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The Next Generation Trains With The Foundry's Nuke Compositor

The future lies with Nuke at Bournemouth University?s National Center for Computer Animation (NCCA) (January 29, 2008)
DMN Newswire--2008-1-29--Whats it going to be then?  Thats the question facing not only post-production houses around the world, but leading educational establishments too. With the visual effects compositing business at a more interesting juncture today, than it has been for a number of years, many are considering their compositing software options for tomorrow.

At Bournemouth Universitys National Center for Computer Animation (NCCA), the future lies with Nuke from The Foundry. The University, which is the UKs pre-eminent academic institution for digital post studies, recently purchased and installed 40 Nuke licenses, adding to an original tally of ten seats. As a consequence, around 60 students are now set to graduate from Bournemouth every year having had exposure to Nuke, with half of this figure having used Nuke on some pretty intensive course work.

Bournemouth has an excellent reputation for equipping its graduates with ?vocational life skills the practical and hands-on knowledge that will help them move from full-time education to full-time employment. There are separate MA courses in 3D Computer Animation and Digital Effects, an MSc in Computer Animation, plus a BA undergraduate course that offers access to the NCCA. The MA in Digital Effects is a Skillset Screen Academy Course, designed to produce graduates with the range and depth necessary to become visual effects artists or digital effects supervisors in the feature, commercials, music video and broadcast markets.

Using Nuke the students on these various courses will cover such essentials as 2D image manipulation, as well as the production of digital imagery for compositing with live action sequences.

Switching to Nuke
?Our students tend to become rock solid technical artists and directors, capable of working in a team on the most complex of projects, says Jonathan Macey, senior lecturer in Computer Animation, and programme leader of the MSc Computer Animation course. ?We have forged close links with industry, with the result that Bournemouth graduates can be found almost everywhere.

Bournemouths credentials are such that it was recently voted amongst the top ten educational establishments by 3D World magazine, and the schools alumni can be found at leading post houses in London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Wellington and Sydney, with major films and TV productions amongst their collective credits including Happy Feet, Phantom Menace, Lord of the Rings, Revenge of the Sith, Madagascar, King Kong, Walking With Dinosaurs and The Golden Compass.
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?However, we see that industry is changing, and want to change with it, Macey says. ?The principal reason for us investing in Nuke is the demise of Shake. We have been able to easily implement Nuke into our Windows based CGI pipeline at the Media School, But the fact that Nuke can also run a range of other platforms is very useful, as rest of the school (around 150 workstations) uses Linux.

Macey is at pains to underline that Bournemouth is not a training course. ?Our focus is very much on transference of skills, he says. ?At the day-to-day level, as Nuke is a node-based compositor, and if you are familiar with node-based systems, you can transfer to Nuke pretty easily. But looking at the longer-term picture, we have to give industry what it needs. Our courses are designed to equip students so that when the leave academia they can fit quickly into the workplace. Nuke will play a significant part in that.

Getting hands-on
The person working hands-on with the students operating Nuke is Melania Fodritto, lecturer in digital effects and digital computing at The Media School.

?As we had to evaluate a replacement for Shake, we decided to take a much closer look at Nuke and really liked what we saw. Nuke is really user-friendly, and we could see that the transition of skills would be pretty straightforward. So we switched to Nuke.

Along with Nukes node-based approach to visual effects creation and compositing, Fodritto particularly likes the softwares speed and interactivity.

?Nuke is a very nicely laid-out software, with a good clean workflow, she says. ?As it is node-based, you can quickly go back and forth to make adjustments, or check for any issues. I also like the fact that Nuke displays the different images channels, and that access to them is straightforward. Its done away with much of the voodoo involved in multi-layer compositing. We can render multiple channels from RenderMan into a single EXR (such as normals, points and DuDV), which Nuke can then use for post effects. Nuke is also much more efficient in the way it supports masks.

?I also have feeling that Nukes viewport is more flexible than Shake. For example, we have been working in 16:9 aspect ratio. In Nuke you can set this up straight away, and its better than the open GL-type view.

Developer-friendly
The introduction of Nuke into the pipeline at Bournemouth also opens up new avenues for software development skills. One recent former student, Johannes Saam (now working at Rising Sun Pictures in Australia), required a relighting tool for a project he was developing using Nuke. Within a few weeks he had written a creative lighting tool based on Z-depth himself, and made it available as a freeware download.

Another student, Michael Garrett, has also recently created Nuke gizmos for diffuse and specular lighting effects, as well as an environment-map based on IBL and reflections all optimised for use with RenderMan rendering software, and able to work cross-platform.

?The great thing about Nuke is the API is developer-friendly, so you can write and integrate new gizmos easily, says Fodritto. ?With Nuke supporting OFX too, there are fresh opportunities for students to work on a wide range of plug-in development.

It is interesting to discover this that all of this is taking place currently on Nuke 4.7. Bournemouth will upgrade to Nuke 5 as soon as it is launched, and take immediate advantage of the advent Python scripting into the new version. Mirroring what is happening in the industry, Python will become the core programming and scripting language at Bournemouth during 2008. What the students, tutors and the wider industry, will make of Nuke 5s new and improved U/I, plus features like 3D stereoscopic compositing tools, remains to be seen.

Fodritto concludes, ?I get the feeling other places have either switched or are switching to Nuke too. I had an e-mail just the other day from one of our graduates, who is now working at Digital Mine in Thailand, who said they are using Nuke a lot. The transition between Shake and Nuke is really easy, and I dont think it will be long before Nuke becomes the established compositing tool on all our workstations.

About The Foundry
The Foundry is a world-leading innovator of visual effects and image processing technologies that boost productivity in motion picture and video post production. On February 10th 2007, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded a Sci-Tech Award® to The Foundrys development team for the Furnace image processing suite. The company now holds a trio of Academy Award® winning products including the high-end compositing system NUKE, and keying application Keylight.

The Foundrys products support a wide range of host platforms including After Effects, Autodesk® Media and Entertainment Systems, Avid DS, Baselight, Film Master, NUKE, Scratch and Shake. The company has also driven OpenFX, an open standard for visual effects plug-ins, now broadly adopted by host and plug-in developers such as Autodesk®, Assimilate, FilmLight, Digital Vision, Grass Valley, Soluciones Graficas por Ordenador (S.G.O.), Photron and others.

Customers include: Digital Domain, The Moving Picture Company, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Warner Bros and Weta Digital Ltd. The Foundry is headquartered in London, and has offices in Los Angeles. For more information please visit The Foundrys website at www.thefoundry.co.uk.


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