Nuke, Shake, Flame - Part II

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In this second entry in the compositing package review series I'll be going over the pluses and minuses of Shake 4.0. I had the opportunity to start work in this software in 2002, working in Australia at Photon VFX in the Gold Coast. It has changed a bit since I first starting working on it when it was version 2.5 on Windows. I've used Shake from 2002 to 2006. Since I've previously covered Flame, I may describe certain items from Shake and compare them to Flame's equivalents.

Click below to read on!

When I first started using Shake for Ghost Ship, I was appalled by the interface. Slow, klunky, buggy, and did half or less of the things that Flame did.. Moving from Flame to Shake was definitely a downgrade in the software and performance department, but it was an upgrade into the feature film compositing realm, where most post houses could not afford a turnkey Flame or Inferno system, so they settled for a desktop package where they could throw artists and machines at the copious amounts of visual effects shots which have come to prevail the modern blockbuster movie. I completed about four to five shots in Shake for Ghost Ship, with the rest being done in Inferno. I often went to the vacant Inferno seat to create masks for my Shake shots, simply because I was so disallusioned by the way it worked (and I didn't have a tablet for my Shake install at the time).

Over time, my fondness grew for Shake, and ultimately after using it for half a year, I came to like its quirks and dealt with it in the future studios where I had to use it. Many studios use Shake, and now that it's only $499 US for a license, I can see more artists picking it up and learning it.

Some of you may be familiar with how Shake works, but for those that do not, I'll go into some detail. Shake is a compositing compiler for scripts, which basically means that it will take a hand written (well, typed) script, and output a sequence of images based on that. Compositing is nothing more than image manipulation, which uses mathematics to create the imagery. As such, Shake operates. The advantage of course, is that Shake doesn't necessarily need a GUI to run, and in previous versions, this is the way it was. And of course, it's limitations lay there as well. I'll be going over Shake's latest GUI, version 4.0.

Upon opening Shake you'll be greeted by four panels, a viewer panel, a node panel, a settings panel, and tools panel. Using the tools panel or hotkeys, you'll bring in your footage from the hard drive. It will display in the viewer panel. Once you have brought in your image sequences, you can continue to use the tool panel to bring in your image manipulation tools. Upon opening any image manipulation tool will load up it's settings in the settings panel. This is a fairly simple and straightforward way of working. Your windows will always be where you left them, and settings are easy to get to. The GUI is easy to get around, and image manipulation is straightfoward.

I really like Shake's ability to easily write macros and scripts for distribution to other artists to use, and I've written several which currently stay in the Tippett arsenal to use for their future shows. Expression linking is much more straightfoward in Shake.

Shake's tracking leaves something to be desired. It's fairly slow, and is often prone to errors. You can track up to four points at a time, but there is not integrated 3D tracking.

Shake does not have a 3D compositing environment, and the one that is currently there, the Multiplane Node, is quite horrendous and is really a hack. It works, but is buggy and limited in scope. Shake also does not have any bicubics or extended bicubic capability. Retiming image sequences is limited, and no where near the capability of other packages.

The ease of creating roto and masks is a plus for shake, allowing quick and easy drag and drop functionality to existing nodes. Most everything is visually available, from bit depth, color and mask information, and whether or not a node is keyframed. In previous versions these capabilities were not there, and it required hovering or clicking on a node to see it's settings. One thing that is sorely missing from Shake is the ability to keyframe individual roto masks around a set pivot point. In Flame you have the ability to create a roto node and attach an axis to it, which allows you to keyframe the axis and not touch the roto again, useful for moving body parts that stay the same shape, but just move around. In Shake, if you rotate a rotospline around an offset pivot point, Shakeo will interpolate the points of the shape, not where the pivot point is. Boo.

Shake's paint and grain system is decent. You have your regular suite of tools, from clone to paint to others. It's grain system (FilmGrain) does a good job of matching film stock, however it's up to the comper, as always, to dial it in to completion. It's color correcting tools are quite powerful, and fairly quick. From ColorMatch, AdjustHSV, and Colorspace, there is a plethora of different techniques available to use. While not as nice as Flame's CC tools, Shake's can meet an artists demands. In cooperation with its including keyers, most notably Primatte and CFC Keylight, and it's quick roto ability, Shake can almost make any keying job easy. The feedback slows down as you layer on keys unfortunately, but that is the case with almost every desktop compositing package. While Shake does have limited chroma and lumakey, the amount of independent color nodes will help narrow down certain problematic edges and keys.

Shake has a morpher and warper as well, and these tools work as advertised. Closed or open spline based morphing and warping are handy tools to use.

While Shake does not have a semi-functional 3D compositing environment, one would be hard pressed to actually require it. It's definitely a plus, but its comping abilities doesn't suffer because of that.

Shake's ability to group and condense groups of nodes is a great tool. It allows you to name your groups and minimize them for ease of organization. As well, the snap to grid and vertical and horizontal layout hotkeys help align your node view in an organized manner.

Overall a good package that is easily customizable, which makes it the compositing package of choice to fit into most studios productions. Are there any other tools which I may have missed while describing Shake 4.0? What's your pet peeve? Now that Shake is no longer being supported, how do you see the industry shifting towards other compositing packages? I think most studios that have licenses of Shake will stick it out for a little while, and then hopefully when Apple releases their Phenomenon in 2008 they won't be at the back of the pack!

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