!
One of those was an AI image-based style transfer-tool (in early 2018) to see if it would improve our data or images to work with. Unfortunately, the quality was under the standards that we usually aim for.

So we ended up using the data available on the store. With the UHD displacement collection, we analyzed manually each pack (with images up to 50k! *gulps*), and identified all the tileable areas.

During this process, we had to think about:

  • Skin flow,
  • Wrinkles,
  • Directionality,
  • Skin behaviours (stress, clamminess, etc).

Example of natural Skin variation on Female Arm 30s Shoulders #02
We then prepared these areas to crop, in order to get the most accurate and various scanned micro skin database ever created.
With all the necessary maps to get astonishing results, whatever the workflow used!

At the time, we were really busy with the collections available now on the store.
Last year we released some more UHD displacement maps, in order to gather and fulfill your needs, but also to get more data to work with, and establish the MicroSkin collection.

We have extracted all of the MicroSkin data from the UHD Displacement library.

3- Production
After the Multi-Channel Faces drop we did in september last year, we then started to Crop, Tile, and Clean again our WIP MicroSkin Library, to make sure everything was consistent, and adequate to our quality standards.
Then, we created the texture variations needed for everyone (Cavity, Height and Normal map).

This is where the interesting part starts:
  • How to choose the right part to tile?
  • How could we make it tile?
  • How to double check an asset and then the whole production?

  • A- Crop
After analyzing the whole texture, we located different 2048x2048 map areas to Crop, like on the picture below.
Overview of these selected zones on Male Arm 60s Fullarm #02, before the Crop step
You just have to export each area, in the desired dimensions.
But make sure to export in 16bits to preserve the bit depth!

  • B- Tiling
While everyone knows what a tileable map is, what are the options available today?
To speed up the process,  you can use manual, automatic/semi-automatic (i.e. with scripts or AI) techniques, with softwares such as :

We decided to go our own, and did a Tiling tool inside of Nuke.
After all, Nuke is an image processor software, isn't it? A powerful one.

Quick screengrab of our Nuke Tiling Tool, that can export all the maps at once
Once each map has been processed and made tileable, we are now ready to clean them up!

From there, the most important part is the pattern transitions "inside" the image, to ensure that the skin flow is preserved and life-like. 
Something definitively impossible using a fully-automatic method.
During this step, we had to throw away a few cropped areas, because we couldn't get a decent organic flow, when we tested to repeat the map multiple times.
 Here is a good example of a map we can't keep, because the organic pattern transitions couldn't be preserved after the tiling process.

 But it's a part of the process!
This is why observation is key, before you crop UHD displacement maps!


  • C- Cleaning
After the tiling process, do you think we are done?
Well, not yet!
Working in a production involves consistency, especially on libraries with more than a hundred assets.
We had to make sure the maps would work side-by-side, without any visible levels or frequencies differences/mismatch.

For that, we also used Nuke to solve this, asset by asset.

This step may involve the use of Grading/Contrast fixes to get the same Black/Mid/White-points on the whole library.

Tip: If you use masks to blend multiple maps, the transitions between them should be smooth, but not faded.
Using this Threshold method can help you, in most cases:

Threshold method, using masks and organic transitions between different maps.
 The opacity "fade" generally leads to the apparition of a visible seam, and contrasts issues.
Therefore, each map of the library has been tested and processed this way.

  • D- Previews
Once everything seemed great, at least, at the best point, we started to render Previews, using Maya and Arnold.
The Randomwalk SSS shipped with the latest version is really convincing!
We managed to render in batch everything in less than 2 days, on a mid-range single computer!
In total, we rendered 250 images, in 1920×1080.
Full screen SSS Renders!

Maya Viewport: the magic only happens in Rendering, it's just a plane!

Helping Artists to stay creative and freedom is our priority.
We have new collections coming soon, and for sure we will try our best, as usual, to provide high-end assets to produce better and faster!

Hey! Our friends at Allegorithmic just released some of our MicroSkin maps on their dedicated Library for Artists : Substance Source. Go check them out!

Exciting times ahead!