MARI Enhanced for 3D Digital Painting

MARI was originally developed at Weta Digital to handle the detailed texture work demanded by Avatar and is geared for use by VFX texture and matte painting artists. It provides a creative toolset that allows artists to concentrate on painting directly onto 3D models in a fluid and natural way, with the ability to immediately view the results. While that may seem reminiscent of applications such as ZBrush, MARI is said to excel when dealing with "colossal textures in vast numbers." MARI also lets users animate and paint texture channels frame by frame. No surprise, then, that it has been used on such films as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Avengers and Prometheus. In fact, MARI was the primary 3D paint tool used on 9 of the 10 features shortlisted in the Visual Effects category in the 2013 Oscars.

Notable is a fully customizable brush engine; a Slurp brush for smearing and dragging textures; the ability to blur and sharpen, including on-surface, multiple UV patches; and an advanced healing brush for seam removal and duplication of texture detail. Also of interest is Ptex, which allows users to paint and render models without having to spend time creating complicated UV maps; the ability to accurately preview displacement detail on a model surface in real time; a texture versioning system; tiled textures; environment mapping; Photoshop layered PSD import and export functionality; OpenColorIO; triplanar projection and masked filters.

Also worthy of mention are linked patches, which are said to let users easily replicate texture data across patches without having to cut and paste; fully customizable navigation, making it possible to remap MARI to meet individual needs and choose from styles that match such applications as NUKE, Autodesk Maya and Side Effects Houdini; a Tint and Stencil mode for such things as decal creation; Photoshop custom brush import; support for overlapping UVs; Maya texture export functionality; the ability to cast real-time shadows on objects from multiple light sources; cube map support for creating striking environment effects; mirroring support for painting symmetrical objects; a new Luminosity paint through mode to add live transparency; and the ability to paint normal maps on the fly from bump maps. Whew!

Vector Paint and Vector Inspector tools provide the ability to create flow and normal maps, to specify the direction of paint flow on a model and to monitor changes with the Inspector. Vector paint blending modes help create flow and normal maps with the specialized Vector Paint tool. And Vector Shading modules assist in creating flow and normal maps by setting the vector field information and displaying flow visualization. Brush cursor options allow the brush cursor for the Paint tool to be changed to display an outline of the currently selected brush. And Projection Cube and Projection Sphere shader modules allow users to project cube map or spherical texture files onto geometry for a faster workflow.

Also of note is a layer system in which every channel is a full, non-destructive layer stack. Shaders use layered channels to control every aspect of the surface look, including diffuse, displacement and specularity. Procedural Layers are said to let artists easily create the look they want, seamlessly blending procedural and painted detail with the same toolkit. As well, every layer has its own Mask Group, allowing artists to use blending, groups, adjustments and procedurals in all their masks.

Version 2.6 adds a new layered shaders feature, which allows for look development authoring in a manner appropriate for modern game engines and production rendering environments. Think dirt over rust, paint or metal. Physically based shading is said to leverage an energy-preserving BRDF shading technique, which when partnered with the environment lighting makes for physically plausible look development results. Painting and UV map creation can now happen simultaneously, with the ability to paint detail with PTEX mapping while another artist finals the UV layout. Environment lighting allows for the use of HDR images to light MARI scenes and create reflections that accurately replicate what is often used for the main production rendering or game environment. And finally, an update to the Alembic importer and exporter provides additional options for working with animated caches of geometry.

MARI 2.6 for Windows, Linux and Mac can be purchased on The Foundry site for $2,013. A trial version is also available for download.