This week (June 10-14, 2013) marked the annual Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) where the company informs the developer community about exciting new products and features. During Monday’s Keynote, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, announced that there would be a special lunchtime session on Tuesday that would demonstrate the 3D texturing program, MARI running on the new Mac Pro. But Phil also mentioned something that piqued our interest immediately – the session would also be joined by Pixar Character Shading Technical Director, Jonathan Hoffman, who would give us additional insights into how Pixar used MARI on Monsters University.
The full 51-minute presentation can now be seen on the Apple Developer Videos page (titled Painting the Future) for those of you that have an Apple developer login (or sign up for a free login). Due to Apple’s wishes, we cannot post the full video here, but what we have done is summarized the best and most interesting moments from the session below.
The session began with Jack Greasley (MARI Product Manager) describing the power and uses of MARI (developed by The Foundry). Jack noted that the roots of MARI were developed while partnering with Weta Digital (Peter Jackson’s visual effects company) on the film, Avatar. Fast forward a few years and Jack noted that nine of the ten movies that were nominated in this year’s Academy Awards for visual effects utilized MARI as their main texturing program.
At a high level, MARI allows artists to focus on what they do best… creating… while allowing the program and technology aspects to step aside more easily than it has in the past. There are great details that you should definitely watch the presentation for if you are interested more in 3D texturing. As Jack wrapped up his portion of the session he turned the stage over to Pixar’s own, Jonathan Hoffman by noting how much he’s enjoyed working with Pixar over the last three years while integrating MARI into Pixar’s workflow.
Jonathan’s presentation kicked off with a sampling of great character development images showing how Mike and Sulley were reworked in order to achieve a younger “college-age” look, yet still representing the characters we know and love. Jonathan eventually landed on a screenshot of Dean Hardscrabble – a character he worked on (along with many other Pixarians – he specifically mentioned Ricky Nierva, Jason Deamer, Shally Wan, and Michael Honsel – though many more were involved) to get her look “just right” for the film.
One really interesting note that Jonathan brought up while showing images of Hardscrabble was that through the character’s many iterations, it was Dan Scanlon (the film’s director) who eventually sketched a tail on her, solidifying her final likeness. (For more details on the development of the film and its characters, be sure to check out our Monsters University press event details as well as episodes 10-13 of our Podcast where we highlight many Pixarian interviews and events from the press event.)
Before demonstrating how he worked with MARI to apply textures to Hardscrabble, Jonathan showed a short exclusive clip to the crowd of Hardscrabble talking to Mike Wazowski. He then displayed a series of images from the Shader Packet which defined the look (through text and images) of Hardscrabble – from her wings to her horns, to her makeup (among others). He noted that Pixar wants to represent the look through these images, but not copy them to avoid the “Uncanny Valley” – which can be loosely defined as a balance of realness and creation without the viewer being “turned off” by the character becoming “close” to real looking…yet not 100% real looking.
As Jonathan began to demonstrate MARI on Apple’s new (multiple-Graphics Processing Unit) Mac Pro, the system responded immediately and continued its rapid response throughout his presentation. The Mac Pro is of course Apple’s latest and greatest hardware (releasing in the fall) and although they didn’t break down the specifications of the computer, it was running its newly announced Mavericks operating system (OS) as well as a version of MARI that was only ported to the Mac OS six weeks prior (previously available for PC only). It was an impressive feat to see the computer put through the wringer as Jonathan applied textures, painted, and rotated the 10GB character rendering with ease.
Speaking of the textures that Jonathan was applying to Hardscrabble – we were excited to see additional details as to what textures were applied to bring Hardscrabble to life. Would you believe that portions of Dean Hardscrabble’s face texture are copied from the skin of an elephant or that the base of her horns was represented by the bark of a tree in Pixar’s parking lot? How neat is that! It was fascinating to watch as he blended the main base color of her skin with texture brushes (included with MARI) while integrating the elephant skin image, tree bark image as well as a specular highlights layer (among other layers) to refine Hardscrabble’s look.
Nearing the end of his presentation, Jonathan paused to tell a funny story of how he has been working with the new Mac Pro at Pixar for several weeks – but he never knew what the computer physically looked like since Apple delivered it in a giant box to protect its small cylindrical identity. He laughed as he and other Pixar employees took turns guessing what the computer would look like – from being the size of a mini-fridge to a small floating sphere. Transitioning back to the presentation, he noted that he has used MARI for quite some time now and that it has never run so smoothly (as it has on the Mac Pro).
As most everyone can relate to in the art field – rarely do you create something and never touch it again. There’s usually a back and forth process between person “A” and “B” to refine the piece. This was Jonathan’s point as he discussed another powerful tool within MARI that allows him to apply a texture to a model and send it to the animation department. As the animators move and alter the character from the static state that Jonathan texturized the character in, they expose areas that will need to be texturized with additional detail. In the example during the presentation, as the animator rose Hardscrabble’s eyebrows you could see that the area under her eyebrow needed additional texture detail added (since the texture was stretching oddly).
Typically Jonathan would have to wait until the scene was rendered (which could take up to twelve hours) before he could make additional changes, but MARI allows him to import the actual animated clip to make changes right to the footage without waiting for the scene (or a portion of the scene) to be rendered. Across the board, MARI is a tool that allows the texturing workflow to be less encumbered by the technology and more focused on the most important element, the artist.
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If you enjoy the background creation of these characters, you should definitely pick up the Art of Monsters University which explores topics and contains images similar to many of the ones shown above. Click to buy the Art of Monsters University on Amazon.