Join Sebastien Deguy for an in-depth discussion in this video Sebastien Deguy, part of Sebastien Deguy: Allegorithmic Changing the Art of Games.
- So, my name is Sebastien Deguy, we say 'de-gee' in French but Deguy is fine, I'm Deguy here in the U.S. In France I'm 'de-gee'. I'm the COO and Founder at Allegorithmic, a software company doing the Substance Tool Suite dedicated to texturing. We do, mainly two tools, 'Substance Designer', 'Substance Painter'. We have more, but these two ones are the most important ones. They are dedicated to the production of textures and especially for game developers.
So, game developers use Substance Designer, and/or Substance Painter to actually create the textures the way they would have created them before with Photoshop, for instance, or by using a library of pretty fine textures. It's a new breed of creative tools and really focusing on the texture aspect of things. So, it's mostly games, as I was mentioning, not so much in the film and the animation industry, although we see here and there, more and more people using it.
It's interesting to witness because we haven't pushed for it at all, but it's happening still. They keep asking us to change this and that. We don't do it, yet, but we will end up doing the modifications they ask because it will be a new market for us. The main market is the game development studios, whether they are AAA guys or the indie developers, the enthusiasts you can find out there. More and more, by the way. And a little bit of design, architecture, and VFX animation as well.
So, a few things, maybe, the first is something we launched not so long ago, it was a GDC in March. It's called Substance Live. It's, again, something we wanted to do that has to do with subscription. It's a subscription but it's not a subscription. It's a rent to own system. So basically, you can pay 19, 19, sorry its $20 per month and you get the whole package of products that we sell. And after a certain amount of payments, you actually own the product.
And we wanted to do that because we knew, as a company, and I as a CEO, I understand very well the importance of going into subscription. It's recurring revenue, it's a base of customers that you have at your disposal somehow. But, it's very important, it's very easy to understand why, it makes sense on the business side of things to go for subscription and I understand the big guys like Adobe and Autodesk, and going after this because it makes sense on the business side of things.
But, the thing is the feedback in the community has been like fighting it a bit and the part of the community that has been fighting it the most is the part that we address ourselves. So, we knew that by going into subscription from the start like what the other guys do, we would have hurt our relationship and our community. So, we didn't want that and so, we wanted to find something that was fair again.
The same idea of trust, we trust you, you trust us, doing something fair and innovative again. But we definitely want it to give access to all of our tools to as many people as possible. So we came up with this rent to own system. Actually our VP, he was buy a new car here in Los Angeles. And he got leasing. Basically it's the same idea. It's the idea of it was, well he came back and said, "well that's something we could use maybe." In software you haven't seen that much, and so we launched it and the feedback has been amazing.
So it's $20, you can stop it whenever you want and resume it and when you resume it, you keep the credit you have been accumulating before. And after a certain amount of months, you actually own the license of the current version of the software, so you can keep using it and you can stop. It pushes us to keep innovating but we have many, many new thing to add anyway to our products, so we are very confident we can make that and keep people with us. And so far the churn has been super low, so that's great.
And the feedback has been great. So that's the first thing I wanted to talk about because this is, we try not only to innovate in the products, but also in this model and proximity to our customers, side of things. And the next thing that we will be launching in September is Substance Share. And Substance Share is a platform again to, for users to exchange data, exchange brushes, to exchange textures, materials, presets that they think could be of interest to anyone.
It's free only. You could use it commercially. What you can find there is you can use it the way you want and it will be very easy to find. So in the tool you will be able to browse, in a database that is online somewhere for like noise, I need noise, a copper material or something. Then you get a list of some things that are already installed on your computer or out there in the share, we sometimes share. And you can download it and then use it and that's it.
Or vice versa, you can say well, I like that node, I like that material, I like that brush that I created and I think I should share it. So and if I think it should be free, I can upload it directly from the tool. So we're launching that in September. So it started as I was a PHD student and it was a long time ago. I was a PHD student but also I was super interested in movies, games, CGI and I...
Even before starting my PHD I even tried to enter a cinema school in Paris and I got rejected, but I got I could start this PHD and I was paid by the French government because I got results for this. So I studied a PHD but with all this in my mind and still very much interested in all these movies and visual effect I could see out there.
And so while I was working on my research I was also teaching Soft 3D. And what I was doing in my research was, I was working on mathematical models, random processes and trying to apply these random processes and these mathematical moudls for simulating physically realistic clouds. And so the constraints where the physicality and the physical reality I would say, of these simulations.
So I wrote a prototype and the prototype was actually interesting enough so that when I was teaching SoftImage 3D what I was seeing in this tool that was the top tool at the time when it comes to noise, textures, was not on par with what I would do with my little prototype. And the little prototype was not used for producing textures, It was used for producing physically or realistic clouds. That could get analyzed by other algorithms.
But then I started to think well, what if I would apply what I'm working on right now in this field instead of the math field and physics field? And so I gave a conference at a computer graphics dedicated conference in France, and the feedback was amazing. The noises we could produce with my model, I mean the model I was working on. They were never seen before and they were super easy to modify, to tweak.
And so, actually the head of R&D from BUF company, B.U.F, I'm sure you know, the French company, they came to me and said well how did you do that? And can you explain to us? This is interesting. If you can do this and that on top of what you've done already you will find interest in the industry for this. So I started to think well maybe there is something to do here. And just after I completed my PHD, the day after actually I got drunk, because obviously you have to do that.
And it became clear, it became super clear when I'm drunk it's all clear, all dark but in my case it was all clear. I needed to start a company to exploit what I was doing here. I didn't want to become a researcher, I don't have the talent for this. But I'm more a conductor type of guy and I wanted to see what these ideas could lead to in the right hands so I hired one of my student who's a super talented guy and is still here in the company and great, great people.
And so we started like this. Like just saying well, let's try to make a product out of this idea, out of this mathematical model, out of this prototype, like make a real product now. And I thought it would take two years with two people it took 10 years. And 40 people before really taking off but, that's the way it is. So I cannot speak that much about the games but today what I can tell you is that, 80 triple A super advanced games are being produced using Substance right now.
Last year it was about 20. So it's really increasing fast. The first ones you will see officially announcing that they have been using Substance should be by the end of this year or early next year. But today I can not really talk about it, but they look amazing. - [Voiceover] I know some of them because I know who's working on them. - Yeah and if you, basically well I wasn't at E3 myself but if you, we made a table internally.
Like all the games presented at E3 that we know use Substance, that we think use Substance, that we know don't use Substance and it was more green than red. So it was a good feeling but we couldn't talk about it yet, so that's a bit disturbing but we're working on it and we understand as well. - [Voiceover] So after the games are released in the fall? Usually it eases the process, yeah. So Substance Painter is a bit of... a mix of things.
It was an alignment of planets at some points. Like, super-old ideas. Like the particle-based brushes. So actually there was an idea... pushed in 2005. So I had an intern coming in and trying out programming a particle system to... that would leave traces behind them and behaving in a certain way and you could program the behavior. And we were producing super amazing stuff but it was slow and it was 2D so we couldn't use it really.
But we had that in the back of our mind, some point. And so at some point one of our guy also came to me and say "Well, I've programmed this on the weekend." And it was a GPU-only accelerated 3D paint. And he told me, "You can go that fast, you can do that." And it was super well done, super well crafted. - And then some people started to ask, "Well when do you add this 3D painting ability "to Substance Designer?" Et cetera, et cetera.
So it was a mix of old innovations that we kept somewhere, old ideas. New burgeoning things coming from the inside. Feedback from the outside as well. So it was a mix of things and an alignment of planets and at some point we decided, yeah, we should do that. And so, but with... our DNA behind it which is using procedural techniques but not procedural for procedural.
It has to have meaning and it has to be helpful to the user in the end and the more hidden it is, the better. In Substance Designer we made the choice of making it like, completely open, super complex and not that hidden. You couldn't hide the complexity of things but you could get into it as well. Whereas with Substance Painter we say, well, we want to take the, the opposite vision for this one but, add very complex procedures, procedural-based techniques like particle-based painting system and hide it as much as possible and make it just a fun product to deal with and so we go inspirations from Photoshop, from Mudbox, from all the tools that we liked and we say, "Well, this is great, this is cool, "this is what people use now.
"And so we should replicate it somehow "or get inspired from that somehow." And so we mixed that together and we came up with Substance Painter but it was... yeah, a mix of things, a very hybrid approach. Yeah we do have artists working at the company. And from the start actually. And it's always been a super-important thing for us. And it's even more complicated, it's actually... most of our programmers also do other stuff.
They're interested in film, they're interested in music. They're interested in literature. Sometimes they produce, sometimes they create themselves. So they usually have that... that eye, that interest in this and vice-versa the artists we work with, usually they are very technically-minded. And they don't mind working with buggy software. And they don't mind coming up with ideas and sometimes they come up with products themselves. Like just by meta-programming them somehow.
And yeah, it's been always this mix of things and actually the name Allegorithmic, it's all that. It's a mix of allegoric, and... for the artistic part and poetic part. And algorithmic for the mathematical part so it's Allegorithmic, it's a mixed name. It's the worst name ever. I know it's too long but I love it because of that story actually. Absolutely yeah, especially since Substance Painter.
Substance Painter is an easier tool than Substance Designer. It's a 3D paint application whereas Substance Designer is a node-based interface, it's more like, Substance Designer is more like for the... the right part of the brain, you know, the logical part. Is it the left part or right part? I never remember. Anyway, that part of the brain that is logical and Substance Painter is more for the other one where it's easier to get into, it's fun to use and it's in 3D so you're painting 3D directly whereas with Substance Designer you have one more step which is like a 2D layout and you have this graph and so it's very complicated.
I mean, Substance Designer is super powerful and useful for pipelines and... for defining pipelines in a new way and creating textures that are good for the new PBR, physically based rendering techniques that you see used by most of the game developers these days. But it's a kind of a mind-set and it's perfect for a team of users and a little bit overkill sometimes when you are one guy doing one texture for one asset whereas Substance Painter is easier so that when you start producing game art, and even if it's just you having fun with it, Substance Painter is an easier entry point.
So this is how we could get into this indie market and reach these people with Substance Painter. That the tool was better for this but also, we've seen distribution channels change very much like Substance Painter, we sell lots on Steam, for instance. And on Steam what you can find is all these gamers and they love games obviously but a chunk of these guys and girls obviously, they'd like to get into the game development themselves.
So by finding on the side of, on top of the games that they can buy on Steam, they can find the tools that have been utilized by the game developers to produce these games and so they can pick them up at certain price and they can start playing the game of being a game designer somehow, or a game developer. So these enthusiasts, we reach this way. We reach via our website and on forums directly.
It's a very direct relationship that we have with this new population and it's a very... savvy population as well so they... they've known internet from the start, right? So they're young and so they, they know how to search for information, they know how to... learn new stuff and they find everything they need online so they find information that they need so if you're well-positioned, if you mastered like, in bond marketing, not only on bond marketing but the good old ones, the good old ways of pushing products but providing information...
helping these guys out. They will come at you and look at what you do and they will start to get interested in what you propose as products. So that's combined with the third thing which is the business models. So about... is it two years ago, maybe? We introduced an Indie version of our license. So you have Pro and Indie and Indie is dedicated to these guys as well. So it's basically the same tool, just saying that as a company, acquiring, or an individual acquiring the tool, if you do less than 100k per year in revenue, coming from that direct production, you can say, "Well, I'm an Indie." So you can have this very nice price.
So nice price, new distribution channels, and a good product, easy-to-grasp product. We could reach that new market and it was perfect timing because these people, they were not here before or they were hidden, they spread away. It was super-hard to reach them and the big guys, they couldn't cut the prices off so we wounded up with this new business model where you have the same product but we trust the people to say, "Well I'm doing more or less than this threshold, "and if I'm doing less, I pay this, "if I'm doing more, I pay that." That's okay and it's paid off so far.
No, not at all actually. We were aiming for animation and VFX because of the BUF guys and... and also because some of the first people we would meet were... or I could meet, the people at SEAGRAPH actually like the Pixar guys and Digital Domain and they would listen to me because they were interested in this procedural noise functions. They were using them already. But in the end, the constraints you can find in these fields and combined with the fact that we were not ready, and all the products were not there yet, we couldn't sell anything to this market yet and actually we still don't.
But along... I mean, after a few years, we realized that what we had at the time was more adapted to the games market and that was fine because we were into games as well and we were respecting that very much, so we focused on the game developers instead of movies, movie-makers. I used to be a gamer. I'm less of a gamer now but I used to be a gamer when I was younger, crazy. What did I play? Oh, well.
At the time, well like Rick Dangerous was one of my favorites... Tetris and that kind of stuff but Rick Dangerous. Yeah, I liked Loadrunner. I'm that old. Well VR and augmented reality is one more console somehow. So it's one more way of consuming 3D. And so you will still need the people, well, it's great and obviously it's amazing and it's going to be huge and it's great because it means, for us it means more people needing to, will have to use tools for creating that content.
So that's obviously good news and good news for 3D overall because these experiences have to be 3D. They cannot be 2D. I mean, it's not even true what I've said because the first thing you would see on... the VR headset will be movies or just... plain movies but you will be all 360 movies at least but the next step will be 3D obviously. I think the big change to me will come from... as soon as you get scanners on your iPhone, and you will be able to scan something like your head, you will be doing a 3D selfie.
This is where it gets crazy because I think that the amount of 3D content you will see coming will explode completely. And this is where you will need to rethink everything about the pipelines. So we're trying to think about that in advance. We don't think it will happen next... two to three years, it might take a little bit longer but we're working on that already. But I think the big change will be this because VR, AR, it's great, it's amazing and it will lead to more content and more content being produced and more need for content but I think that when it comes to really, the...
process of creating 3D, what will change will be when modelling can be done by scanning something and starting from there you just modify... what you scanned or you mix with something else. You see what you look like with different hair. Your bigger or smaller nose. You name them all. So I think this is where it will become, when it will become crazy.
I'm very much into MOOCs. I love that actually. I discovered Coursera not so long ago actually and I love it and currently I'm not following any on Coursera but I'm following a... an online certification and something serious at Stanford University. And so it's what I'm doing right now, but at the same time on the side I'm learning... music production because I'm a musician also on the side and I'm learning that as well.
So you can find everything on the internet again and so I bought a... a series of lessons and I'm following that right now so it's interesting. So that's what I'm doing, yeah, I'm very much into that. I love it. Being French I would say, speaking English, stupid huh? But the first time I came here in the US I was not speaking English at all. Almost nothing or as bad as French do.
It's stupid. Give you a little stupid story about this word, 'eventually'. When you translate it, literally, from English to French, that means you get that the sense is 'maybe'. Whereas 'eventually' it will happen at some point for sure and 'maybe' you don't know if it will happen. So if you translate it, so when somebody says to you, "Yeah, I'll get back to you eventually." I would get back home and say, "Oh, I'm disappointed." Because that was a...
a nice way of saying "No, we're not interested." So I wouldn't get back to them and I wouldn't... try anything anymore so I'm pretty sure I lost so much time just by not speaking English well enough and not being able to connect to people and that's stupid because, of course, English-speaking people, they don't get that but, what you get though is when you speak to somebody from abroad who doesn't speak for whom English is not their first language, you sound always dumber than you are really.
And that was so frustrating because the first people I would meet, they had to be really, really patient and super-smart to actually understand what I was talking about and see behind the lack of language and understand what I was telling them and understand that I was also trustful. That they could trust me and trust my company. That was super-hard and it took me years. So the first and most important thing is, and I guess it could translate to English people saying 'communicate' just being able to communicate correctly what you have in mind and what you want to do and because...
you won't be able to do anything if you don't ask, if you don't talk, if you don't connect. Everywhere, yeah. And actually I try to get... away from my desk as much as possible. I mean, sometimes I don't feel bad when I just don't work. Because I have to do that. But not everybody is like that and I'm very much inspired by external things so I have to talk, I have to watch, I have to read, I have to listen.
Some other people have to just listen to themselves and concentrate, they're more internal. Whether you're external or internal would do whatever you want but in my case, yeah. I find it everywhere. Like my kid for instance. (chuckles) Just like the pure enthusiasm for something is super-important because that's usually the first reaction people will have when they look at something new and we're producing something new, we're producing products.
So you want to understand that very first moment. So just being able to read that somehow and understanding better and getting better understanding it is important. But then I watch movies, I play games when I have the time. Less now. I watch movies, I read books. A lot of books actually, I try to, and not only practical books, novels as well. And I try to do music as well so, yeah.