Southwest rock material studies

Last week I posted about the project I did revolving around my trip to the Pacific Northwest region back in January. In late March on my spring break, I had the awesome opportunity of traveling west yet again with the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences' honors program at Rochester Institute of Technology -- this time to see various national parks in the Southwest.

Travel has been one of the most worthwhile resources in terms of expanding my visual library. There is no reference quite like being able to stand in a space and get a sense of the atmosphere, light, and scale of an environment. Becoming more knowledgeable, in any realm, and experiencing new places can only help in generating new visual possibilities and informing my art and conceptualization.

Being particularly interested in texture and material creation, I found myself captivated by unique patterns of erosion, imagining the forces that shaped these rock formations, and the visual evidence. On the trip, I spent a lot of time studying and sketching to try to dissect the systems of the rock formations I saw -- what are the formal qualities that distinguish this type of rock, and to what extent can there be deviation from that pattern without losing the essence of that rock type? 

A thought that is always inspiring to me is the strong visual and conceptual link between mathematical patterns and natural patterns. For this reason, throughout the trip and in the weeks following, I decided to do some material studies of several of the rock types I saw on the trip using Substance Designer to create procedural textures for my materials. The method I use to create procedural textures is similar to how I draw: I define the major shapes and patterns of the rock, and I decide which parameters about the rock can be modified to keep it within the same rock system.

Here are a few examples of the tiling materials I created, loaded into Unreal Engine.

Here is a common layered shale rock I noticed in many places throughout the trip.

This rock material exemplifies the characteristics I saw in a lot of the rock structures I saw at the Arches national park. 

This one was based on sort of a specific moment for me on the trip. We visited Horseshoe Bend at sunset, and I loved the way that the low angle sunlight was emphasizing the staggered layers of the shale on the ground. 

It might not seem like the most extravagant of rocks, but I always found it important to stop and look at the ground.

This rock is from Glen Canyon/Lake Powell. With its distinctly different colors and variety in texture, it was one of my favorite rocks on the trip.

Based on the rock walls of Slot Canyon. I loved the way that the surface of this rock looks and feels so smooth, yet still has so many small imperfections. I enjoyed seeing the sharp, hard-edged contours in the rock that seemed to echo the wave forms and wind that may have shaped the rock. 

Bryce canyon certainly felt like it was on another planet. These bulbous rock formations called hoodoos are known for sometimes being shaped like people.