Develop speaks with the team to discover what makes this software unique and how it can be used in games

Mischief makers: Inside The Foundry’s new art tool made for everyone

Made with Mischief is a new pen-based sketching program for artists designed for the mass market, and could be set to rival other leading tools currently available today.

The innovative tool, called Mischief, caught the interest of Modo and Mari company The Foundry last year, which followed up with an acquisition of the firm and even opened a brand new subsidiary of The Foundry under the name, which will focus on mass market, easy-to-use programs for creatives.

The software is built for both Mac and Windows, and is designed to be as smooth and accessible as a physical pencil, and has features such as an infinite canvas and infinite zoom.

Mischief itself is powered by Adaptively Sampled Distance Fields (ADFs) that provide high-quality stroke rendering, are amenable to hardware-based rendering to help make drawing more responsive, are compact to ensure small file sizes, can be scaled without introducing pixilation artefacts and can accurately represent richer and more complex shapes than traditional vector-based stroke representations.

“It has a different kind of representation for how you do strokes,” explains chief scientist and Made with Mischief founder Sarah Frisken.

“So it has the quality of drawing of a system like Photoshop where you can use very nice textured brushes and you can get some very nice effects, but at the same time, this is infinitely scalable.

“In addition to that there’s an infinite canvas, so you can draw anywhere you want and you can zoom in. For the zoom factor, the ratio is 50 trillion to one. So that’s kind of like if you’re sitting on the moon looking at the Earth, and you were looking at someone’s garden, and able to see a little flower.”

Infinite possibilities

The infinite canvas and zoom are two of the key features built into the tool that make it an attractive proposition for artists. The infinite zoom allows artists to add minute details barely visible to the naked eye, while a further innovative use can involve drawing a full picture that is only visible by zoom, something that could provide an interesting new way to read comics or perhaps one day interact with gameplay.

One example of using that infinite canvas is that it encourages artists to instantly test new ideas and lets them make mistakes, while enabling them to start afresh and learn from previous images – by being able to revert back to all the various stages of the drawing.

The infinite canvas also has other uses outside of art, like an interactive mind map for artists or teams to discuss and plot ideas.

“It’s really liberating because you won’t have to decide before you start how big things are going to be,” says Frisken.

“And you can do these little doodles and sketch all day, and at the end of the day you can pick what specific image you may want, and print it out big enough to make a poster. You can do that because you can export at any resolution, at any size.”

Made with The Foundry

Given its broad appeal, Made with Mischief has taken efforts to ensure the tool can be run on a number of devices, and not just those that cost thousands of pounds. To that end, Develop has seen the software run on devices such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro, helping ensure it can be run on less ‘high-end’ devices. However, there are still some kinks to work out for lower-powered hardware, but it’s something the firm is keen to solve as it aims to achieve accessibility for all.

“It’s designed so the drawings are always immediate and responsive, but if the file gets big and you’re panning it can get slow,” she says, before Kenessey adds: “We’re actively working on that. We’ll solve that in short order. So you can always draw, it’s just it’s a bit slow. It can be used on a MacBook Pro.”

The infinite canvas is really liberating because you won’t have to decide before you start how big things are going to be.

Sarah Frisken, Made with Mischief

The tool has been made available for an upfront fee of $25, which includes all preset brushes, a full colour palette, custom swatches and the ability to export PSD files. A free version of the software has also been released that features six brushes and a basic set of colours, but still includes the infinite canvas. Potential users can also check out the full tool for a 15-day free trial period to test out whether Mischief fits their own personal needs or not.

Over time, The Foundry also plans to release in-app purchases to users, offering the option to buy additional features as they are released.

Kenessey said The Foundry was shying away from the subscription model on this tool – something increasingly seen in the space, with the likes of Unreal Engine and CryEngine both adopting pay monthly options – and is instead going ahead with an upfront plus IAP hybrid model as, after talking with artists, they found “a lot of different people don’t want to pay subscription for something that’s inexpensive”.

And as with free-to-play gaming of course, the business model could end up being more lucrative than a higher-priced tool featuring more options.

Image credit: DC Turner

“We asked people, if your son or daughter came to you and wanted to buy this, would you be happy to put a dollar a month on your credit card?” he states. “People were like no, I don’t want to mess with a dollar a month on my credit card and seeing it there every month, it’s very aggravating.”

“So with that in mind, we just kind of said feed the horse what the horse wants to eat.”

Making Mischief

Made with Mischief founder Sarah Frisken began developing the art tool years ago while working with Disney Research. Following her departure, she carried on her research and began developing Mischief, with the goal to make it as easy to use as a physical pencil on paper.

“That feel is kind of hard to describe, but when artists pick it up that’s kind of the first thing they notice,” she says.

Now with its own headquarters in Boston, with team members located around the world as far as London and Shanghai, Frisken had initially funded the company for several years by herself, working on both the product itself and on marketing. As the tool grew, Frisken says she knew it was time to either sell up or seek venture capital funding.

“It was just lucky,” says Frisken. “A friend of mine who was a designer knew people at The Foundry and said I know you’re looking for something, a home for Mischief. You need to talk to these people because they fit with what your vision is, which is this idea that we want to make art accessible to everyone.

“So it was not just throwing it over the fence, I’m still part of the team, and that’s really great.”

The test for Mischief will be: ‘is this so easy that will my son, daughter, grandmother be able to use this tool?’

Christopher Kenessey, Made with Mischief and The Foundry

The Foundry’s chief sales and marketing officer Christopher Kenessey, who has been named the president of Made With Mischief on top of his other duties, said the start-up was an attractive proposition for the firm as it has always had ambitions to take its products and reach a broad audience of creatives.

“We’ve been looking for the perfect product to be the seed for this whole new business,” he says. “It’s very different from The Foundry business. So as part of that we came across Sarah and Made with Mischief, and it just kind of made sense for this to be the starting point.

“And it actually flows really well back to The Foundry’s main business as well because everything starts with an idea, everything starts with a sketch. Whether it’s design, visual effects or whether it’s games, in all those three areas people think up ideas, they write it down and sketch it.

“Even if you’re not like a serious artist, you just kind of feel it, it’s really responsive. It feels like you’re sketching on paper and it’s just a fun experience.”

Image credit: You Byun

Different strokes

Despite having an established business with a recognisable name in The Foundry, which grew its business extensively when it merged with Modo creator Luxology in 2012, Kenessey says it was important to differentiate the new business to highlight its mass appeal to potential users. This is a tool, then, that is completely different from its existing suite of professional artistic software like Modo and Mari.

“If you think about who we typically market our products to, you’ve got visual effects artists and they’ve got a lot of high-end requirements to their tools,” he explains. “A lot of times the tools get very complicated very quickly, and for the games market as well, and designers.

“And so when it comes to thinking about who’s going to use this tool, it’s going to be cartoon artists, designers, the person next door. It’s going to be someone who just wants to get an idea and put it on a piece
of paper.

“So it’s such a broader audience that we didn’t want it to be suffocated by being one more Foundry product, we wanted it to be able to have its own voice.”

He adds: “The test for Mischief will be: ‘is this so easy that will my son, daughter, grandmother be able to use this tool?’ Is it something that is easily accessible and isn’t very intimidating?”

Already looking to the future of the business, Kenessey says the team is working on even more tools for its Made with Mischief subsidiary outside of Mischief itself, though the company isn’t yet ready to diclose the exact details of its plans. It was suggested, however, that this could be a combination of other new acquisitions and internally developed software.

“We’re going to bring other products that are going to have this broad appeal to them, and we’re going to put it under the Made with Mischief brand,” he says.

“And then Chris Cheung (head of Made with Mischief’s product agenda) will be responsible, with and myself and Sarah, to bring those products out.”

Main image credit: Carly

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