Tag Archives: Nuke

Review: Foundry’s Athera cloud platform

By David Cox

I’ve been thinking for a while that there are two types of post houses — those that know what cloud technology can do for them, and those whose days are numbered. That isn’t to say that the use of cloud technology is essential to the survival of a post house, but if they haven’t evaluated the possibilities of it they’re probably living in the past. In such a fast-moving business, that’s not a good place to be.

The term “cloud computing” suffers a bit from being hijacked by know-nothing marketeers and has become a bit vague in meaning. It’s quite simple though: it just means a computer (or storage) owned and maintained by someone else, housed somewhere else and used remotely. The advantage is that a post house can reduce its destructive fixed overheads by owning fewer computers and thus save money on installation and upkeep. Cloud computers can be used as and when they are needed. This allows scaling up and down in proportion to workload.

Over the last few years, several providers have created global datacenters containing upwards of 50,000 servers per site, entirely for the use of anyone who wants to “remote in.” Amazon and Google are the two biggest providers, but as anyone who has tried to harness their power for post production can confirm, they’re not simple to understand or configure. Amazon alone has hundreds of different computer “instance” types, and accessing them requires navigating through a sea of unintelligible jargon. You must know your Elastic Beanstalks from your EC2, EKS and Lambda. And make sure you’ve worked out how to connect your S3, EFS and Glacier. Software licensing can also be tricky.

The truth is, these incredible cloud installations are for cleverer people than those of us that just like to make pretty pictures. They are more for the sort that like to build neural networks and don’t go outside very much. What our industry needs is some clever company to make a nice shiny front end that allows us to harness that power using the tools we know and love, and just make it all a bit simpler. Enter Athera, from Foundry. That’s exactly what they’ve done.

What is Athera?

Athera is a platform hosted on Google Cloud infrastructure that presents a user with icons for apps such as Nuke and Houdini. Access to each app is via short-term (30-day) rental. When an available app icon is clicked, a cloud computer is commanded into action, pre-installed with the chosen app. From then on, the app is used just as if locally installed. Of course, the app is actually running on a high-performance computer located in a secure and nicely cooled datacenter environment. Provided the user has a vaguely decent Internet connection, they’re good to go, because only the user interface is being transmitted across the network, not the actual raw image data.

Apps available on Athera include Foundry’s products, plus a few others. Nuke is represented in its base form, plus a Nuke X variant, Nuke Studio, and a combination of Nuke X and Cara VR. Also available are the Mari texture painting suite, Katana look-creating app and Modo CGI modeling software.

Athera also offers access to non-Foundry products like CGI software Houdini and Blender, as well as the Gaffer management tool.

NukeIn my first test, I rustled up an instance of Nuke Studio and one of Blender. The first thing I wanted to test was the GPU speed, as this can be somewhat variable for many cloud computer types (usually between zero and not much). I was pleasantly surprised as the rendering speed was close to that of a local Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, which is pretty decent. I was also pleased to see that user preferences were maintained between sessions.

One thing that particularly impressed me was how I could call up multiple apps together and Athera would effectively build a network in the background to link them all up. Frames rendered out of Blender were instantly available in the cloud-hosted Nuke Studio, even though it was running on a different machine. This suggests the Athera infrastructure is well thought out because multi-machine, networked pipelines with attached storage are constructed with just a few clicks and without really thinking about it.

Access to the Athera apps is either by web browser or via a local client software called “Orbit.” In web browser mode, each app opens in its own browser tab. With Orbit, each app appears in a dedicated local window. Orbit boasts lower latency and the ability to use local hardware such as multiple monitors. Latency, which would show itself as a frustrating delay between control input and visual feedback, was impressively low, even when using the web browser interface. Generally, it was easy to forget that the app being used was not installed locally.

Getting files in and out was also straightforward. A Dropbox account can be directly linked, although a Google or Amazon S3 storage “bucket” is preferred for speed. There is also a hosted app called “Toolbox,” which is effectively a file browser to allow the management of files and folders.

The Athera platform also contains management and reporting features. A manager can set up projects and users, setting out which apps and projects a user has access to. Quotas can be set, and full reports are given as to who did what, when and with which app.

Athera’s pricing is laid out on their website and it’s interesting to drill into the costs and make comparisons. A user buys access to apps in 30-day blocks. Personally, I would like to see shorter blocks at some point to increase up/down scale flexibility. That said, render-only instances for many of the apps can be accessed on a per-second billing basis. The 30-day block comes with a “fair use” policy of 200 hours. This is a hard limit, which equates to around nine and a half hours per day for five-day weeks (which is technically known in post production as part time).

Figuring Out Cost
Blender is a good place to start analyzing cost because it’s open source (free) software, so the $244 Athera cost to run for 30 days/200 hours must be for hardware only. This equates to $1.22 per hour, which, compared to direct cloud computer usage, is pretty good value for the GPU-backed machine on offer.

Modo

Another way of comparing the amount of $244 a month would be to say that a new computer costing $5,800 depreciates at roughly this monthly rate if depreciated over two years. That is to say, if a computer of that value is kept for two years before being replaced, it effectively loses roughly $241 per month in value. If depreciated over three years, the figure is $80 per month less. Of course, that’s just comparing the cost of depreciation. Cost of ownership must also include the costs of updating, maintaining, powering, cooling, insuring, housing and repairing if (when!) it breaks down. If a cloud computer breaks down, Google has a few thousand waiting in the wings. In general, the base hardware cost seems quite competitive.

Of course, Blender is not really the juicy stuff. Access to a base Nuke, complete with workstation, is $685 per 30 days / 200 hours. Nuke X is $1,025. There are also “power” options for around 20% more, where a significantly more powerful machine is provided. Compared to running a local machine with purchased or rented software, these prices are very interesting. But when the ability to scale up and down with workload is factored in, especially being able to scale down to nothing during quiet times, the case for Athera becomes quite compelling.

Another helpful factor is that a single 30-day access block to a particular app can be shared between multiple users — as long as only one user has control of the app at a time. This is subject to the fair use limitation.

There is an issue if commercial (licensed) plug-ins are needed. For the time being, these can’t be used on Athera due to the obvious licensing issues relating to their installation on a different cloud machine each time. Hopefully, plugin developers will become alive to the possibilities of pay-per-use licensing, as a platform like Athera could be the perfect storefront.

Mari

Security
One of the biggest concerns about using remote computing is that of security. This concern tends to be more perceptual than real. The truth is that a Google datacenter is likely to have significantly more security than an average post company’s machine room. Also, they will be employing the best in the security business. But if material being worked on leaks out into the public, telling a client, “But I just sent it to Google and figured it would be fine,” isn’t going to sound great. Realistically, the most likely concern for security is the sending of data to and from a datacenter. A security breach inside the datacenter is very unlikely. As ever, a post producer has to remain vigilant.

Summing Up
I think Foundry has been very smart and forward thinking to create a platform that is able to support more than just Foundry products in the cloud. It would have been understandable if they just made it a storefront for alternative ways of using a Nuke (etc), but they clearly see a bigger picture. Using a platform like Athera, post infrastructure can be assembled and disassembled on demand to allow post producers to match their overheads to their workload.

Athera enables smart post producers to build a highly scalable post environment with access to a global pool of creative talent who can log in and contribute from anywhere with little more than a modest computer and internet connection.

I hate the term game-changer — it’s another term so abused by know-nothing marketeers who have otherwise run out of ideas — but Athera, or at least what this sort of platform promises to provide, is most certainly a game-changer. Especially if more apps from different manufacturers can be included.


David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20-plus years of experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.

Thinkbox addresses usage-based licensing

At the beginning of May, Thinkbox Software launched Deadline 8, which introduced on-demand, per-minute licensing as an option for Thinkbox’s Deadline and Krakatoa, The Foundry’s Nuke and Katana, and Chaos Group’s V-Ray. The company also revealed it is offering free on-demand licensing for Deadline, Krakatoa, Nuke, Katana and V-Ray for the month of May.

Chris BondThinkbox founder/CEO Chris Bond explained, “As workflows increasingly incorporate cloud resources, on-demand licensing expands options for studios, making it easy to scale up production, whether temporarily or for a long-term basis. While standard permanent licenses are still the preferred choice for some VFX facilities, the on-demand model is an exciting option for companies that regularly expand and contract based on their project needs.”

Since the announcement, users have been reaching out to Thinkbox with questions about usage-based licensing. We reached out to Bond to help those with questions get a better understanding of what this model means for the creative community.

What is usage-based licensing?
Usage-based licensing is an additional option to permanent and temporary licenses and gives our clients the ability to easily scale up or scale down, without increasing their overhead, on a project-need basis. Instead of one license per render node, you can purchase minutes from the Thinkbox store (as pre-paid bundles of hours) that can be distributed among as many render nodes as you like. And, once you have an account with the Store, purchasing extra time only takes a few minutes and does not require interaction with our sales team.

Can users still purchase perpetual licenses of Deadline?
Yes! We offer both usage-based licensing and perpetual licenses, which can be used separately or together in the cloud or on-premise.

How is Deadline usage tracked?
Usage is tracked per minute. For example, if you have 10,000 hours of usage-based licensing, that can be used on a single node for 10,000 hours, 10,000 nodes for one hour or anything in between. Minutes are only consumed while the Deadline Slave application is rendering, so if it’s sitting idle, minutes won’t be used.

What types of renderfarms are compatible with usage-based licensing?
Usage-based licensing works with both local- and cloud-based renderfarms. It can be used exclusively or alongside existing permanent and temporary licenses. You configure the Deadline Client on each machine for usage-based or standard licensing. Alternatively, Deadline’s Auto-Configuration feature allows you to automatically assign the licensing mode to groups of Slaves in the case of machines that might be dynamically spawned via our Balancer application. It’s easy to do, but if anyone is confused they can send us an email and we’ll schedule a session to step you through the process.

Can people try it out?
Of course! For the month of May, we’re providing free licensing hours of Deadline, Krakatoa, Nuke, Katana and V-Ray. Free hours can be used for on-premise or cloud-based rendering, and users are responsible for compute resources. Hours are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and any unused time will expire at 12am PDT on June 1.

Union VFX’s Simon Hughes talks Suffragette’s seamless VFX

London-based Union VFX provided a number of visual effects shots for the film Suffragette, Sarah Gavron’s drama about the early feminist movement and the fight for equality and the right to vote.

As you can imagine, this type of film doesn’t scream VFX, so Union’s work on Suffragette was in the “blending-in” category, such as building extensions, CG crowd multiplication and the addition of vehicles and props — all of which needed to behave seamlessly with the real environments and set dressings.

track beforetrack after

One of the bigger sequences that Union provided shots for was the climactic scene at Epsom race course, which sees suffragette Emily Davison step out in front of King George V’s horse — you can imagine how that turned out. Union’s creatives were called on to help swell the huge crowd who witnessed the tragedy, and to help paint an historically accurate picture of an Edwardian sporting event. This required complex VFX work, involving a compositing plate and tiled elements, and the creation of CG characters, buildings, vehicles and contemporary props, such as betting signs, and even a circus.

“Epsom was easily the largest sequence in the film for us,” reports Simon Hughes, Union’s VFX supervisor on Suffragette, who said this included a series of significant crowd extensions and architectural augmentations.

Simon Hughes

Simon Hughes

“The crowd was built using a combination of Golaem crowd simulations and characters built in Maya from “t-poses” of large groups of extras photographed on set during the shoot. “They are called t-poses because the arms and legs aren’t connected to the sides of the body,” he explains. “These are shot 360 degrees around the body and then used as texture and anatomy for the character builds in Maya. Once built, the characters were rigged with a skeleton to enable animation, using a combination of walk cycle animations and custom animations, such as waving and gesturing. These animations were then imported into Golaem along with the characters and multiplied and randomized to build an enormous crowd.”

All shots were composited in Foundry Nuke. CG was rendered in Arnold, and props, buildings and vehicles were built in Maya. They called on PFTrack and Nuke for tracking.

In addition to Epsom, there was a riot sequence on London’s Oxford Street, a series of explosions, the re-building of Holloway prison and an expanded crowd of MPs and protestors at the Houses of Parliament (which was used as a set for a commercial film for the first time in its history).

“For all of these there was a special effects explosion that visual effects expanded on using effects simulations in Side Effects Houdini. These included rebuilding the post boxes so we could blow the lid and doors off, and expanding the explosion with additional rubble and debris and dust along with the obvious fire and smoke elements that were required,” concludes Hughes.

Chaos Group shows V-Ray for Nuke at SIGGRAPH 2015

Chaos Group’s V-Ray for Nuke is a new tool for lighting and compositing that integrates production-quality ray-traced rendering into the company’sNuke,NukeX, and NukeStudio products. V-Ray for Nuke enables compositors to take advantage of V-Ray’s lighting, shading and rendering tools inside NUKE’s node-based workflow.

V-Ray forNuke brings the same technology used on Game of Thrones, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and other film, commercial and television projects to professional compositors.

Built on the same adaptive rendering core as V-Ray’s plugins for Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya, V-Ray for Nuke is designed for production pipelines. V-Ray forNuke gives compositors the ability to adjust lighting, materials and render elements up to final shot delivery. Full control of 3D scenes in Nuke lets compositors match 2D footage and 3D renders simultaneously, saving time for environments and set extension work. V-Ray for Nuke includes a range of features for rendering and geometry with 36 beauty, matte and utility render elements, as well as effects for lights, cameras, materials, and textures.

Hinge Digital takes on animated AdoptUSKids PSA

Portland’s Hinge Digital, which works on spots, commercial campaigns and other content for big brands, such as Microsoft, Adidas, Electronic Arts and Dunkin’ Donuts, recently took on a very different kind of project with Suitcase, a 30-second public service announcement created for AdoptUSKids, Ad Council and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

It reminds people that while they might not be perfect at all times, they can provide the perfect, loving home for a child in need. It was produced to mark the 10th anniversary of AdoptUSKids, which helps place foster children into adoptive homes in the United States.

adoptuskids_suitcase_boards1_branded adoptuskids_suitcase_concept_7_branded
The storyboard and concept for “Suitcase”

Hinge came up with the concept, wrote, designed and animated the piece, but with so many partners’ hands in the mix across the country, the studio needed something to keep everyone on the same page as the project sprang to life. To do that they called on Frankie, a web-based video review tool that allowed remote parties to view the work and collaborate in realtime.

In Suitcase the audience sees a young girl who has been bounced between foster homes, growing accustomed to living out of a suitcase. When she’s given a permanent home she finds a new use for that suitcase, and appreciates her adoptive parents even if they make silly mistakes here or there.

Alex

Alex Tysowsky

“It was important to use emotional storytelling and illustrative design to tell this story, along with the software magic of Maya and Nuke to create the visual narrative,” says director Alex Tysowsky, whose nearly 20-year career includes animation for films such as The Matrix and Spider-Man 2. He had a team of eight focused on the PSA, which was in production for about six weeks.

“We wanted to create a spot with a uniquely engaging look that combined toon-shaded CG characters and watercolor backgrounds,” he explains. “Once the concept designs were approved, we built the 3D assets to match the look and feel of the artwork. The fun part was animating and bringing the characters to life. ”With approvals needed from both creative and non-creative individuals at the client companies — all in various locations across the United States —Hinge Digital needed a solution that would allow for an effective review process. That’s where Frankie came in.

adopt_breakfast_brandedcooking adopt_camping_branded

Tysowsky says that with Frankie, “remote parties can be easily invited into the review session, and everyone can quickly share their comments and notes. It makes everyone feel like part of the active process. Once we had everyone on a conference line and connected to Frankie, they were all looking at the same thing. With five people in five different locations, communication about something visual can be a bit of a challenge. But with the markup tools Frankie provides, everyone can see what we’re talking about.”

Among the studio’s favorite features in Frankie are the realtime markup tool and the ability to export notes into a PDF file. Additionally, being able to see when a client has logged into the session – whether before or during the conference call — is a helpful function.

Click here to view the final PSA.

What it means to be free

Free versions of software help develop a stronger entry-level talent pool

By The Unknown Artist

One of the biggest buzzes at the NAB Show this year was the announcement of free versions of software from Avid and The Foundry: Avid First and Nuke Non-Commercial. This is a pretty big deal… for those companies and for the industry as a whole because I have seen how free versions, not just short-term trial versions of software, have a significant, positive impact.

Avid had a stranglehold on the professional market during the 1990s and the early 2000s. During this period, their range of products included a free version — Avid Free DV. This was discontinued in 2007, just as Final Cut Pro matured as a serious competitor in the professional market.

Suddenly, learning Avid independently wasn’t an option. But Apple didn’t make Final Cut Pro difficult to rip, so many young people did with FCP what they had previously, legitimately, done with Avid: they acquired free and accessible software to learn on and started making content. And as they stepped up the ladder and into the professional world, so did their preferred NLE. Emerging talent did what they had to do, and the NLE market changed as a result.

As the industry has moved away from on-the-job mentorship and training this has become the new way to break in. You don’t get to start out with nothing and learn on the job, you have to start out with basic skills and familiarity with specific software before you get in the door.

A by-product of people learning these tools at home was it created new entry-level talent for the industry. What happened when Avid discontinued DV was that the industry lost a lot of low-paid entry-level talent. There were stories of productions that literally couldn’t find anyone at entry-level who knew Avid. This likely had some influence on the shift away from Avid over the past few years: cash-strapped productions shifted to a platform that they could find freelancers to operate.

At NAB, The Foundry introduced the free Nuke Non-Commercial.

That’s why free versions are important for the overall strength of the brand, as well as for the industry in general. We live in a digital age where we are accustomed to being able to “try before we buy.” Not every working professional learned how to use the many tools of their trade by taking a training course.

A large portion learned, or at least honed their skills, by getting a free version, taking it for a spin over a few months and creating some personal projects at home. Film schools may teach the fundamentals of post, but it takes tinkering, exploration and months of practice to become comfortable enough to put in on your resume. Whether it’s aspiring editors familiarizing themselves with Avid, compositors with Nuke or colorists with Resolve Lite, free and accessible versions of professional software open up our industry for a more diverse, more skilled talent pool.

BlackGinger creates CG cars to help tell history of Mazda

Cape Town, South Africa-based VFX, animation and post house BlackGinger recently completed work on a Mazda 3 commercial that takes an historical look into the car-maker’s evolution.

To help tell the story of Mazda through the years, BlackGinger added CG elements, including cars, to live-action footage. “Much research went into recreating every aspect of classic cars that are no longer available,” explains Darrin Hofmeyr, animation supervisor at BlackGinger, “namely the Le Mans winner and the three wheeled Mazdago. We took great care to match the CG cars to the originals.” Check out the spot here.

But it wasn’t just the cars that needed attention — the locations these vehicles were driving through needed to be as accurate as they could be in order to tell the story of Mazda. This Continue reading

Quick Chat: Camille Geier, EP of Shade VFX New York

Earlier this month, bi-coastal studio Shade VFX brought on veteran visual effects producer Camille Geier as executive producer of its New York location, which recently expanded into a new 5,000-square-foot location.

Geier, who started her visual effects career at ILM as a VFX producer, will oversee Shade’s New York feature and television work, including shots on Marvel’s Netflix series, Daredevil.

She comes to Shade after a recent stint at Rodeo FX. Prior to that Geier spearheaded the feature film division for RhinoFX where, as EP, she oversaw over 20 films, including The Adjustment Bureau, Salt, The Other Guys and Ghost Town. Before that, she worked at Curious Pictures in television animation. Continue reading

ArsenalFX provides VFX for two new Lexus spots via Team One

Santa Monica – VFX house ArsenalFX, which specializes in high-end commercial finishing, has produced visual effects for two new national Lexus spots out of agency Team One and shot by The Bandito Brothers.

“Shift,” which broke during the weekend after Thanksgiving, and “Say Nothing,” which aired for the first time on November 15 will initially be airing during in-game sports presentations.

In the “Shift” spot, we see the dashboard inside a silver Lexus GS performance sedan, as the driver pushes the start engine button, and speeds down a dark road at night illuminated by white lights blurring past. The driver shifts, then shifts, and then shifts again, through all eight speeds of a transmission.

The “Shift” spot (http://arsenalfx.gosimian.com/v2/sp/r/N1/1/s3NLvOMlzwJn1pwWOLTgwQ/ZGFuQGFzYnVyeXByLmNvbQ) involved ArsenalFX digitally removing vehicle front and rear sensors, and dirt, as well as some light spec removal on the vehicle itself. The entire conform of the spot consisted of variable speed alterations and motion estimation warps. Light effects were added by ArsenalFX to simulate the outer lights on interior shots. Road vibrations and vehicle movement were also simulated by Arsenal FX on all exterior road shots.

In addition, interior speed and RPM gauges were also reconstructed and redesigned by Arsenal FX (www.arsenalfx.tv) for proper speed manipulation. Rotoscoping and tracking was also used in various shots. To tie the full spot together, each shot had to be repo’d and resized for optimum viewing. A 2:35 letterbox was added by Arsenal FX for the final touch. They called on Flame for this one.

In the “Say Nothing” spot, we see a white Lexus IS sport sedan speeding around the curves of a racetrack under a cloudy sky, snow capped mountains in the background (http://arsenalfx.gosimian.com/v2/sp/r/N1/1/e6sT88zBQVMI9G7N0uDIHQ/ZGFuQGFzYnVyeXByLmNvbQ).

This spot required ArsenalFX to clean up a good deal of ground seen on the race track, as the road whips past the speeding car. This work spanned crane shots, curving roads, and camera zooms. Conventional 2D tracking techniques would not have been able to provide this outcome without extensive hand tracking and an odd-looking perspective.

1 IS Say Nothing

In order to accomplish this road cleanup, ArsenalFX used 3D tracking software (Boujou) to create a 3D camera that would match the live action camera which was used to shoot the original footage. These sequences were then brought into a 3D program (Maya) where the ground was modeled as geometry. Simply using a flat plane was not enough — ArsenalFX needed to match the curvature of the ground. This was all exported as an FBX and imported into Flame.

Once inside Flame, the ArsenalFX team painted numerous clean still frames of the race track. These were then projected onto the ground geometry and tracked in, via the 3D camera. Ultimately, a seamless and camera corrected fix resulted in a faster process, and in superior quality of the finished picture.

They also used Nuke in conjunction with Flame, said ArsenalFX’s Casey Conroy, “We harnessed Nuke’s powerful composting capabilities to clean up and enhance the Lexus IS. We also used it to track and composite background enhancement per client notes. It was an excellent complement to the Flames. Nuke expedited the turnaround and delivery of the spot.”