×

Nuke fuels vfx explosion

Compositing program slices steps for busy filmmakers

It was the kind of tech news that is often overlooked amid Emmy nominations, World Cup and LeBronmania.

But Walt Disney Animation Studio’s recent announcement that it is adopting the Foundry’s Nuke compositing software — the first time the Mouse’s toon shop has licensed commercial software — signals an important shift in digital production. Nuke is not only becoming the de facto standard for CG production, it’s changing the way CG artists work, shrinking the vfx pipeline to save both time and money.

“I think it is revolutionizing compositing,” says Mark Breakspear, vfx supervisor at CIS Vancouver, where compositors recently used Nuke to create complex environments for the upcoming film “Salt.” Chris Balog, compositor at Industrial Light & Magic, says, “We couldn’t have done ‘Iron Man 2’ without it.”

Nuke’s biggest impact has been on the way CG environments are created.

In a traditional workflow, when a shot calls for a digital background, matte painters build it using digital models, then send the models through rendering, where they get textures and colors, and are positioned at the correct depth. Compositors assemble the result like a jigsaw puzzle with live action and CG elements.

The problem, especially for 3D movies, is that the 2D images are on flat planes. They look fine when viewed from straight ahead, but when viewed from the side — or in 3D — they look like layers in a pop-up book.

But artists and compositors working in Nuke can paint directly on the models or apply a photograph to the surface to add detail. Then, rather than collaging a final shot, they can look at the scene in three dimensions.

The compositors can easily position a 3D model or another 2D image between the layers at exactly the depth they want. If a supervisor or director wants to change or move an element, the compositor can do it quickly, without involving the rendering and lighting departments.

“We took on Nuke during ‘Avatar’ for its stereo capabilities,” says Ben Morris, vfx supervisor at Framestore. Like many shops, Framestore originally had just a few Nuke workstations.

But for “Prince of Persia,” the company licensed copies of Nuke for all its artists because of its speed and flexibility. “Because it’s a 3D system at its core, it’s blurring the line between what we do in CG and compositing,” Morris says. “And that’s exciting.”

With Nuke, Digital Domain was able to build a CG New York at night for “Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief” early in the pipeline, rather than at the end.

“We had the people who capture information on set, and track the camera, build the city by applying photos they took to simple geometry, and assemble the city in Nuke, rather than going down the traditional route of modeling and lighting, which is a huge operation,” says Thad Beier, head of CG. “It was faster and less expensive.”

Balog used Nuke to attach 2D elements to live action images and CG models for “Iron Man 2.”

“I had shots where I had to blow up cars filmed on set,” he says. “In Nuke, I knew exactly where the car was in 3D space. I could place an explosion on top of the car and it would track perfectly with the camera. Same with the jets on (CG) Iron Man. I could put (photos of fiery plumes) onto his hands and feet and they’d move with him.”

Nuke originally was developed at Digital Domain and earned its developers a 2001 Sci-Tech Academy Award. After Apple dropped support for its popular compositing program Shake, DD turned Nuke into a commercial product. In 2007, the Foundry bought the software. Recently, sales have rocketed.

“People here were nervous when we let Nuke out of the building,” DD’s Beier says, “but they don’t miss the fact that it’s not an inhouse product any more. It works.”

More Music

  • Live Nation Logo. (PRNewsFoto/Live Nation)

    Live Nation Launches $10 Million ‘Crew Aid’ for Touring Staff Impacted by Coronavirus

    As anyone who’s ever attended a concert can deduce, musicians aren’t the only ones suffering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the live-entertainment industry: An entire economy of roadies, technicians, security and many more have been deeply impacted by the postponement of virtually every concert tour in the world. Live Nation, the world’s [...]

  • Lindsay Lohan photographerd at the Mercer

    Lindsay Lohan Teases New Music: 'I'm Back!'

    Lindsay Lohan is making a return to music after a 12-year hiatus. The former child star-turned-singer-songwriter-turned-Mykonos-based businesswoman posted a mysterious 30-second clip to her social media accounts today, captioning it with nothing but “I’m back!” and a pre-save link. The teaser centers in on a staticky television, flashing between moments from Lohan’s career as her [...]

  • Lindsay Lindenbaum on 'Tomboy,' Female Drummers,

    How 'Tomboy' Filmmaker Used SXSW Cancellation to Fine-Tune Her Film

    “Tomboy” filmmaker Lindsay Lindenbaum spent five years following four female drummers trying to make it in a male-dominated world. Lindenbaum profiles Bobbye Hall, a drummer who started at Motown Records in the late ’60s and later toured with Bob Dylan. Samantha Maloney, whose obsession with MTV’s “Headbangers Ball” as a teenager led her to fall [...]

  • Tiger King

    'Tiger King' Joe Exotic's 10 Wildest Music Videos

    From the opening scenes of “Tiger King,” it’s clear that Joe Exotic, the star of Netflix’s latest documentary sensation, was ready to do just about anything to become famous. Throughout the series, he attempts to film his own reality show, runs for the governor of Oklahoma and even tries his hand at country music. His [...]

  • Dodgers Stadium Empty

    Movie Theaters and Concerts Could See Major Attendance Drop Post-Pandemic (Study)

    After a month of increasing anxiety and self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, audiences in the U.S. are largely not eager to return to public events once the crisis subsides, according to a new study. In a survey of 1,000 consumers in the U.S., 44% of respondents said they would attend fewer large public events, [...]

  • Orville Peck performing Michael Kors show,

    Orville Peck, Fader Fort, X Ambassadors, Brett Young Lead Music Live-Streams

    Orville Peck will take to three different social media platforms tonight to chat with fans, perform music — including a new song that drops tomorrow — and call some special friends. It goes down at 9 p.m. ET/6 PT on Twitch, Instagram and YouTube. That leads today’s listings for live-stream music performances, but if it’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content