Nuke, Shake, Flame - Part III

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The last entry of the compositing package reviews. Nuke is an up and coming desktop compositing package that truly excels where Shake has lost ground. A primary factor in its success is its constant beta testing by the compositing artists at Digital Domain. We have a plethora of technical and artistic compers which consistently help to evolve the production of Nuke. As such, Nuke is accelerating in its capabilities.

Siggraph is at an end this week, and the announcement of a demo version of Nuke 4.5 should surely quell ones appetite! I've only been using Nuke for approximately six months so far, but from what I've been using, it is definitely a cut above Shake. There are numerous tools within Nuke that I've yet to reach, and I'm in the process of creating Gizmos (which are Nuke's version of Shake's macros, but more powerful) to help my shots progress more easily.

Nuke's main compositing environment is the DAG, where you place your nodes, and view your tree. Hitting any number key (up to 10) while on a node will view that node in an independent viewer window. Double-clicking on a node will open up a settings panel for that node. Unlike Shake which always has a settings tab available, Nuke allows you to close all your tabs and viewer windows, so you're left with the DAG to organize and finesse your tree.

One of the big advantages of Nuke is the ability to incorporate up to 64 channels of information into one image. While working, instead of piping in a matte into a node like Shake, you'd copy the matte information into the main treeline, and then choose the operator that you'd like to affect. While this seems strange at first, it does grow on you, and it's more powerful. Instead of the capability to use that matte once (like Shake, where you'd have to pipe that noodle to any operator you want to affect), Nuke allows you to use that matte anywhere downstream from where you piped it in. It makes your scripts much more simplistic, but does require the artist to keep an eye on naming conventions! Luckily Nuke has some visual indication on each node of what is getting piped in, what channels are being affected and by which matte. Each node has an option to add labels and notes. If you need more space, you can bring in a StickyNote or a Backdrop node.

Grouping nodes is similar to Shake. However once grouped, the nodes are more powerful. You have the ability to selectively add any node operator into the group node's menu. This is similar to Shake's macro creation ability. Once you are satisfied with your group, you can export it as a Gizmo, and can be distributed and imported to other Nuke stations. If you like the traditional grouping that Shake has, Nuke has something similar, which is the backdrop node. This is a node that allows you to drag and drop nodes into it, as well as labelling and adding notes to it. Once nodes are placed inside the backdrop node, you can move all the nodes at once by dragging the backdrop node itself.

Many of you may have seen screenshots of Shake and have worked in it where there are copious amounts of nodes, will those wonderful noodles crisscrossing this way and that way. Nuke does not have noodles, and chooses to focus on simple arrows point to the next node. You can break an arrows direction by placing a dot node, and effectively making the arrow take a right turn to the next node. There are quite a few options available for making your GUI more effective and user friendly, from node color management, to visual indication of channel information, expression linking and animation, Nuke pretty much covers it all. In Shake, when you have an animated node, you'll get the highlighted dogbone (earmuffs!) on a node. With Nuke a simple floating 'A' next to the node signifies an animated node. A floating 'E' signifies a linked expression. Another small feature is the ability to clone nodes. This is more than just a simple copy. Cloning copies and links all parameters of the node, so changing one will change the other as well.

Color manangement is a little more complex.. There's no color wheel like Shake or Flame when picking colors, you're limited to RGB slider bars. Hopefully this will change in the future! Like Shake, there are a number of different color tools to make your life easier.

There is a plethora of keying choices available to you which include the staples of keying such as Primatte and Ultimatte, and the basic ones, luma,chroma,difference,max,min, and RGB keyers. There is also a Nuke keyer called IBK, the Image Based Keyer. It works similar to a difference keyer, but on steroids. It still needs some work, but a combination of keys can make the toughest greenscreen go away.

The paint tool is just like Shake's, in that it gets the job done, but is no where near as nice as a Flame. You have your standard clone and paint and reveal. However you can reveal between 3 different background images. Each stroke is editable and animateable.

The warping and morphing capabilities of Nuke are appropriate for a desktop package. There are spline warps/morphs and grid warps (2d bicubic and extended bicubic). There are the standard time adjustment nodes, from retime and offset, to frame interpolation called Optiflow.

Roto in Nuke is straightforward, but a little different than Shake. For every roto piece you need a separate node, so for complex roto, half your script may be littered with little green bezier boxes! It does make it a little easier to diagnose and keyframe. Unfortunately, like Shake, keyframed roto will interpolate between the points of a shape, and not from it's pivot point.

Another one of Nuke's strengths is its robust 3d compositing environment.. Unlike Shake, this one actual works well enough to use in production. Within Nuke's 3D space, you can bring in image planes and 3d objects. Depending on the UV coordinate information of the object, you can also texture map it within Nuke. There are several tools which allow an artist to apply motion blur based on the matchmove camera information as well as deform planes using bicubics and noise patterns. Like Flame, Nuke's 3D environment has axis controls, so you can parent a number of image nodes to one another and link them together. Also like Flame, you have the ability to project an image onto an object.

Among the big features listed above, Nuke contains a number of small GUI and keyboard shortcuts to make life a little easier. Every keyboard shortcut can be adjusted to your liking via TCL. As the demo will soon reveal once released at the end of this month, D2 Software has a great product. With the vfx artists at Digital Domain constantly giving feedback and enhancement requests, Nuke is accelerating away from the other desktop packages at a phenomenal pace.

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