REALISTIC Creature Texturing Painting Tutorial Using Mari - By Zak Boxall

Zak Boxall
41 ratings

My name is Zak and I'm a texture artist in the VFX industry. I wanted to make this creature texturing course to help people wanting to start out in the vfx industry. I carefully structured this course to be of the highest of quality that you’d expect as a full standalone creature texturing module in a university.

This is by far the most extensive curated tutorial I've ever done and I'm so excited to finally release it for you. 

What is this course?

This is a pre-recorded online texturing course, with each step recorded and structured into bite size chapters. Going from preparing a model for texturing - through to exporting final textures out of Mari.

In the VFX industry it's almost impossible to be given an asset without photo reference to work towards, and this course will focus on creating photo-realistic textures. We won't be creating these textures from our head, we'll be referencing photography though the entire process to give us direction and inspiration. We’ll talk extensively on how to break down this photography and building the textures based on your own observations, to come up with a plan for how we will approach the asset.

Additionally we won't only be trying to paint aesthetic textures, but doing so in a way where we are able to plan for any eventuality. This could be a model change, UV change or client requests. Essentially have great looking textures, whilst being flexible to changes.

This means that we need to approach this asset with the mindset of incorporating the right balance of technical and artistic skills. We’ll work in a structured way using the incredibly powerful node graph where we will mix the efficiency of procedural methods to establish non-destructive, full coverage to ensure we can make changes on-the-fly to account for any changes, but with the ability to art direct every layer for custom paint work.

This will ensure you finish the course not only with technical skills of how to use the software, but with the confidence to take everything you’ve learnt to tackle your own creatures for that killer, industry ready showreel piece.

I just want to say a big thank you to Penggao Yu - he is the extremely talented modeller who sculpted this crocodile. Please check him out!

Software used

Mari is too expensive for you to follow along?

The main limitations between non-commercial (free) and commercial (paid) licenses are the amount of UV tiles you can use (max 6 tiles) and export resolution (4k).

So - I’ll provide two models for you to download, one will be full production resolution UV tiles, and the other option will have 6 UV tiles. Alongside, displacement maps and utility bakes will be provided for both models.

So if you are a student, hobbyist looking to get into the VFX industry but can’t afford to purchase a full commercial license - you’ll be able to follow along using the free Mari available.

Free Non-commercial Mari

Mari, Substance Designer and Photoshop

We are going to be using Mari - by the foundry, which is the current gold standard texturing package that you need to know to get a job in the VFX industry. It’s the most hardcore texturing package out there, and every VFX film you’ve seen in the cinema since Avatar has extensively used this software.

We’ll start from the ground up, starting from the interface. No fancy plugins are required and this will ensure all the techniques are accessible for everyone of all levels.

Speaking of aiming this towards all levels, Mari comes with a free non-commercial, non-watermarked license, which is perfect for people wanting to learn, level-up or work on personal projects at your own pace with no time limit.

There’s only a few limitations between the licenses, the main restrictions being the amount of UV tiles you can use and export resolution.

With this in mind, whether you have a commercial or non-commercial Mari license, I’ll give you the option to download one of two crocodile models. One model will have the amount of tiles you’d expect in a production environment and the other will fit within the amount of tiles allowed in the non-commercial license of Mari.

We will briefly dip into Substance Designer where we will load a cavity map extractor, this a tool that I’ve created which only requires a displacement map, it will generate a variety of different masks we will use in the texturing process. No more baking cavity maps out of zBrush or high poly models again.

If you’re new to Mari, it can be really daunting when you first open it up. It’s certainly not the most intuitive pieces of software to pick up because it’s just about as bare bones as you can get, there are no templates, you don’t get anything for free which means you have to build everything from scratch.

This can seem like a lot of effort when there are alternative software available that will build a lot of this for you, however this reliance on templates and presets can give less experienced artists a false sense of what’s involved in texturing for visual effects.

This being said, mastering Mari will not only get you a job in visual effects, but it will force you to learn how to build textures from scratch, and is integral to starting a texturing career with good habits, and a strong understanding of the fundamentals of building flawless texture maps.

You won’t be a master of Mari after one course, but I can assure you you’ll learn a lot to get you started in your career.

Telling a story through textures to give the illusion an asset is living and breathing is the most challenging, yet rewarding, type of work for me.

With that said, I present Realistic Creature Texturing Painting Using Mari.

I can’t wait to show you.


Part 1 - Generating cavity map

  • Substance designer cavity map generator will be provided, we will import our displacement map and generate a variety of masks - very useful for adding texture variation.

Part 2 - Setting up Mari, intro to Mari and blocking initial colours.

We will open up Mari for the first time and go through:

  • Navigation
  • Setting up ACES working colourspace
  • The interface,
  • Paint buffer terminology, resolution and bit depth
  • Introduction to the node graph
  • Importing utility maps using geo channels
  • Blocking initial colours

Part 3 - Adding overlays and painting large scale variation

  • We will import my surface imperfections (Maps used will be provided) and tileables to subtly, natural variation.
  • We will hand paint variation to ensure we have large scale variety.

Part 4 - Painting mouth/yellow skin textures

  • We will create a pleasing mouth texture, we will introduce our cavity masks for subtle variation. And will paint additional colour variation to match our photo reference.
  • We will concentrate on creating an interesting looking mask which will be used to reveal the yellow skin layer. We will mix the cavity map and grunge textures from my surface imperfections pack to add natural variation that’s also sympathetic to the model.

Part 5 - Painting eye textures

  • We will bring reference from the internet into Photoshop and prepare to project onto the model.
  • We will then adjust the colours to match the look we want + paint further to fit the look of the character.

Part 6 - Painting teeth textures
We will project photography onto the teeth and paint further masks to add visual interest + extra layers such as dried blood, rotten teeth roots and subtle variation.Part 7 - Painting calcium buildup
We will layer up different frequencies of calcium deposits to add the classic crocodile 'dot's around the face + lots of crusted buildup across the body to give a sense of history to sell the illusion this crocodile has spent a lot of time in salt water.Part 8 - Painting dirt and dust masks

  • We will import custom dirt and dust presets, these are specifically created to incorporate grunge textures from my surface imperfections pack. We will balance the dirt/dust levels to a suitable level, and then we will custom paint areas to get the look we want.

Part 9 - Painting area masks

  • We will paint masks of areas we want to isolate for further control in look development.

Part 10 - Painting area masks - calcium buildup

  • We will layer up different frequencies of calcium deposits to add the classic crocodile markings.

Part 11 - Painting area masks - teeth

  • We will take masks we’ve painted from adding colours to the teeth, and prepare for exports for further control in look development.

Part 12 - Painting specular roughness and exporting textures

  • We will take our textures and balance them into a range that can be mixed in during look development.
  • We will export all textures using the export manager.


What level do I need to be at?

This course is aimed at beginners upwards.


Whats included - *please read before purchasing*

****** Stream only does NOT include reference material or OBJ ******

Option 1: *** Video Steam Only ***

This option is to stream the videos only. This does NOT include reference or OBJ

The videos are 1080p

Option 2: ***Video Steam + Reference + OBJ ***

This option will give you the video stream PLUS (what is stated below)


  • .obj and .abc format
  • Model with production resolution UV tiles
  • Model with reduced UV tiles, this will ensure you can follow along with Non-commercial Mari License

Utility maps - For both full resolution UV tiles and low resolution UV tiles:

  • Cavity map
  • Curvature
  • AO bakes

Displacement maps - For both full resolution UV tiles and low resolution UV tiles.

Mari Smart masks - zboxall Mari node graph presets - the specific surface imperfection maps used in the smart masks will be included.

Reference - Reference pictures will be included, any tileable maps used within this tutorial, will be included.

Substance designer cavity extractor gizmo


What Software do I need?

  • Mari - Commercial OR Non-commercial

Commercial Mari download

Non-commercial Mari download

  • Substance Designer
  • Photoshop


Personal licenses do not apply to small business, enterprises and universities. If you are a small business, enterprise or university - licenses are available upon request.

Sharing, streaming, and redistribution to third-party is strictly prohibited.



  • This course is not affiliated nor endorsed by any VFX studio. All views are my own from the perspective of a texture artist in the VFX industry
  • We aren’t using any company specific terms or workflows, and this is to ensure all the information in this course is universal and relevant for everyone.
  • One or more textures bundled with this project have been created with images from These images may not be redistributed by default. Please visit for more information.
  • Digital products are not refundable
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REALISTIC Creature Texturing Painting Tutorial Using Mari - By Zak Boxall

41 ratings
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