MARI's magic brings Ara's Tale to life
There's nothing more inspiring than a collective of creative people coming
together to make something special. Back in the summer of 2009, Martin Lubich
decided to start production on a short animated film named Ara's Tale.
This CG animated story follows the journey of Ara, a mysterious young woman,
as she travels deep into a gigantic network of caves in search of the last
remaining living dragon. The tale is supported by a beautiful original orchestral
score by Philippe Rey that really brings to life the visual spectacle.
The initial idea of the project was to create a one and half minute short mainly
for educational purposes. The project was entirely non-commercial with each
team member dedicating his or her own free time to make the short a reality. As
time went on, the idea grew in scale resulting in a final film that's over eight
This project represented a unique opportunity for Martin to explore new tools
and methods of working. Martin explains "The production of Ara's Tale was more
or less an accident, it was not planned in the beginning. For some time I had this
image in mind of a young brightly lit girl standing on the brink of an abyss, from
where a huge dark dragon emerges. It worked as an image, but to portray my
inner feeling of the scene I started to develop a background story to support my
idea. Developing the story evoked a multitude of new images and visions and
thus the first inner draft of the movie was born. It underwent countless
modifications afterwards, but the basic theme always stayed."
Interestingly, Martin doesn't work in the creative industry so the outputs of this
project are a real testament to his talent. "My background is, from a professional
standpoint, purely technical," he explains. "I have been working as a software
developer since 1987, currently in network security, but from early on in my
childhood I was very fond of drawing, photography and film."
His involvement in the computer industry alongside a passive interest in film
sparked his decision to focus in on computer generated imagery. Martin invested
a lot of time watching 'making of' documentaries on projects such as the Lord of
The Ring's trilogy. "Watching them really triggered something deep in me and I
started to invest a lot of time in soaking up everything there was to learn about
filmmaking in general, with a real focus on CG animation."
MARI ended up playing a huge role in the creation of the film. When Martin
began looking at creative tools, the buzz around MARI and its use at Weta
Digital put the software firmly on his radar. He put some time aside to read
through the specs, watched the demo video and was ultimately extremely
impressed with its capabilities and what it could bring to Ara's Tale.
"The workflow shown there was exactly what I needed. I could just import the
mesh and start painting on it like it was a canvas, plus take advantage of all the
additional tools on top."
Getting really creative
When Martin first started to get his teeth into MARI, he discovered a method of
texturing that was entirely distinctive to anything he had been used to before.
"It was just a different world of texturing," he affirms. "Straight away it was
incredibly fun to work with. I remember just doodling around on one of my
environment pieces and producing results far superior to anything I'd ever done
before. I was also achieving this in what was a relatively really short amount of
MARI is an incredibly powerful piece of software. Its technical specifications give
users the ability to really push the boundaries with texture sizes and complexity.
Beyond that MARI's main purpose is to act as a virtual art studio. Martin
continues: "When I am drawing on a digital platform I really don't want to feel
like I notice the tool I am using on a conscious level. Like a pen or pencil; it's just
there and doesn't stand in the way of me being creative. This was exactly my
feeling when I started using MARI for the first time."
Nothing else compares
Martin was working with typical texture sizes of between 4K and 8K on Ara's
Tale. In the early stages of using MARI, when he had been looking at what else
might meet his needs, he tried test versions of ZBrush and 3dcoat. He notes "I
was always confronted with something which just didn't feel right for me. The
ease of use just wasn't there with these tools."
Decision made on the best package for him, he started to really delve into the
possibilities of integrating MARI into his workflow. "I started looking at how I
should use it in my workflow especially in the pipeline with Blender. As it turned
out the only real effort was to devise a new workflow for laying out the UVs. The patch concept used in MARI immediately convinced me. It let me have a very fine
control over the level of detail of the various aspects of an asset."
When considering the best way to deal with texture channels in MARI, it took
Martin a while to get used to the channel concept in MARI. "The importing of the
meshes in OBJ format was flawless, as was the setup of all the texture channels.
Once I got my head around it, I found MARI to be such a powerful and versatile
tool. To be able to use the same channel in different shaders is a principle
similar to object oriented programming, which I, with my background as software
developer, really liked."
Like many artists working on important projects, be it a model, sculpt or a
texture, a key aspect for Martin was setting up a workflow that enabled him to
use multiple approaches at the same time; without the fear of losing work
already done, or having to do work twice. MARI's non-destructive workflow
proved a real help in this area. He comments "With texturing the environment
and then especially the dragon, the tools available in MARI just pledged to be
used in a non-destructive way. It needs a bit of thinking ahead in the planning,
but the flexibility of this workflow makes everything worth it. To use this
workflow you have a lot of channels and textures floating around and at first I
feared that this could overload MARI. As it turned out, MARI handled all these
channels extremely well, and all on my relatively modestly spec'd machine."
An epic environment
Once he had all the tools and workflows he needed at hand, he then started to
create. "For the environment, before I had MARI, I previously had only done work
using a very tedious Blender/Gimp workflow. Using those tools, I had become
accustomed to creating something that was just acceptable. It didn't offer me
the freedom I needed. With MARI, there must have been half a dozen different
approaches I used to paint the cliff textures. No single channel was wasted and could then be combined in shaders to produce completely new effects. I know
that this is not usually how things are done in a big project, but as a one-man
show, this ability to experiment gives you incredible freedom. Ultimately I used a
mixture of concept art, look development and texturing, and doing the work was
just so fun!"
With the environment, Martin made heavy use of the paint through tool for
projection painting using real world rock textures as source images. He notes "The ease with which those source images can be handled was a blessing,
especially compared to my previous experiences in this field."