Saturday, 13 July 2013

Hmmmm... Would I jump ship from CG to Compositing?

Good question - and one I asked myself last week after spending a good amount of time working my way through Nuke (NukeX to be exact) and python scripting. It seems that Nuke has snagged me - I'm loving it, and just getting a buzz from working my way around techniques and tools.  Its all been very easy to pick up, and I have to say that the ease of upskilling in this tool is an exhilarating roller coaster ride that I'll keep travelling along.

So - with this buzz happening as I progress along with Nuke, would or should I jump ship from CG to work with compositing instead to get my fix?  Its a tempting decision - I really do love what I can do in post, but the answer would be No - yet on the other hand - Yes...  The reality is that both of these areas are joined at the hip, and they work well together.  CG needs compositing to polish and finalise it's look and style, as does compositing need CG assets for tasks such as front projecting a 2D plate into 3D geometry for additional depth, or creating virtual elements for visual effects work.

This blog post, I've posted a few examples of how I make use of both production processes to both edit my own personal work, but to assist in teaching others...

Nutting out Nuke...


After feeling somewhat inspired by the VFX breakdown for this amazing fan-made trailer for Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary, I decided last week to produce a simple project that would serve as a nice example for students and others interested in working with Nuke to look at, along with a chance to keep my own upskilling rolling along.

I found still images from the excellent - leavemethewhite.com - a site containing thousands of images from film and television.  I grabbed a couple of images from the 2009 Star Trek film, and decided to look at creating a new shot using these two characters - Spock and Sarek, his father.  Obviously these images are copyright, however they were only used for educational purposes and no infringement was intended.

I used these two images to produce a different shot - one that I could take advantage of for a variety of different processes and tools. (bottom 2 images are the originals, the one at the top is my resulting image)

Bottom 2 images were used to produce the top image (for educational purposes)


This little project  was relatively easy to do - 2 images (and a third 'background' version I made in Photoshop by simply painting out the character and the chair detail) with roto, laid out as 3D cards and then overlaid with some haze, volumetrics and post effects for grain and vignetting...

Rather then go into detail in text here on this blog entry, I'll let the node graph snapshot below do the talking for me.  I tidied the layout up and used backdrops, postage stamps and stickynotes to make sure that the graph was as easy to understand as possible.

NukeX's notes and backdrops help keep things tidy


For those interested in pulling this apart, the Nuke project can be downloaded below.  The Backdrop image is included, and a text file lists the URL's that you will need to source the two Star Trek images from.  This is purely because I need to respect that the images are the property of the website itself, and not something I feel should be re-distributed.


FYI, the large grey section on the left here is a manual light wrap effect that I created for the Sarek character to help integrate him better against that backdrop image.  I did this more as a way to explain how a light wrap works - Nuke has a pretty good light wrap node of its own...

If you look closely, you'll see that the two character roto's (the purple areas) have a spline warp node - this allows the characters to be animated by deforming areas of the face (brows, lips, etc).  The spline warp tool is nice, though is a little quirky and isn't overly easy to modify keys with as it should...  However - its still pretty cool.

The bottom left area is where I produce the needed volumetrics and glare - There is room to improve here, but having some glare pouring in from the bright areas behind the character helps bring them together with the scene.

Making a reel look real...


This second example, I used Eyeon software's DFX+ (its the 8-bit release of the Fusion compositing application).  I also love this software a lot - though I think perhaps its more a case of loving any software that is node-based for compositing. lol!  Both it and Nuke are literally much the same process when it comes to producing a final comp.

I was trying to put together a small show reel from a variety of small personal modeling projects.  Personally I'd go for a direct render, but for some reason I thought I'd be clever and make the final renders look much sexier with multiple light passes and effects composited back together.

It was a good idea - I got a lot more flexibility for final look and style this way.  On a negative, of course, it did mean rendering a LOT more material out to use...  But the effort is usually worth it after you discover how much more it gives you back for producing the final result.  Here's a few examples...

Industrial Lander/lifter

Haze, dust, glare and flare... Things that help give that "oooh, pretty!" factor (and help integrate our elements together more believably)


This ufo-like ship was designed to be a futuristic machine for construction, lifting heavy materials up sides of skyscrapers, etc.  I decided that rather a simple 360 for a show reel, I'd instead create a nice landing sequence...  Originally I'd rendered this one out directly and thought I was happy with it - then after some refinement in post, I discovered that perhaps it would be worth the time to get it looking the way I really wanted it to look.

Compositing allows so much more to be added to any 3D project

The downside of course was to achieve the level of flexibility I needed, I had to render out 15 passes - each source of light, volumetric effect, particles and more...  However the final result was worth the effort.  The composite node graph from DFX looked like this...



I produced a breakdown video showing the effect of each layer as it was added on my youtube channel.  As you can see, each layer plays a part in the final overall look.

Neeeeoooommmm!  Ratatatatatatat!

Blending crisp 3D elements into grubby looking image plates. Easy!



The field was taken from a scanned photograph from the second world war - with a little front projection and rendering of various elements (dust, etc) we quickly pull the real and cg elements back together.

Rather then explain it all here, check out my youtube overview here, where I explain the whole process that I went through to create a low-quality, cruddy old WW2 aircraft landing on a field.

The final verdict...


...is that both skill sets are a necessity in my toolkit.  I enjoy both parts of the process, though dependant upon the project, there's definitely going to be more fun in one part over the other.  Right now, all the fun is in working with Nuke.  What will be fun next?  Well, that's going to be left until another blog post...

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