Surfacing Props for VFX 2023

Learn the essentials of Surfacing to create a photoreal hero prop asset for VFX.

19.06.2023 - 08.09.2023
Application deadline
Enrol on the Programme for 5% a month*


Surfacing Props for VFX is a 12-week live and online programme where students will be taught the fundamentals of 3D Surfacing to create a photoreal, pipeline-ready prop for VFX. Through practical hands-on learning via live lessons and workshops, we’ll cover a wide range of topics covering the asset surfacing process.


This programme is the second of a series that will teach you how to build an asset and push it through the VFX pipeline to create a number of believable shots. You can enrol on this programme as a standalone, or if you’d like to develop a wider skillset, you can do so by joining us on Modelling Props for VFX and Asset Integration for VFX.

Now you may be thinking that 12 weeks is a long course, especially when it comes to surfacing a single prop. However, we are aiming for quality and in order for you to absorb and apply the teaching, you’ll need time. Time to make mistakes and time to experiment, all of which will allow you to really grasp the tools, techniques, and the creative problem skills to become a successful surfacing artist.

We’ll also discuss other areas of the CG pipeline that are integral to the success of any project, such as Onset, Modelling, Lighting, Production, Bidding and Scheduling.

To underpin each stage lesson and to push your creative, technical and problem-solving skills, we’ll study the fundamentals and the theory behind Surfacing. This includes studying real-world materials, pushing our traditional skills, art, shape, function and form. This background research will directly feed into how we approach the creation of CG assets.

The outcome of the programme is to provide you with a strong surfacing skillset enabling you to have a core understanding of the VFX surfacing pipeline and an ability to apply these skills to real-world projects.

Tutors and Industry Partners

This programme will be tutored by Jahirul Amin and throughout the programme, we’ll have guest tutors join us such as Christopher Antoniou, and interviews and discussions from industry professionals working at companies such as Clear Angle Studios, ILM, DNEG, MPC, Framestore, beloFX, Rebellion Film Studios, BlueBolt, Union VFX and more.


To complement the teaching, CAVE Academy are extremely proud to be working with an exceptional range of companies and individuals. Throughout the programme, they’ll be joining us for in-person review sessions, tech demos, interviews, and discussions. Working with industry will also allow us to give you first-hand contact with potential future employers from the outset.


The programme will be spread over 12 weeks and the weekly schedule will be as follows:

  • Monday | Lectures and discussions | 10am – 12noon UK time
  • Tuesday | Workshops | 10am – 1pm UK time
  • Wednesday | Industry speaker session | 10am – 12noon UK time (occasional)
  • Thursday | Self-study
  • Friday | Dailies and Q&A | 10am – 1pm UK time

All sessions will be recorded and uploaded, however, we recommend you attend the live sessions, as being part of the community and asking questions is how you’ll best develop your skills and knowledge.

Week 1001 | Surfacing for VFX

Lecture | How Surfacing fits within the VFX Pipeline

We’ll be kicking off the programme off with a breakdown of how Surfacing fits into the VFX pipeline. We’ll also discuss important topics such as what is Texturing, Look Development, Groom, Surfacing, briefs, LODs, naming conventions.

Workshop | Colour Space and ACEScg

For week 1, we’ll focus on working within a Project Directory suitable for VFX. Following on from this we’ll discuss the important topic of colour space and working within an ACEScg environment.

Assignment | Observe and Analyse

Your first assignment is to simply go out and explore the world around you, and gather real-world reference.

Week 1002 | Understanding Light and Matter

Lecture | Physically-Based Rendering

This week, we’ll first look at how light works and how materials respond to light. We’ll then explore Physically Based Rendering and how this sets the stage for our Surfacing work.

Workshop | Unpolarised, Polarised and Cross Polarised Light

In this workshop, we will study how the differences between unpolarised, polarised and cross-polarised photography, and discuss how it can aid you for the purposes of data acquisition for texture and look development.

Assignment | Get to Know the Asset

Your assignment this week is to take the provided reference and do a breakdown of the materials. Following on from this, you’ll need to find out more information about each material.

Week 1003 | The Importance of Calibration and Consistency

Lecture | The Grey, the Chrome, and the Macbeth Chart

Here we will look at the Grey ball, the Chrome ball, and the Macbeth chart, and explore how they can aid in texturing, look development and lighting.

Workshop | Surfacing Workflows and Best Practices

This week, we’ll explore a few different ways in which we can approach the Surfacing task.

Assignment | Creating Shaders and Applying Textures

For assignment 1003, we want you to go ahead and apply a series of shaders to different objects and apply textures.

Week 1004 | Studio Look Development Setup

Lecture | Look Development for Shots

It is important to ensure our assets are look devved in a manner that ensures they are suitable for multiple shots, each with different lighting conditions. Here, we will explore how best to do that.

Workshop | Creating a Studio Look Development Setup

In this workshop, we’ll prepare our primary look development environment, in which we’ll carry out all our shader work and in which we will use for all further reviews.

Assignment | Complete your Studio Look Development Setup

This week, your task is to make sure your look development environment is ready to go.

Week 1005 | Surfacing with 3D Substance Painter

Workshop | Substance 3D Painter Fundamentals

This week, we’ve got double workshops as we do a deep dive into Substance 3D Painter. We’ll start with an initial overview of the application and how it can be used for Surfacing.

Workshop | Further Exploring Substance 3D Painter

Our second workshop on Substance Painter will further explore the tools available We’ll also test that we are able to export texture maps and apply them to our shader in Maya/Arnold.

Assignment | Create a Smart Material

This week, you are tasked with creating a series of fancy smart material.

Week 1006 | Surfacing with Mari

Workshop | Mari Fundamentals

It is a double-bill of Mari this week. Our initial workshop will explore the app, so you are comfortable working with the tool.

Workshop | Further Exploring Mari

For our second workshop on Mari, we’ll explore more of the tools available in Mari and some of the techniques in which we can best incorporate them into our workflow.

Assignment | Masking

Masking is a huge workflow both in the creation of textures and shaders. Here you will be tasked with using Masks to control your texture maps.

Week 1007 | Introduction to Substance 3D Designer

Workshop | Substance 3D Designer Fundamentals

Substance Designer is an extremely powerful application for texturing, so let’s take a tour of the app. Again, it is a week of double workshops, so we are able to put in the time needed to become comfortable with the application.

Workshop | Further Exploring Substance 3D Designer

We’ll continue to explore Substance 3D Designer and also look at how we can integrate our Designer workflow into Painter and Mari. We’ll also dive into other useful tools, such as Substance 3D Sampler, Quixel Mixer and XNormals.

Assignment | Test your Prepped Asset

Your task this week is to export your asset to Substance Painter, Mari and Mudbox, and test that it is texture-friendly.

Week 1008 | Creating your Diffuse Map

Lecture | Exploring Diffuse and Specular Reflection

Here we will look at diffuse and specular reflection, so we have clarity on what we should visually be seeing for each texture.

Workshop | Texture Projection Workflows

At this stage, we should be comfortable using Substance Painter and Mari for texturing, and Maya/Arnold for shading. So let’s now focus on making sure our primary asset is good for Surfacing. We’ll also look at working with scan data, texture resolution for 4K rendering, and camera projections in both Substance Painter and Mari.

Assignment | Generate v001 Diffuse Map

This week, we want you to focus on creating your diffuse texture map.

Week 1009 | Creating your Secondary Maps

Lecture | Colour Theory

We’ve done a lot of button pushing, so let’s get back to the fundamentals this week with an exploration on all things colour.

Workshop | Creating your Specular, Roughness and Normal Maps

With our primary maps good to go, we’ll now look at creating our secondary maps, allowing us to achieve a higher degree of believability.

Assignment | Generate v001 Secondary Maps

Your assignment this week is to create a first pass of the remaining maps.

Week 1010 | Refining your Texture Maps

Lecture | Gestalt Principles

A little psychology this week as we dive into Gestalt Principles.

Workshop | Continuing with the Texturing Process

This week, we’ll continue working on our textures to create a fully photoreal set of maps.

Assignment | Test your Maps

Your assignment this week is to render your asset as you go and test your maps.

Week 1011 | Finalising your Shaders

Lecture | Texture and Material Naming Conventions

As we come towards the final push, we’ll want to ensure our asset texture maps and shaders are all named consistently.

Workshop | Wrapping up your Shaders and Using Masks

This week, we’ll look to finalise our shaders and look at creating and using masks to further enhance our control over our shader setup.

Assignment | Submit Surfacing v001

Your assignment this week is to create your Surfacing turntable, along with contact sheet.

Week 1012 | Creating your Surfacing Turntables

Lecture | An Overview of USD

For our final week, let’s look at some new technology and how we can incorporate them into our workflow. For starters, we’ll look at USD.

Workshop | Testing your Textures and Shaders

With our studio renders good to go, let’s now test our asset under different lighting conditions to see how our textures and shaders respond.

Assignment | Complete your Final Set of Renders

Your final assignment is to render your asset under different lighting conditions.

Hardware and Software Requirements

Students will be expected to provide their own computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, digital tablet and pen. We recommend a Windows machine with a minimum spec of 2.5ghz 6-core CPU with 16GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GPU with 6GB of RAM.

Students will need to acquire their own software for this course. The applications we’ll be using will be as follows, however, please note that you are more than welcome to use any similar application.

  • Maya 2023
  • Mudbox 2023
  • Nuke 13
  • Photoshop
  • Substance 3D Painter
  • Substance 3D Designer
  • Mari

We’ll also be working within an ACEScg colour space and experiment with USD. This course is about understanding the core workflows and fundamentals to surfacing props. It is software agnostic. But do note that we’ll not be able to support you as much if you are using other applications.

Students will also need a microphone and a web-camera for live online sessions.


*Programme Fee: 5% monthly income per month

From the very beginning, our intentions at CAVE have been to provide training that is both relevant and affordable for everyone – or as close as possible to everyone – across the globe. We’ve thought long and hard about how we can achieve this, and the outcome of our internal discussions has been to go with a ‘per month percentage fee‘.

The way it works is like so:

You take 5% of your monthly income and you multiply that number by the number of months that the programme runs for. For this programme, it is 3 months (12 weeks). Please also note that this is not a free programme and the minimum cost is £45.

The maths works out like so:

<monthlyIncome> x 0.05 x 3 = <programmeCost>

For example:

  • If you earn £300 a month, you take that number and multiply it by 0.05, which gives you: £15. Then you multiply that number by 3 (months), which results in a total programme cost of: £45
    If you earn £1,000 a month, the total programme cost is £150
    If you earn £7,000 a month, the total programme cost is £1,050

Of course, in order for this to work, we need to have trust so I’m expecting you to be honest here.

If you would like to spread the cost (1 x deposit followed by 3 x monthly payments), please get in touch with: [email protected]

CAVE Certification

Upon successful completion of the programme, students will be provided with certification from CAVE Academy stating how they have understood the fundamentals, tools, and techniques to model photoreal props for VFX.


If you have any questions, please get in touch and we’d be happy to organise a video meeting to discuss the programme:


19th June - 8th September 2023