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August 2014
Issue: March 1, 2013

Review: The Foundry's Nuke 7 V.2

By Nathan Overstrom

2D Supervisor
Look Effects
http://www.lookfx.com
New York

PRODUCT:
The Foundry’s Nuke 7 V.2

WEBSITE: www.thefoundry.co.uk

PRICING: NukeX: $8,070/license, includes maintenance, support and free upgrades for a year;
Nuke: $4,155/license, includes maintenance, support and free upgrades for one year; Render license only: $460/license.
- GPU acceleration
- RAM caching
- keyframe-based tracking

The Foundry’s Nuke allows artists to work in a fast and responsive full 32-bit floating-point linear environment, meeting the challenges of film, television and commercial work. It remains highly customizable through Python, and is able to fit into almost any pipeline workflow. They recently released Nuke 7. Let’s take a look.

DIGGING IN

Creating a successful shot involves interactivity and iterations. With that in mind, I think the most important update to Nuke is the move to bring GPU acceleration to some of its slowest nodes. In the past, I would caution artists away from the Furnace Core effects and figure out workarounds, because using just a few of them could bring a shot to its knees. GPU acceleration applied to nodes like Kronos, MotionBlur (formerly F_MotionBlur), and Denoise brings them back into play. Even doing basic tests with Kronos on a pretty moderate Geforce video card yielded results 2-5x faster than normal. One thing is important to note, however: GPU acceleration only works with a NukeX license, not vanilla Nuke.  

The Foundry is finally bringing RAM caching to Nuke 7. Simply pressing “play” will start the RAM cache, signified by a thin green bar in your timeline in the viewer window. Being able to see your work at a consistent, desired frame rate, within the compositing application is something that has been a long time coming in Nuke. 

Lots of changes have been made to the 2D Tracker node. All of the command buttons have been moved from the Properties panel to a viewer toolbar, much like the Roto/RotoPaint tools are in Nuke 6.3. This makes it much easier to operate and control the trackers. The Properties panel has also seen a new makeover. The main Tracker panel now features a layer-based scheme, and is no longer limited to four individual trackers. You can add as many trackers as you like.

Right-click contextual menus operate the same way as any normal field, and there is still an Animation menu button on the right hand side, so you can shift-drag (or ctrl-drag) the raw track data to other dual-input fields (such as the translate field on a transform node). You can also drag the raw track data to individual knots of a spline in a roto node or spline warp node. Users of Mocha and Boujou will recognize the next biggest feature: keyframe-based tracking. This allows an artist to “guide” a tracker through the many shapes and lighting conditions that a tracking pattern might go through during a shot. There are a ton of other options added as well. You can view a color-coded tracking path to visualize the health of a track, stabilize the image around a particular tracker to see the accuracy of the track, and also export CornerPin and Transform nodes straight from the tracking panel. 

ALEMBIC, MORE

Nuke now includes the ability to read and write Alembic (.abc) files. These Alembic files can contain animated meshes, transforms, point clouds and cameras. This is definitely an upgrade from trying to send data back and forth to your 3D package through .obj, .fbx and .chan files. So far, the Alembic meshes seem to respond much faster than FBX, and you have the ability to load and unload objects within the ReadGeo node. Being able to turn off unnecessary geometry speeds things up and makes it much more convenient by not having to have files re-exported. FBX compatibility has seen an upgrade too, with performance increases and support for FBX 2012. 

While we are still talking about 3D, the TimeOffset and FrameHold nodes can now be applied to 3D nodes such as lights, cameras and geometry. The PointCloudGenerator has seen a pretty big overhaul. Tracking and filtering have been separated, which makes the node much faster and easier to use. Turning on the Vertex Selection Mode in the Viewer (top right button in the viewer panel) allows you to select individual points and create groups. These groups can either be baked out into their own nodes, or meshed out to individual geometry nodes. While extremely useful, I wished that I had more controls while creating the actual mesh. 

The big advantage over PoissonMesh is that the resulting mesh does not try to enclose itself. I also wished the resulting geometry was not quite so averaged out and contoured to fit the point clouds more accurately. Geometry created by either PoissonMesh or PointCloudGenerator has neither UVs nor normals. This can lead to problems using UVProject, or assigning textures or materials based off UV space.
 
Speaking of building meshes, ModelBuilder is another new tool. Now within Nuke, you can model your own geometry from scratch! Within the node, you start with any of the primitive shapes, a plane, sphere, cylinder, etc. Or you can draw out a polygon. Then you can select edges, faces, or vertexes and push and pull them to deform the shape. From the right-click menu, you can access a split polygon tool (“Carve”) for building in new detail, bevel edges, or extrude faces. It’s exactly the same as using basic modeling tools from your favorite 3D application. 

Perhaps one of the longest-awaited changes has been a useful and predictable SplineWarp node. In Nuke 6, the SplineWarp operated like a single curve in a roto node. The source spline was the base curve, and the destination spline was the feather offset from base curve. If you had two independently moving images that you were trying to match or morph between, it made for some pretty tricky and tedious expression workarounds to get everything to operate correctly.

If you have used Shake’s warper or ReVison Effects’s FlexWarp, the new SplineWarp will feel like familiar ground. Now in Nuke 7, it operates by pairing two separate curves, which can be animated and tracked independently. Each curve can even have a different number of points! The pairs are linked by Correspondent Points that can be added, subtracted or modified to your heart’s content.

The Foundry used to hide the Relight node away inside the All Plugins->update menu. It was an interesting node, though a little buggy and not quite fully supported. It created essentially the same effect as ReVision’s ShadeShape and ShadeNormals plug-ins, allowing you to “light” an object or layer based off a set of rendered or created normals. Though Relight takes things a step further, and with the inclusion of a world-position pass, will allow you to actually insert lighting into the rendered scene. 

If you position a light to a location that would be behind an object, then the light will not illuminate it. It is very cool. The one big drawback to this is that the world-position pass and normals are not anti-aliased. That means that the results from this tool are generally a little blocky and may not line up perfectly to the edges of your nice 3D render. I find a tool like this to be incredibly useful during those eleventh-hour emergencies. As this tool is really quick and interactive, it is also very useful for helping to develop additional lighting to pass back to 3D, without having to go into a 3D program. 

The Roto/RotoPaint system, which has mostly felt like a work-in-progress, has seen an overhaul, speeding it up significantly and reducing the size of your Nuke files. Especially when getting into paint work. The downside is that existing Nuke 6 scripts with Roto/RotoPaint need to be converted over, so they are not quite backwards-compatible. 

ZDefocus is the replacement for ZBlur. It is also GPU accelerated, so expect to see some major performance gains. ZBlur allowed you to change the shape of the kernel from being square to being circular. This new node defaults to the same, but also allows you to change it to a bladed iris, with control over the number of blades used for the kernel image. There is even a secondary input to plug in a completely custom image to use as the defocus kernel. With the ability to bloom the highlights too, and you no longer need a third-party plug-in to create pretty depth-of-field effects.

Add in Primatte 5, EXR 2.0 support, updated R3D support, updated Pixar RenderMan support and what you end up with is a juggernaut of a release. 

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Foundry has a reputation of delivering powerful tools for artists and leading the charge pushing the limits of what is achievable. They have certainly delivered with Nuke 7. Of course, there is always more work to do. It would be great to see some optimizations and accelerations done to the ScanlineRender node, or at least some viable options other than RenderMan. With so much 3D work being pushed into the compositing arena these days, especially with Mari, Nuke, Modo work-flows, the ScanlineRender nodes can become a huge bottleneck and take just as much time to render a frame as it would out of Maya. Nuke 7 makes some huge leaps, improving upon speed and power, revamping some important nodes like SplineWarp, and opening up more avenues to solve problems with tools like the Modeler. If you are doing projection work, timewarps, clean-up, or stereo compositing, upgrade now: it is worth it. Let us be honest, it is worth it no matter what you are working on.

Nathan Overstrom, who was at Zoic for seven years prior to Look Effects  (www.lookfx.com) , has credits that include Lawless, The Grey, Straw Dogs, Armored, The Stepfather, Obsessed, Quarantine and Step Brothers. His TV credits include Once Upon a Time, V, Human Target, (all of which garnered him VES nominations), Eli Stone and True Blood.