Peter Aversten

Lead Texture Artists
Meshmen Studios

Mari 4.5 First Impressions

The Mari 4.5 release is imminent and with this comes the new material system that will make bulk texturing and automation much easier. The material system is building on gizmo type workflows in the node graph where you define a material within a group exposing multiple outputs. Each material container looks at the underlying shader when it creates available slots .

There are new vendor shaders, first out is an official shaders from Autodesk Arnold and the Unreal shader.

I’m hoping to see more vendor shaders where Renderman is on the top of my wish list.

There is also a new ingest tool to help in the process of ingesting surface scans from material scans libraries.

“Mari material system will help to bring automation into Mari”

Peter Aversten

Main material workflow

The Material system in this initial release is mostly geared towards the channel and layers system. Foundry hinted in a roadmap video that it will later expand towards the node graph in subsequent releases. There are new ways to blend full materials using the layer stack with the ability to group materials together for additional complexity if needed.

The blending of materials is now handled by Mari directly and it will be less effort for the basic setup. Instead of building the underlying infrastructure for my network I can concentrate on creating greatly detailed masks using a combination of smart mask gizmos and hand painted details. I can see a big benefit using material workflows in larger studios where a lot of artists collaborate and share materials.

New shaders

The new Mari 4.5 ships with two new vendor certified shaders, Arnold and Unreal. Arnold uses both metallic and index of refraction workflows in its shader and seems to have all the input slots the Maya Arnold shader have. I briefly examined it and some of the shader inputs are stub inputs and do not do anything visually. All aspects of the shader can’t be previewed in OpenGL. The inputs are there for you to still be able to define values if needed. I envision a workflow where one would take values from the lookdev department and translate it into their Mari material.

Once you have this material defined it can be exported and then offline render the material swatch using the real renderer. You would get a true preview of what the material would look like if used in the offline renderer. For this to happen I would need a way to swap the material preview icon for materials and I actually requested this during the beta stage. Hopefully, I get this functionality down the line.


Mari Material ingest tool

Under the tool menu, there is a new material ingest tool that will help in the process to batch create materials from resources such as Quixel Megascans.  

First, you select what shader model you want to create materials for and if its a tiled or a triplanar projections material. You point the tool to a location and tell it where the scans is living on disk. You can choose to either just create the materials or also add them to a material shelf.

About Material Creation

The materials are created as I already mentioned using the node-graph from scratch or the ingest tool.  I will use the ingest tool to load textures into my project and build on top of this to create more complex materials similar to when I created my own material system using the node-graph from scratch.I hope an improved ingest tool using predefined templates is adopted down the road.

If I could use templates I would add override nodes or even switches to have both tiled and triplanar materials using conditional nodes. Sure I can do this currently but it is at the time and expense of extra effort going into each material reconfiguring the graph and saving the materials again.

Materials in the shelf

The materials you create needs to be housed somewhere and in this initial release, they reside in the shelf next to the brushes with further development of this material system. I think they need to find its own tab with more flexibility to filter and visualize the materials. The icons are pretty small when stored on the regular shelf as it was mainly built to store brushes and color swatches. I would like to see auto expandable icons that enlarge when you hover over them as well as a way to swap icons using so we could offline render our icons using our own render engines if needed.


So what are my thoughts of this initial Mari material release from Foundry?

At first, I had mixed feelings around each material needing its own shader, mainly because in the first release I won’t have a Renderman shader. My first reaction was that it would be shader agnostic but when I started to think about it further it can be a good thing to be able to still define all inputs needed for your material, not just the basic colour, spec roughness metallic etc. If you compare this system with the Substance Painter it’s quite different and in a way more geared towards VFX and where Mari has its roots.

I was expecting better support in the node-graph. The nodes are beyond huge and multi bake-point cache nodes shines with its lack of existence, but I guess the material system is a massive rewrite to support this new workflow and needs to be delivered in phases.

I’m looking forward to the time when the next Alpha and Beta cycle takes off.  It will hopefully be geared towards node-graph workflows.

“Want me to cover something specific? Leave your comments below or use #askmeshmen on twitter ”

Peter Aversten

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