Foundry’s Mari 6.0
Foundry has been busy working on all of its products, which all had hefty releases at the end of 2022. The company continued its implementation of Universal Scene Description (USD) into the ecosystem by expanding the support in Mari 6.0. (USD was first introduced in Mari 5.0, but 6.0 focuses on improving it by exporting of shader and material information.) Mari can now export Arnold and RenderMan shaders in a one look file that contains all the pertinent data to make the development look the same when it gets to the vendor render engines. Additionally, tools have been developed (using Mari’s selection tools) to assign materials to correct USD face set-based locations. You no longer need to manually bring your USC look file into the look development DCC. Artists can now use Mari’s intuitive selection group tools to assign materials to specific areas of their models during USD export to ensure that the transfer goes appropriately to the target DCC.
Mari now has a shelf for storing and launching custom Python script, eliminating the need to place the script into a path on your system and then launching the program. To make script utilization more accessible and seamless, Foundry is encouraging artists to share useful tools between artists and studios. Removing the barrier of “working with code” will allow less code-centric artists to be more open and less intimidated by the process.
To clean up Maro scripts in the node graph, a Teleport Node breaks up the noodle connectors that contribute to the spaghetti plates of scripts, which these systems can quickly become. By having a broadcast node (which transmits the data at the end of a flow) and a receiver (which receives and continues the data somewhere else), you effectively remove those intermediate highways and byways. This, however, can make things confusing because you can’t trace your data flow. To remedy that confusion, there are buttons in each node that help find focus between the broadcasters and receiver.
But managing shader and material export, running Python, and making clean node scripts aren’t really what Mari is about. Mari is created for painting and look development, and to providing artists with the right tools for doing these things. Therefore, Foundry has introduced the Roller Brush. Previously, tiling images was a relatively painful process of manually rotating your brunch pattern around. The roller brush orients itself to the artist’s brush direction and tiles based on parameters like direction and mirroring the image. This is a supreme timesaver when you’re painting complex, repetitive connected patterns like seams, stitches, or zippers, or carved patterns in wood, or filigree in rugs or curtains.
So overall, we have some powerful advantages for the Mari workflow in general, with an immeasurably useful tool for the artists and the artwork.
Price: $1,119 (buy); $829 (to rent per quarter)
Foundry’s Nuke 14.0
Foundry has also brought the Nuke Family up to 14.0 with some cool new features in their 3D system, machine learning tools, and ties to Unreal Engine. It also brings a future promise of incorporating Peregrine’s Bokeh and a price structure change that will probably be the topic of debate.
As USD is becoming more and more ubiquitous (in not just our industry), Foundry has made a smart move and implemented a brand new 3D system with USD as its foundation. Nuke uses a scene graph window which will be familiar to anyone who has been using USD in other software, but also parallels workflows in 3D programs in general. Its key to organizing, navigating and manipulating the USD scenes. Additionally, the tools include a path and masking system to aid in selecting objects or groups of objects in the scene that you wish to modify. This is critical because one of the primary strengths of USD is the efficient display of numerous objects in a scene.
Along with the USD objects, the materials and lights are also supported with a new USD Preview Surface. These are focused on making sure the representation in Nuke is close to what was being developed in Mari or Katana, or other DCC tools.
The USD 3D system is in beta in 14.0, and the original 3D system has been retained. Thus, they can work in parallel (but not together). Users can still fall back on their traditional way of using 3D in Nuke, and by being separate, Foundry can deprecate the older system (at some point) without disrupting the whole system.
Foundry also has given attention to AIR – its machine-learning framework that drives nodes like CopyCat – which, in 14.0 is 20% faster with NVidia’s Ampere GPUs. CopyCat now has tools specific to human matting and has accelerated the training process of separating a character from BG.
To supplement its AIR system, Foundry has launched Cattery, which is an online library of open-source learning modules such as depth estimation, denoising, style transfers, upscaling, and optical flow calculations, allowing artists access to pre-taught modules to quickly get up and running. You will need NukeX to train a network, but these Cattery prefabs can be loaded into any edition of Nuke.
Unreal Reader is now out of beta with improvements in its Live Link capabilities, tying Nuke and Unreal Engine together. This allows compositors access to render passes from the 3D generated from the engine including custom passes. Color support incorporates OpenColorIO to ensure that the look between Nuke and Unreal is the same.
After the initial release, Foundry made two more announcements: They acquired Peregrine Labs’ Bokeh which simulates lens looks and characteristics, and presumably will be implemented in both the defocus tools and the Deep Compositing workflow. Foundry also made a price change that will make half of the users happy, and the other half – not so much. They’re getting rid of the perpetual licenses and moving over to an annual or quarterly subscription model. Your feelings may vary!
Annual Subscription Prices: $3,299 (Nuke); $4,499 (NukeX); $5,499 (Nuke Studio); $399 (Nuke Render)
Todd Sheridan Perry is an award-winning VFX supervisor and digital artist whose credits include Black Panther, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Christmas Chronicles and For all Mankind. You can reach him at email@example.com.