Scientific and Technical Academy Honors Adobe Substance Designers

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out its Technical Achievement awards on Friday night, with Sébastien Deguy, Christophe Soum, Sylvain Paris and Nicolas Wirrmann for Adobe Substance 3D Designer software among those honored. It was the first time since 2019 that the awards were given.

Iain Neil received the Gorden E. Sawyer Award at the event, honoring his technological contributions to the film industry. Howard Jensen, Danny Cangemi and John Frazier were among the achievement recipients.

Deguy’s team joins an elite group at Adobe. Only Adobe Photoshop and Adobe After Effects have also received SciTech Awards. Deguy spoke with Variety about the unique 3D software that was used on “Blade Runner 2049” and “First Man.” It’s also currently in use at VFX houses ILM, MPS, Method Studios, Cinesite and Digital Domain, among others.

What needs in the film industry inspired you and your team to create Substance 3D Designer?

I did my PhD in applied math and random processes and I tried to simulate complex phenomena, like clouds. I was trying to use modern technologies at the time to come up with something that was complex but was accurately representing these complex things like clouds or textures on objects. The textures, I thought, actually became more interesting. On the textured side of things, I thought there could be a lot of benefits from what I was doing during my PhD. There is maybe a connection between my research and the world of visual effects and animation that I didn’t see at first. I realized I want to actually apply what I’ve been working on during my PhD to the world of effects and animation, which I’m very passionate about. So I decided to create a company and build tools around that very idea of this like, the complex amount of simulation programs I wrote during my PhD. Honestly, there was no need. I saw something that was not being done. It was like it was a hammer looking for a nail.

How has the ability to create complex clouds and textures been used and where has it had the biggest impact?

It’s having the most impact on textures, and textures are really the digital materials that you want to represent when you do computer graphics imagery. You want to make sure that skin looks like skin or wood looks like wood or metal looks like metal. You’re also able to use shaders so that [the object] can reflect the light in such a way that it has the right color and color variations. All this is how Substance Designer has been very widely used to create textures more efficiently that look as real as possible or look as unreal as possible.

With “Frozen 2,” for example, they’re looking for something that is more stylized and you can do that with Substance Designer. In the case of “Blade Runner 2049,” it’s the opposite idea. The goal is to get to the point where it’s hyperrealistic and this is also where Substance Designer shines because you can create very quickly large amounts of pictures that look exactly the way you envisioned them in the first place.

How do you see the use of Substance 3D Designer growing and developing in the future? Are filmmakers and producers requesting any particular updates?

We want to make the most complete tool for defining textures and shapes and materials and shaders. That’s something that some people have been asking us to do. It’s a very specialized and narrow area and very technical. There are always new things to add so I don’t see the end of it evolving.

Only two other Adobe tools have received this distinction, so you’re in the company of tools that have really changed filmmaking and VFX. How do you feel about that?

I tried to become a director because I was so passionate about movies but I got rejected. So I ended up doing science instead. But now, the team and I help artists materialize their visions, and come up with something new that couldn’t be done before. That’s really something special to us and does feel very full circle to me.

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