Marmoset Toolbag Software Review

Real-Time Look Development for Game Artists

On the Marmoset homepage, the developer notes that “the work must flow,” and indeed it does. Marmoset is a real-time rendering package presented to modelers and game developers as a way to quickly and painlessly produce presentation renders for their game assets.

It's a lightweight, workflow-oriented solution where speed and efficiency are king, and its reputation for stylish, high-quality results has caused it to rapidly bloom into one of the most popular stand-alone rendering solutions on the market for real-time game artists.

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Features and Workflow

Graphic designer working late at computer in office
Hero Images/ GettyImages

The primary goal of the software is to eliminate the long-winded process of exporting an asset to a game engine, building shaders or materials, and then setting up a quality lighting stage.

Instead, Marmoset provides the user with a robust range of material and lighting presets and condenses the rendering workflow into a process that's as simple as importing your files, connecting maps, and then choosing an HDR-based lighting scenario from a drop down menu.

In addition to Marmoset's basic tools, the software comes standard with an extensive list of post-processing effects that includes ambient occlusion, depth-of-field, high-quality light bloom, depth fog, and chromatic aberration, which can all be tweaked in real-time.​

As promised, the basic feature set is unbelievably easy to use and understand.

I've tried a lot of software packages over the years, and I can honestly say that this is one of the most straightforward CG tools I've ever delved into. When I review software, I purposefully make a point of launching it and trying it out before reading any documentation or watching any tutorials.

It's a perfect litmus test for usability, because if a software package's interface is approachable without any instruction, then you know you're using something that's truly easy to get the hang of.

Not a lot of CG software passes that test, and for good reason—CG software is complicated. You can't launch Maya or ZBrush without any sort of instruction and expect to get very far.

To be fair, Marmoset does a lot less than the aforementioned packages, but one of the nicest things I can say about it is that you can pretty much launch the software and if you've been around CG for any amount of time, chances are you'll intuitively know how to proceed with very few doubts.

Of course, there are advanced features that you'll only uncover if you consult the docs, but this is the case with any software. Heck, it would be disappointing if this weren't the case!

Beyond Marmoset's basic rendering and post-processing functions, there are tools for dynamic lighting and custom HDR stages, material and alpha blending, turntable rendering, and a rather passable skin shader.

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Possible Drawbacks

Because the software handles things like specularity and material building much differently than the full-blown game engines on the market, the way your model looks in Marmoset isn't necessarily the way it will look when you finally port it over to UDK, CryEngine, Unity, or whatever platform your assets are ultimately targeted for.

This is fine.

Marmoset isn't really advertised as a production tool, but more of a stand-alone renderer meant to be an easy way to output nice looking WIP images, or even high-quality presentation shots for your portfolio.

Just remember that if you are in a pipeline and you're using Marmoset for intermediate look-development on your assets, when you do move them to the engine, things will almost certainly look at least somewhat different. It's a bit like doing test renders in Maya's software renderer when you're planning your final image in Mental Ray—it just isn't wise.

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Value and Verdict

I've seen plug-ins capable of a lot less that were priced quite a bit higher, and even though Marmoset has a relatively narrow range of functionality, it does what it's meant to do better than anything else on the market.

As a standalone real-time renderer for rapidly producing portfolio level images with very little headache, Marmoset is literally as good as it gets. The workflow is pretty effortless, the results are gorgeous, and the wide range of lighting and post-processing options gives you a remarkable amount of creative freedom, giving you the ability to infuse your render with personality and style while adding very little overhead to the workflow.

As mentioned, the slight downside to Marmoset is that you can't really call it a production tool, but for the price it doesn't need to be. It's advertised as a presentation/portfolio solution, and in that respect, it's a very, very good piece of software.