How Mari helped create the dæmons of His Dark Materials

BBC/©️ Bad Wolf/HBO: His Dark Materials

Taking book to screen, how Framestore brought fantasy to life using Mari

Taking a beloved classic and adapting it to screen comes with its own series of challenges. But if you throw in over 50 photorealistic creatures, it brings a whole new set of difficulties to the table. Thankfully, the team at Framestore were up to the job and set about tackling His Dark Materials—the TV adaption of The Golden Compass.

We caught up with Stephanie Dube, Lead Texture Artist on the show, to discover just how they did it.

Golden Monkey Daemon

From Puppets to Dæmons

One of the main CGI elements of His Dark Materials were the dæmons: external physical manifestations of a person's ‘inner-self’ which take the form of an animal. As an integral part of the show and a firm fan favorite, it was vital that these CGI creatures were realistic and seamlessly integrated into the show. 

“Making people believe the dæmons were real animals was challenging,” Stephanie tells us. “But a huge success judging by the audience’s feedback online. I even had a debate with someone on that subject as he didn't believe that they were all CG when I told him that we didn't use any real-life animals on set!”

Quote Image His Dark Materials

What was unique about their creation was the lack of live animals used during filming, with the exception of some shots of Lord Boreal’s snake. Instead, each dæmon had its own puppet, which was not only used for the actors’ benefit but also as a point of reference for the camera crew and VFX team. The team had to create the creatures completely from CGI, an aspect which only made the project more exciting for Stephanie and her team at Framestore:

“It truly made me want to push the realism of those creatures as far as we could with the time frame given so that the audience really believes they are real and can relate to them.”

His Dark Materials Puppet Gif

Tight Timelines

On top of creating the creatures, the team also had to work to a more restricted TV timeframe which are often significantly shorter than with films. 

“We had to be very smart in the way we approached the amount of work we had to do, especially given the vast number of CG creatures we had to recreate,” Stephanie explains. “Luckily, I have experience with quick turnovers, so I have learned to develop a pipeline and workflow which is non-destructive and provides me the freedom of doing a quick fix or touch up.”

Thankfully the team had Mari on side helping them to manage their time efficiently and perfect the photorealistic dæmons.

“When it comes to painting creatures, I think Mari is still by far the more efficient software,” Stephanie adds. “Its tileable and tri-planar projection was a lifesaver for the creatures, as we were able to reuse channels regardless of the size of the creatures and UVs. Plus, being able to export channels was a time-saver as we could share from one asset to the other as well as from one artist to another.”    

Golden Monkey at Window

“Being able to save time in different areas proved to be vitally important, as it meant the team could focus more time and energy into crafting the various different types of creatures. One of these that proved key was Mrs Coulter’s dæmon, the iconic Golden Monkey. It required a lot of development, alongside design, model and groom changes, all of which required quick texturing fixes.”

Stephanie continues: “Mari’s layers, projections, masking and grouping turned out to be quite helpful. Plus, the fact that you can load more than one object to test your maps on is life-saving. We could quickly produce a concept texture for clients to approve the look before moving forward to the final paint.” 

And that’s not all. 

CGI to Puppet Gif

“Coming from a more traditional way of texturing, I find it very useful to be able to keep all my layers and groups the way I used to and make my workflow non-destructive,” Stephanie adds. “This means you can easily go back and make as many changes as required, in a very short time and on many assets all at once.” 

“It's the perfect bridge between the traditional painting of maps and the more procedural way of working as well. It's the best of both worlds, which to this day I can't find in any other software, especially for creatures!”

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