New to Nuke

Nuke’s Non-commercial version was recently released, and its makers, The Foundry, have been hosting a competition with amazing prizes.
More importantly, they’ve tonnes of step-by-step tutorials providing the opportunity to learn Nuke.

What is Nuke? It’s basically a compositing software used for film post-production, whether that be live action or animation. It allows you to alter images, colour grade, and do all kinds of other fancy stuff, like my favourite, adding CGI to live action.

Coming from After Effects (another commonly used compositing software), it feels very different initially, but if you’ve used Blender’s compositor at all, you’ll be familiar with the node based workflow.

I’m a bit in awe of it at the moment. The camera tracker seems to be great compared to my previous flings with camera tracking.

Some tips I’ve picked up for tracking and to improve the camera solve are-

  • mask areas of significant movement to remove them from the track e.g. people.
  • mask reflections to reduce bad track points.
  • grade and sharpen the images prior to tracking to make track points more definite.
  • remove sky track points (the fact clouds are moving makes them unreliable as a track reference).
  • check your track for bad tracks, and remove any suspect points, and repeat the track to refine.

I found this tutorial on the basics of camera tracking by Jon Starck from The Foundry very straightforward and helpful starting out.

I’m also loving TunnelvisionTV’s youtube channel for ridiculously simple intro tutorials for Nuke, including this one on camera tracking.

And not forgetting Tobias of Surfaced Studio, who does step-by-step VFX tutorials, including this one on camera tracking in After Effects.

Editing Video In Nuke

The Foundry have also provided nice footage to play with. Editing with Nuke Studio, coming to it new, feels pretty intuitive; it’s very drag, drop and slide, plus there’s a handy window slider for checking how your edit and comps differ from reference footage.

Overall, my verdict?  It’s snazzy.


Cristy’s Development

Cristy in Rio

As a beginner, making a replica of Cristo Redentor was a challenge.

One of the key fundamentals I learned in relation to making models for integration with live action was that models should be to scale. So, in the case of Cristo, this means the model has to match his height of 30 metres (98 feet).

This is to allow him to cast realistic shadows, and reflected light will bounce back similar to how it would in the real world, provided he’s lit to match an original live action shot.

I rigged the final model for movement by adding a skeleton with human IK controls, and adjusted how the skeleton flexed the model’s mesh with weight painting. Weight painting allows you to adjust the amount the skeleton bones influence the overlying skin.

Seeing Cristy come to life was quite special.

Which brought me to a philosophical question; is it wrong to fall in love with your 3D model? Even though his texture’s a bit on the ugly side, in my eyes, he’s the most beautiful model in the world.

Here’s some images of Cristy as he’s progressed.

Preliminary Sketches
Preliminary Sketches
Cristy coming face to face with inspiration.

Having spent a lot of time watching VFX and animation tutorials I plan on compiling a list on the blog of the ones that I’ve found most helpful.

The construction of Cristy’s facial mesh was made a whole lot easier with the help of James Taylor’s modelling for animation tutorials.

Even though he is not the same James Taylor of Carole King fame, when you’re modelling, and you’re troubled, and your model needs some loving care, and nothing, whoa, nothing is going right, all you’ve got to do, is log on to youtube, and check out James Taylor, newbie modellers, you’ve got a best friend! (Pretty sure there’s some copyright infringement there, but this new James Taylor, in my opinion, deserves ballads written in his honour.)

I thought this talk on The Five Primary Jobs of a VFX Artist by Glen Campbell was a real goodie, hope you enjoy.

Layering a Shot

Libby Peeks Her Way Through Manhatten

I probably found how the layers of a shot are stacked together the biggest eye-opener in animation. It’s been really interesting to learn and put into practice with this project.

To composite the shot of Libby peeking around skyscrapers, Libby was animated by David, and rendered out, in isolation, with a transparent background (in the case  of render images we used targa format to maintain quality).

The buildings in the background were rendered out in a separate pass by myself, again with a transparent background.

The foreground building was also rendered out separately, but through the same camera as the background, and with the same camera move, so images would match up for the final shot.

For the sky, I dropped live footage of a cloudy sky into the scene file in After Effects, and played around with its colour correction. To try to add realism, and blend the layers, we added blur in different degrees to the various layers.

To create a bit more depth, I created a shadow effect by duplicating Libby’s animated layer, then bleaching her out, and rescaling her. To finish, I stacked all the layers together, and voilá, Libby peeks and walks through Manhatten.

Anything’s possible…

Foreground Rendered with Alpha Channel
Backdrop Rendered with Alpha Channel
Final Composite of Shot
Final Composite of Shot

Living the dream with Green Screen

Post by David O Malley

in the studio filming
In the studio filming on green screen

Part of the Liberty project called  for some live action sequences to be composited with 3D/ 2D modelled environments. This afforded us the opportunity to go into the studio and dip our collective toe into the hitherto unknown waters of green screening.

Under the wise and watchful eye of Lorcan, and a few rules for best practice, like “avoid casting shadows on the Green wall”, and “ Don’t have the actor wear green, or any reflective surfaces,” we were ready to give it a go.

Cast into the unfamiliar role of acting, as well as directing, we managed to get what was needed from the studio.


Importing the raw footage into After Effects and Keying out the green sections left us with the actor(s) on a layer that had a transparent background. This could then be layered with other images (created, imported, found, or modelled), adding as many components as needed for the shot to be set down. In After Effects, each layer was easily rescaled, positioned, or otherwise adjusted as required to make the shot work.vlcsnap-2015-05-12-18h49m48s75

With Teamwork, and  a bit of trial and error, we ended up with a nice little composite.

(post by David O Malley)

Liberty’s On The Run…

LibertySwitSwooYelloShe moves, she talks, she limps, and waddled past the finish line.

Liberty finally finished her stays in rigging, animating, rendering and compositing, and here she is, in her initial stance, looking pretty swit swoo!

Ashling rigged her with human IK to allow the addition of mocap data. However, due to jittery results with motion capture, we reverted to animating pose to pose and by adding inbetweens.

Most animating was carried out by Shane and David, and Ashling did a cute job animating her wee pigeon. I composited the results of animating and added final finish effects in After Effects.

To get the final result, a lot of troubleshooting was required, particularly at the rendering stage. I’m thinking of adding a blog post “the 20 simple ways to make your render turn out black with mental ray”, but I’m sure I can discover plenty more. On the upside, if your render does turn out black, or freezes, I can probably diagnose the problem for you, having learnt from my many mistakes, or tests, as I like to call them.

Have to say, I’m very happy with the final shots, the intro in particular I really love, and I may have mentioned before David’s office is quite snazzy.

For the intro shot, Ashling did amazing work on environments, making funky textures, that we applied as a joint effort. Shane conjured up Liberty, herself, and also rumbled up a snazzy helicopter, complete with pilot. I lit, rendered and composited scenes, which meant I got to play around with Ashling’s ocean. Did I mention  the secret techie already? It’s Ashling.

Here’s what the end results look like below, along with a snapshot of David at work…

Intro Shot Night
New York Skyline Morning
Before one of his many press conferences

It was a lot of fun making the project, and investigating mocap was interesting. You can see the group members below at various stages, and of course if you’re looking for David, he’s in his office.


Rome wasn’t built in a day…

New York: Building In Progress

And the same can be said of New York, so we’re using some tools that are helping building progress.

Ashling, who is a wizard with plug ins, sourced a nifty one called Q-town, and it’s making the timelapse building of New York much, much easier. I can highly recommend it if you need a bit of cityscape building.
We haven’t even had to don hard hats.

David has donned plenty of wigs for his various acting roles, but so far not hats.
A few weeks ago, we captured green screen footage of us as various characters from the film.
Being multitalented, when he’s not starring as the President, David decorates the Oval Office.

Shane is perfecting Liberty, and there is talk of a possibility that he is the reincarnation of her original sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi.

We’ve decided to animate using motion capture, so Ashling has rigged early models with human IK to prepare.

I’ve handed Cristy over to make up and am seeing how the scenes come together, that is, when I’m not playing with VFX.

The destination is in sight, just got to keep putting one gigantic foot in front of the other, and watch where we step…

Liberty Seems Happy With Progress To Date

Liberty Happy Expression
Think she’s happy!

We’re at Week 9 of our group project for a movie trailer, duh, duh, DAHHHH, the midpoint.

At this stage environments are constructed or under construction, Cristo’s taking shape and Liberty’s face is sculpted and rigged, so she can smile!

We’ll be posting more updates on details of the project’s progress soon.

Oval Office Under Construction
Oval Office Under Construction

Our mood board conveys something of the tone of the hypothetical movie.

Mood Board Liberty
Mood Board Liberty

Hello World!

Liberty Animation Bible Cover Cover Art by David O’ Malley (aka David Bog)

This is our first post for atwhatpriceliberty.

Here you’ll find the tiny wee spot, on this ever expanding internetverse, where a group of animators, writers, and artists, plus the secret techie, will track our experience of putting together an animated trailer for a movie as part of our 2D and 3D digital animation course.

Our group consists of Shane Gannon, David Bog, Arlene Fox and Ashling McKeever, and it’s a secret who the MacGyver of the group is…points to Ashling.

Here’s to happy blogging!

Below are some of the character reference drawings for the project by group members, and at the top you can see David’s lovely cover art for our animation production bible.

Liberty Drawn Character ReferenceCristo Colour PaletteGangsta Pigeon Character Reference