Film and TV

Mari hammers out Thor

Thor. © 2011 MArvel Studios. All right reserved. Image courtesy of Digital Domain.

Digital Domain's Miguel Ortega and Minoru Sasaki turn to Mari when creating the visual effects for blockbuster Thor.

Academy Award® winning digital production studio Digital Domain is known for its innovative approach to content creation taking advantage of the latest developments in visual effects technology.

For the blockbuster Thor, Marvel Studios turned to Digital Domain to wow audiences with mind blowing visual effects and explosive action. Among the challenges faced by the team was the creation of Jotunheim, an intricate planet that is home to the Frost Giants. The complexity of the environments and characters meant that Mari was the only viable paint solution for the project.

Thor was the first project at Digital Domain to use Mari extensively, with Kelly Port serving as visual effects supervisor, Eric Fernandes as computer graphics supervisor and a fantastic team of artists in both Vancouver and Los Angeles.

Discover the software that brought the monsters in Thor to life

At Digital Domain’s Vancouver studio, model and texture lead Miguel Ortega and matte painter Minoru Sasaki describe their experiences using Mari on Thor.

Traditionally the team’s first step on a project of this size would be to break the assets into many parts:

“Segmenting the assets to paint them piece by piece caused a lot of mismatching and inconsistency across surfaces and, as we were unable to see the model as a whole when painting it, things could get tricky,” said Ortega. “Mari's ability to bring in heavy geometry and thousands of maps solved these problems. We were able to paint the model all together in context, saving us time and effort.”

Simultaneously, the matte painting team were discovering the benefits of Mari from a different perspective.

“I was helping texture on the project, even though I was predominantly matte painting for the duration of Thor. My original plans didn’t involve the use of Mari at all, however I ran into difficult textures that had slightly distorted UV layouts. This is usually quite time consuming to fix, but with Mari we had so few changes,” said Sasaki. “I simply had to load geo in Mari and paint over, and export each pass by pass. It was that simple. If we didn’t use Mari, we would have wasted far too much time fixing UVs.”

“As a digital matte painter I mainly use Photoshop for all painting; for handling CubeCart, I use Nuke. I’m mapping matte paint in Maya or Nuke, but now I also paint textures in Mari. My personal favorite feature in Mari is the flexible mask tools for 3D paint which help me work around previously tricky 3D paint challenges such as quickly covering large areas on models,” added Sasaki.

“I have always felt that the texturing tools available were never given the same sort of attention that modeling and sculpting applications received. Being a Nuke user myself and seeing the constant updates and progress Nuke receives has me excited – I know Mari is going to be treated as a serious application. The release of 1.3 with such great new features in such a short time confirms this belief,” said Ortega.

Find out how Mari and Nuke helped create Marvel's Thor
VFX and 3d painting techniques helped Digital Domain to breathe life into Thor

Mari has been put through its paces by a number of leading studios and facilities around the world including FramestoreDouble NegativeAnimal Logic and, of course, Digital Domain.

“I think the industry has chosen Nuke for a reason. That same reason is why I think Mari will solidify itself as the texture tool of every serious facility.” concluded Ortega.

Sasaki added, “Mari and Nuke have unique features that come from real industry experiences – that’s what artists appreciate about Foundry.”

A Nuke <> Mari bridge is also now available to help artists fix problems encountered with projection work including seaming, stretching and occlusion. It’s a quick, intuitive workflow between the two products.