The Foundry Nuke 7 review
Price: From £2,499 plus VAT
Pros: Much-needed RAM caching; improved Roto tools, and keying, relighting and defocus nodes; some serious bug fixes; GPU acceleration in Nuke X offers major performance gains.
Cons: Some new features feel fragmented; not optimised; GPU acceleration should be in standard version; NukeX expensive.
Nuke 7 is a major release of the node-based compositing suite from The Foundry. It culminates years of extra nerdy R&D, as well as a dedication to really improving the premiere compositing system for visual effects – across both the standard version and the ‘big brother’ NukeX.
A trumpeted fanfare accompanies the welcome the addition of RAM caching. This feature has long been requested, and has been standard in layered composting tools such as After Effects for years. Needless to say, this is a very welcome addition to the basic Nuke toolset
I’m happy to report that it works quite well. Although the viewer can sometimes slow down due to heavy activity in the Nuke GUI, there’s a button on the viewer that allows you to disable all GUI refreshing during playback. That’s very handy, but it’s a less refined solution, and the use that it’s addressing could be handled more elegantly. I would rather have extra intelligence added to the mix, so that Nuke automatically cuts off GUI refresh if it senses it cannot achieve playback at current FPS settings
The new bookmarking system allows you to place markers in your projects on nodes, backdrops and the like, so you can easily get to parts of large scripts (as Nuke calls its projects). There have been some incarnations of this by a number of third parties, but to have the tool work so well and be integrated is excellent. As dealing with large projects can give you RSI with all the scrolling around, this is an elegant solution to the problem.
The 2D tracker overhaul is one of the larger changes in Nuke 7. The team really has outdone itself on this one. For starters, the tracker is not limited to four trackers per node. The 2D tracker now has the ability to search for markers to snap to. And that’s just the starter.
An ‘oh so handy’ traffic light feature allows you to see where you have less qualified tracking data and lets you fix that. With the auto-track on reposition, you can just work. With the new keyframing methodology, you can prepare the tracker with your own personal keyframes, while being helped by the snapping ability. Once you have those keyframes, you can track and have the system do the in-betweens. This is a very nice method to get good tracks quickly.
Added to this is a handy zoom window that lets you position the tracker in a fast and intuitive manner. This speeds up and improves the workflow for 2D tracking.
The re-engineered Roto tool is a great addition. In previous versions, I’ve found issues caused by very large scripts when I’ve been working with a significant number of rotos. However, Nuke 7 solves this problem out quite nicely with the way it stores the data – it’s so much leaner. Additionally, you can now see individual keyframes for each shape on the dope sheet, so editing timing on a per-shape basis is very doable. The tool just feels faster, and that’s a good thing.
The Relight node, which allows you to add lighting based on given normals, XYZ and camera data, appears in Nuke 6. Unfortunately, it was prone to crashing. This incarnation is much better and is quite useful.
When you need to add some subtle lighting in comp, the Relight node does a great job
and will definitely save you time.
The ZDefocus node has had a similar overhaul. It used to be a serious pain to use, but it’s received a lot of attention and is finally a good tool to deal with on an artist level. It’s not as great as rendering true defocus, but for subtle effects, it’s a very nice fix.
The update to the Primatte 5 keyer is welcome. The auto-compute function is a good way to get a quick pull that you can refine afterwards. It’s not a one-button key puller, but I’m not convinced a magical button to do that can ever be made. This update is a welcome improvement to the Primatte algorithm and tuning abilities. In my testing, the first pulls were much softer and you have more control over the colour with suppression.
NukeX is the heavy lifting edition of Nuke, with various additional tools only available in this application – such as particle simulation, point cloud generation, depth generation, model building, camera tracking and GPU-accelerated nodes for much higher performance.
The model-building system has been gutted and rebuilt for amazingly good results. The old system was usable, though pretty unreliable. The new one has been well-engineered, and has created a great place to create models for projections in Nuke.
It’s not all roses and butterflies, though. The editability of the geo in model builder is great, but the system feels independently developed from the core 3D system. The 3D system is a great place to solve tons of problems, but these toolsets need to be fully unified.
Nodes that are typically slow (such as Convolve, ZDefocus and Kronos) now have an added checkbox in Nuke X that will tap into your GPU for a speed boost. Does it work? Does it ever. It’s great to have that additional speed for these nodes we use quite a bit, and you can get a significant bump in performance.
Here is where I have an issue with the difference between Nuke and NukeX: the GPU acceleration should be a standard feature to me. The cost of NukeX is significant – nearly twice that of the standard version. While I can understand the need for separation of the not-everyday, higher-end features, such as the 3D tools into a version that funds their obviously high development costs, the GPU acceleration feature feels out of place in NukeX.
In times of lower budgets for studios – coupled with shorter deadlines – this feature should
be part of the standard Nuke.
I’d also say that the lens distortion and denoise should be in the standard version too, as they’re pretty basic to a VFX workflow.
Lastly, I feel that Nuke needs optimisation. Parts of the system feel sluggish, with my main gripe being with multi-channel files versus individual reads for the same data. This has been an issue for a long time and just irks me. However, I am a bit of a speed freak and will work to get a nine-minute render down to six.
On a related issue, I wanted to mention something that’s very important for anyone wanting to invest time and money into Nuke. For me, some of the best news in the VFX world came in September of 2012, with the merger of Luxology and The Foundry. I think the potential inclusion of Modo’s 3D technology into Nuke tech could result in amazingly great software for all of us in the field come Nuke 8.
Robert Nederhorst is a California-based visual effects supervisor who has worked on blockbusters including After Earth, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man 2 and The Day After Tomorrow. He has seen Nuke evolve from Nuke 2.0, when it ran only on SGI's IRIX systems and any Windows ‘support’ was in a pseudo-emulation mode.