Texturing in Mari 5.0: an artist’s path to storytelling
If there is one common theme throughout our ‘Art of Texturing’ article series, it’s that texturing is the key to digital storytelling.
It governs the visual worlds we are presented on our screens, bringing our content to life in a way that makes us want to fully immerse ourselves in the story. Without it, these worlds would be dull and the characters would lack the depth texturing adds to them.
It is thanks to advancing painting and texturing technologies that we, as audiences, are blessed with such detailed worlds in our content. These softwares have come a long way since digital texturing first graced our screens and keep giving us more realistic and lifelike worlds.
Mari is amongst the technologies spearheading the need for detailed textures and creating ease for artists to be able to create them. The software’s most recent release, Mari 5.0, is no different. It strives to give artists more advanced tools for their texturing, with enhanced painting, proceduralism, pipelines, and performance.
In the fifth and final article of the series, we sit down with Rory Woodford, Product Manager Look Development, and Charli Holt, Associate Product Manager Look Development, to hear their thoughts on how digital texturing has advanced and how Mari 5.0 is helping artists to become better storytellers.
Q: We’ve looked at how texturing techniques are applied over a range of mediums—from animation to video games and VFX. What’s the common underlying thread tying each medium together?
Charli Holt: If you think about trying to make a film, game, or any content without textures then everything's going to be very bland—it will have no real life in it at all or any believability.
What we’ve looked at previously is how texturing breathes life into pieces of art, whether it’s animation, miniatures, VFX, or games. The main thread between all of them is that we’re gradually getting closer and closer to replicating real life.
Texturing is like world-building. All of these mediums are working to a point where they can tell a story in a way that is almost as good as a book or sometimes real life. Even when we step back and do more stylized content, it's still trying to hone believability and connection to characters. A lot of that is done through the aesthetic. So texturing is constantly improving and trying to get to that point where it’s so realistic it’s hard to know what’s real.
Q: How does Mari 5.0 support this commonality?
Rory Woodford: One of the key ways artists bring things to life is how they paint, and the techniques they use. Bringing forward an upgrade of our painting engine in Mari allows artists to make more creative decisions than before. The paint engine, with the ability to add randomness to your paint strokes, be it broad or subtle, allows far more varied or stylistic results.
Alongside this, our brush tips are now able to be used on full-color images meaning artists can paint images of objects and create different looks more efficiently than before. For example, if they were to splat down debris onto a forest floor, artists can now paint that detail with a brushstroke rather than having to go through any other technique.
On the procedural side, we’ve made handling a large volume of assets in a short timeline easier. Tools like the Bake Point Filter enables artists to non-destructively blur masks in Mari for the first time and hit high volumes of scale.
CH: We’ve also started putting in features like the Jitter brush, which means that storytelling and the way it’s created aren’t necessarily limited to realistic projects. It's allowing storytellers to tell the story in exactly the way they want and Mari's enabling that.
Q: How have modern texturing technologies like Mari evolved since their conception?
CH: While the traditional texturing techniques haven’t changed since early cinema, digital tools have evolved to match these. They remove some of the overhead and burdens texturing artists often face.
RW: When it comes to Mari, it revolutionized texture painting with its node graph and removed the restriction of one-dimensional layer lists. Artists can use subgraphs for their masking work, feed them into multiple areas where needed and then tweak them as necessary. It’s almost like a mind map for where your paint goes to craft your creation—they’re all clearly laid out through nodes which can elevate an artist coming to Mari from other texturing packages.
Q: What’s your favorite feature from Mari 5.0, and what excited you most about the release?
RW: The great thing about Mari 5.0 is we managed to do something for everyone. It's for pipeline TDs. It's for painting artists. It's for procedural artists and, of course, overall performance. I'm excited about the key features in all four of those areas because they're all brilliant steps forward. I’m also thrilled about how much we managed to get into Mari 5.0 and the features we were able to give to artists.
CH: For me, I like the color jitter. Back in the early days of my time at Foundry, this was one of the first feature requests I handled, so it's super exciting to have been able to see this through development. We've been able to add more advanced controls and options to our color jitter tools than available elsewhere in the industry—you can really tweak the exact shades of color you want in your brush.
RW: I love procedural blurring. In the past, what Mari has lacked is being able to procedurally make masks and have a blur in their blur step—artists would go to Nuke to do that instead. They would run Nuke graphs to generate auxiliary textures, like take a displacement extraction from a sculpt, bring it into Nuke and then run all these filters to get something specific like the edges of scales on a creature. Artists could then bring this mask into Mari and apply further painted or filtered effects until they got the result they wanted.
Now artists can do this entirely in Mari which is a huge step forward. In Mari, artists can apply filters across hundreds of texture patches very quickly—and that’s a key difference, it gives artists high volume and quality results, whilst also working quickly in the Mari engine.
Q: What new or improved features are the best for artists texturing workflows?
RW: All the painting features: the brush tip and new brush tip engine, the jittering and the image tip brush.
CH: Using all the different channels. Honestly, there's a lot of creative freedom there—they’re not regimented. For instance, the image brush, artists could use a full RGB image, and use the red, green, and blue channels individually. That also means artists can start combining skin maps and get them to work as a multi-channeled brush stamp instead of having to project images onto the model. It opens up flexibility for artists there.
Q: What does the future hold for Mari?
CH: Throughout the year, we’re constantly educating ourselves on both our artists' needs and the direction of our industry. We're committed to increasing Mari's pipeline-ability by building on our USD workflows, but we're also always on the hunt to keep adding more procedural and painting tools for our artists.
RW: Mari continues to dedicate itself to making the artist experience better and improving quality of life, and Mari 5.0 is a continuation of our story. It's not always just about new features, we also go back and polish the legacy parts of Mari and, hopefully, future releases will illustrate that.