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Learn How to Reimagine Mario & Bowser Gaming with a Smooth 3D Animation

Juliano Souza talked to us about creating realistic and stylized animation of Mario and Bowser and detailed modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering pipelines performed in 3ds Max, ZBrush, Substance 3D Painter, and Corona Renderer.

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Hello everyone! I'm Juliano Souza, I'm 35 years old, and I live in São Paulo, Brazil. I have been working as a 3D Artist for 10 years. I currently work for a studio as a 3D Generalist, where I focus on modeling and lookdev of characters and scenes.


For the animation of Mario and Bowser, I thought about making these two characters in Bowser's castle, playing video games together as friends. Right after watching the movie Super Mario, I was amazed at the quality that Illumination managed to achieve, that was my motivation to try to make something similar in that aspect too.


To model the characters, I used ZBrush. I started the models with a sphere with dynamesh, here I had a lot of freedom to find the design I was looking for.

For the hands' models, the same process as above followed, but as I knew I wanted animation, I took care to make the loops as clean and organizable as possible, using ZRemesher for the base topology and finishing in 3ds Max, where I have full control of the topology.

For Bowser's hair, I used modeled tubes as a guide and applied Ornatrix's "OX Hair from Mesh Strips" modifier to generate the hair strands.

Topology & Unwrapping

For the mapping stage, I used 3ds Max. I decided to separate some important areas in UDIM. This helps me achieve greater definition in the textures and makes the lookdev stage more organized, without having to use many materials later.


For the textures, I used Substance 3D Painter. I imported the model with low subdivision and used the Normal Map with the sculpted details from ZBrush to generate the bakes and other Maps within Substance 3D Painter. For Bowser's skin, I used several masks and curvatures to separate the colors of the scales. The scales were sculpted inside ZBrush with some alphas.

For Mario's clothes, I used some bump textures from fabrics like jeans and cotton. As for the seams, I created a new empty layer, selected the "Stitches Straight" brush from the tools, and painted the seams more freely.

Setting Up the Background

For the scenario, I used some assets from Quixel Bridge. I wanted an environment like a room in a castle for Bowser. So I chose a stone wall, a pillar, and a lamp. I used the plugin for 3ds Max, and the export was done automatically for 3ds Max with textures and materials configured for Corona Renderer, it's fantastic! I also modeled the video game controller, television, and some simple curtains, using Displacement Maps to make the folds.

Rigging & Animation

Character rigging was done using the CAT tool in 3ds Max. It is a fantastic tool with bone presets that can be adjusted. In the past, I used to make my own rigs, but after learning this tool, I always use it for posing and animating.

Here's a time-saving tip for the character skin stage with bones: apply the skin modifier, then open the "Weight Properties" window, and in the Geodesic Voxel Solver window, click "apply." This will give you a great base with the weight of your bones and joints and a great starting point. Your fingers will be almost perfect with just one click.

The animation stage is the most complicated for me as I'm not an animator, but I like to play a little with animation in my personal projects. I created key poses manually and then interpolated them with smooth curves in the curve editor.

Lighting & Rendering

For lighting, I used only Corona lights. To achieve this atmosphere, I used a Corona Volume Material in the Global Volume Material. This resulted in a better distinction between hot for Bowser and cold for Mario, exactly what I was trying to represent.

I used Corona Renderer. It's a fantastic renderer, very fast, with few settings and accurate and realistic results. As a 3ds Max and Maya user, I know other renderers, but Corona is unbeatable in all aspects. The only configuration I needed to adjust was the Noise Level limit to save time, and I used Denoising with the Intel CPU AI mode.


This project was used for studies. I wasn't worried about the time taken, I just made sure I learned as much as I could and had fun doing it. I learned a lot from this project, for example, the types of choices and ideas to abort, it's something I feel I need to develop. In future projects, I hope to continue improving ideas and techniques in 3D.

Before working with 3D, I was a railway worker. I had nothing in relation to computers and art, but my interest, dedication, and research on the subject made me enjoy it, and want to learn more and more about this area every day. What I can say to beginners is don't be discouraged; keep studying, discover your passion, and every day you will see progress. If possible, take courses and try to improve your skills. Have humility and respect for others. Have faith and with patience, your dreams will be achieved.

Juliano Souza, 3D Artist/Generalist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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