Understanding the Roto Node in NUKE 9

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The Foundry’s NUKE is at the forefront for leading compositing programs in visual effects for television and film. Great news for those of you who want to learn NUKE and be ready for professional studio work. There is a FREE, non-commercial version to download. Once installed, you are ready to take on this tutorial and learn the functions of the roto node in a node based compositing program.

PLEASE NOTE* I have covered the topic of rotoscoping in basic and advanced tutorials previously in other compositing programs – Adobe After Effects & Silhouette FX. This tutorial is for those coming in with the knowledge of what rotoscoping is, but need or want to learn the interface of NUKE, since it is a node based compositing program. If you want to learn more of what rotoscoping is, please refer to my older lessons where I spend more time explaining the concept of rotoscoping.

I will break this tutorial down into three parts:

–       Adding the Roto Node

–       Shapes and Splines

–       Keyframing Shapes Over Time

ADDING THE ROTO NODE

Go to the DRAW NODES on the left hand side node bar > CLICK > and select ROTO. In your Node Graph, a roto node will appear. Simply hook up the viewer to the roto node in order to proceed.

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For those of you who are used to stacking layers in other compositing programs, such as After Effects, this might take some getting used to. Though the concepts remain the same, with node tree you are essentially mind mapping your ideas that are connected. I will go into more detail on Node Trees in another lesson.

SHAPES AND SPLINES

In your viewer, you can CLICK and create an anchor point. Continue to click around and you will start creating a shape. You can close the shape by either clicking back onto the first anchor point you created, or by simply hitting the ENTER key at any time.

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With the roto node active, on the left side of your viewer you will see your curves selections. The most commonly used are Bezier and B spline, but feel free to experiment with them all.

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Above the curves selection you will find your selection tools. These will control how and what you select of your splines in the viewer. For example, SELECT POINTS will allow you to select anchor points without selecting the splines themselves. Again, I encourage you to explore and tinker with all the tools to become familiar.

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In your properties window to the right, you will notice a list of shapes you have drawn in your viewer which will help you keep organized and remember which spline was used. Additionally, next to the shape name you have the EYE ICON which turns the shapes visibility on or off. Next to that is the LOCK ICON, allowing you to lock individuals shapes. That way they cannot receive or remove any keyframe data that has been established to that point. Next to that is the COLOR ICON which allows you to double click and choose a new color for that shape. The rest we will explore in a later lesson.

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KEYFRAMING SHAPES OVER TIME

Now let’s take a look at how we can start to animate these shapes across a timeline. By default the AUTO KEY feature is enabled. This is the skeleton key icon you see in the upper left hand corner near your selection tools.

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With this feature enabled, you can look at your frame on the timeline and see there is already a blue keyframe placed there.

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You can take your mouse and move the playhead further down the timeline, and then make adjustments to your shapes. You will notice another keyframe is automatically added (notice at frame one, and then again at frame 20, there is a blue dash representing the keyframe).

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Using your selection tools, you can move each control point individually, or you can highlight some or all of the control points on the shape and move those as needed. Additionally, you can go to your PROPERTIES window on the right and open the TRANSFORM tab to bring up the transform controls on your shapes. This will allow you to create separate transform keyframes on the timeline that handle transform, scale, and rotation.

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Quick Blemish Removal in After Effects CC

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Most people, including myself, have some sort of blemish, scar, or imperfection they wish they could keep from showing up on camera. After Effects CC has developed a new matte tracking process that makes removing unsightly blemishes a breeze. In this tutorial I will show you how to complete the effect in three simple steps.

–       Creating the Matte

–       Tracking the Matte

–       Removing the Blemish

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CREATING THE MATTE

To start, lets create a new composition with our footage and take a closer look at what needs to be retouched.

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In this clip I can see we need to do some blemish removal in the cheeks and along the jaw line. Additionally, if you notice near the right ear (stage left) there is a long stray hair we can also quickly take care of with this technique. For now, let’s focus on his right cheek (stage left).

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Essentially, the process is simple but time consuming. We need to focus on each blemish individually, and create a sample clean area that matches the blemished area to be superimposed and smoothed over on top to create a seamless appearance. To do that, first DUPLICATE THE SOURCE FOOTAGE. We will need to duplicate the source footage EACH AND EVERY TIME we need to create a new blemish cover. Then, create a mask that isolates the blemish and the extends out to take a sample of the clean surrounding area; just as this picture shows in detail.

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TRACKING THE MATTE

By isolating the blemish in the matte it creates a great tracking marker for the program to follow. Now, RIGHT CLICK on the matte and choose TRACK MASK.

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A window in the lower right will now appear with TRACKER CONTROLS

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The default method tracks position, scale, and rotation which will be fine for this example. Next to ANALYZE, select the forward arrow and allow After Effects CC to track the mask throughout the duration of the clip.

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In your timeline, this will create a series of keyframes tracking the mask to your subjects movement. It is important to have a perfect track in order to ensure the blemish cover moves along with the subject to create a seamless and clean appearance. If the track was unsuccessful, some helpful tips would include:

–       Analyze frame by frame and move the mask manually back on point when it loses its subject to ensure a locked track.

–       Start at the end of the timeline and analyze backwards (sometimes starting with a different point in time helps the computer algorithm lock on better and understand your point of focus).

REMOVING THE BLEMISH

Once you have a mask sampling a clean area of the skin and tracked that mask to the subjects face throughout the duration of the clip, it’s time to get rid of that blemish! Using the directional arrows on your keyboard, or clicking and dragging with your mouse, move the mask on top of the blemish area

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You are probably saying, “That just moved the blemish over with the mask! It didn’t fix anything!” – well – we’re not done yet. At this point, open up the mask tools by having the mask selected in your layer window and hit MM on your keyboard to open up the entire tool set.

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REDUCE the MASK EXPANSION so that the blemish sample disappears and you just have a small sample circle to use.

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INCREASE the MASK FEATHER to smooth out the sample’s circle edges, thusly blending it into the face, creating a smooth and clean finish that follows the face throughout the clip.

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You now just successfully removed ONE blemish. Depending on your subject, you may have more to go. Just repeat the process as described as many times as necessary to create the final retouched image.

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Timelapses & Breakdowns

 

A Team NLE

The craft and method of editing is what drew me to filmmaking. Knowing what editors, visual effects artists, and others are capable of doing to tell an intricate story is quite incredible. They are responsible for weaving, manipulating, and inserting assets into frames that help and/or invigorate a story. The best way to see the what the post production process is like is through behind-the-scenes clips on DVDs, or making of featurettes, online. In this article, I’m going to highlight some VFX breakdowns and timelapsed video edits that showcase how much work it takes to bring a film or a video to the masses.

VFX Breakdown #1: X-Men Days of Future Past

One of the top blockbusters of 2014 saw the X-Men mythology returning to top form with this entry into the ever expanding saga. Set in a dystopic future where most of mankind and mutant kind have been eradicated by man made machines know as Sentinels, the remaining X-Men rally together to change the past to ensure a better future before it is too late. To bring the sentinels to life, as well as showcase the various mutant powers that were brought to the screen, required 372 visual effects shots. In the breakdown above, the talented folks of MPC, led by visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers, took upon the task of creating the visual effects of the future mutants and sentinels. Utilizing techniques such as match-moving, rotoscoping, matte painting, chroma keying, and more, they were able to bring various elements to life that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible using practical effects. The photo-realistic effects featured in this film were essential to bringing the audience into this universe.

VFX Breakdown #2: The Expendables 3

The Expendables 3, the third entry into Sylvester Stallone’s homage to classic action films, included more actors, as well as more insane action sequences. We saw everything from insane stunts, more explosions, and combat sequences. For this sequel, the folks at Worldwide FX were responsible for about 1200 VFX shots. In the breakdown above, the Worldwide FX team used a lot of matte painting in certain scenes as well as animating 3D vehicles, like the Expendables’s airplane and helicopters. Watching the breakdown, it is surprising how much green and blue screening was used to set up certain shots. Thanks in part to the efforts of the artists, they are able to seamlessly work with the actors involved. The one thing that caught my eye is how well they are able to rotoscope and integrate objects into scenes with lots of moving parts.

Timelapse Edit #1: SNL “Testicules”

This timelapsed edit session done by SNL film editor Adam Epstein features a short starring actor/producer Andy Samberg. Edited using tools from the Adobe Creative Cloud, Adam takes footage coming DSLRs and RED cameras, and puts together a digital short that has the look of a short film. During the rigorous 48 hour edit session, Adam is responsible for all aspects of post which include sorting out takes, multi-camera editing, color correction, motion graphics/visual effects, and audio selection. The crazy part is that he can still be editing and making changes while SNL is airing and get it uploaded just before it ends. The thing that impresses me about watching his edit session is the amount of quality he is able to pack into his shorts in a 48 hour timeframe. Essentially, cutting an SNL digital short is the equivalent of doing a 48 hour film race every weekend for six months. Anyone who can endure that is a masterful editor.

Timelapse Edit #2: Red Productions Christmas Video 2014

For their annual Christmas video, the folks of Red Productions did a timelapsed edit session on their latest video. Just like Adam, they utilized tools from the Adobe Creative Cloud and completed this video within 24 hours. This video featured greenscreen footage, composited objects and explosions, motion tracking, and many other post production facets. What interested me about this timelapsed session was that they were able to turn around a comedic piece in 24 hours. From what I have seen in editing comedy, it may take a little longer as you need to account for pacing and timing of the humor to occur. Cutting all this in a 24 hour timeframe is impressive to say the least. What stood out to me was how easy they made their visual effects look. They had a plethora of visual effects you’ve come to see in internet videos, and it looked really clean.

Those are just a few breakdowns and timelapsed edit sessions that are floating online. It’s always amazing to see how films and television shows achieve such high level visual effects, as well as watch the talented artists put it all together.

Royalty Free Music

Creating a 3D Opening Card in After Effects CC

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The image of an opening book or card in a movie, TV show, or commercial is nothing new. With the advancement of visual effects, this can now be created in a variety of dedicated 3D modeling programs or, in this case, advanced compositing programs such as Adobe After Effects CC.

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I will show you how to achieve this effect in three simple steps:

–       Source Images and Setup

–       Creating and Rigging the Card

–       Animating the Movement

SOURCE IMAGES AND SETUP

First, you will need to find images that can be combined together to create the final look of your card. Therefore, since a card is paper, you will need an image of paper. You can source your image by doing a quick GOOGLE search, or if you are working on a professionall project and need royalty free images, you can take a photograph of the paper you will be using yourself or join a royalty free stock image site such as thinkstockphotos.com or photobucket.com.

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In After Effects, once you find the images you will be using, create a new composition (I made mine 1080 HD and five seconds long). If you have a background image, you will place that first (scale and position to fit) and possibly add a light vignette to the overall composition.

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CREATING AND RIGGING THE CARD

At this point you can place the first paper image (scale and position as needed) into your composition.

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It looks a little flat so why don’t we first add a black solid (LAYER>NEW>SOLID). Use the rectangle masking tool to create a shape slightly larger than the paper image, feather the edges, and place it underneath the paper to give a subtle shadow effect.

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This first page will be our inside page. We can add now add some text (Use the text tool in the toolbar > color and font at your own preference).

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Now we can create the top cover page that will be animating open in just a moment. Simply duplicate the first page (Command+D on the image layer) and move it to the top in the layer panel.

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Create more text that will go on the cover, and then you will be ready to move towards animating the card.

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ANIMATING THE MOVEMENT

Turn both the cover page and cover text into 3D layers. We will be controlling the cover page for the animation, so go ahead and parent the cover text to the cover page using the pick whip.

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With the cover page selected, you will see the page has an XYZ axis in the middle.

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This is the anchor point of the image and it will act as the hinge where the page will bend. Using the Anchor Point Tool (From Toolbar or shortcut key ‘Y’) move the anchor point to the far left of the page (place the green Y axis arrow right along the edge of the page).

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Open the rotation controls on the cover page (have the layer selected and hit ‘R’), and key frame the Y axis increasing over the time of the composition in order to create the visual effect of the card opening to reveal the inside contents.

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Animating Numbers in After Effects CC

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Sometimes you need to create a motion graphic showing numbers increasing or decreasing for a percentage, calculation, statistic, or whatever the reason may be. There are many programs that can help you achieve this effect. However, in my opinion, I would argue After Effects is your best program to create this animation. As much as After Effects is known for its post production compositing abilities, it was originally created as a motion graphics program. Today, I will show you how to increase numbers in an animation using After Effects CC in three simple steps:

  • Create Placeholder Text
  • Add the Slider Effect
  • Add the Expression

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CREATE PLACEHOLDER TEXT

First, we need to create a placeholder text before we begin. It’s a placeholder because the Slider Effect we will be applying next will eliminate anything we type in. Select your TYPE TOOL from the tool bar. Choose your font and size from the text assets window, and then type in your placeholder text.

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To clarify, this text is broken down into three sections where only one of them is changing. The first sections is ‘CALCULATING.’ The next section is ‘100,’ which is the PLACEHOLDER text – this is the only bit that is important in completing this motion graphic effect. The last section is ‘%,’ and the reason I did not combine this section with the ‘100’ is to reiterate that once we apply the slider effect, it will eliminate anything we type into that section.

ADD THE SLIDER EFFECT

Now that you have your placeholder text, go to the EFFECTS & PRESETS window and type in SLIDER. CLICK AND DRAG your slider effect and add it to your placeholder text.

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At this point, go to your layers window. Open the settings on your placeholder text layer by twirling open the triangle icon next to the sections TEXT and EFFECT > SLIDER CONTROL.

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Go to your SOURCE TEXT and ALT CLICK on it.

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You will immediately notice your canvas preview has disappeared and new icons in the Source Text controls will appear. The WHIRL icon will allow you to CLICK AND DRAG your SOURCE TEXT and PARENT it to the SLIDER CONTROLS.

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You can now go to the Effects window for your slider controls. Notice that your placeholder text will follow whatever you set the slider to.

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Your source text and slider are tied together and can be keyframed and animated to increase and decrease as you see fit. The only issue here is, by default, the slider animation (when tied to the source text) will additionally add in a decimal system.

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ADD THE EXPRESSION

If you only want to display whole rounded numbers, you will need to make one final adjustment. In order to resolve the decimal issue, first ALT CLICK on the SLIDER CONTROL STOPWATCH in order to pull up the effects natural input expression.

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So the natural expression is this:

effect(“Slider Control”)(“Slider”)

In order to round the system of numbers to the nearest whole number, you need to alter the expression to look like this:

Math.round(effect(“Slider Control”)(“Slider”))

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PLEASE NOTE, the ‘M’ in Math MUST be capitalized in order for After Effects to properly interrupt the expression coding.

There you have it! A number system you can keyframe and animate to increase and decrease as you see fit.

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Basics in Controlling Text Animation in After Effects

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Text animation is everywhere in film and TV. Text controls exist in nearly every post production and image manipulation software ranging from entry level NLEs such as iMovie, to Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Nuke, Cinema 4D, Maya, Avid, and more. We will be exploring After Effects today in its ability to:

  • Create and Manipulate Basic Text Form
  • Animate Text Using Position, Scale, and Rotation
  • Additional Resources and Plug Ins

CREATE AND MANIPULATE BASIC TEXT FORM

Start by creating a new COMPOSITION. Observe on the right hand side the TAB labeled CHARACTERS.

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This CHARACTER WINDOW will be what we use to control the TEXT we write with. Starting from the top and working down, this window allows you to choose the FONT, line variation, color, size, spacing, stroke, height, and width.

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Once you have adjusted the settings to what you feel will be the best fit, go up to the tool bar and select the TEXT TOOL (CMD+T).

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Click inside your COMPOSITION and type out your text. If you find you want to make further adjustments, highlight your text and inside the CHARACTER WINDOW you can make the necessary adjustments in order to create your desired text layout.

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ANIMATE TEXT USING POSITION, SCALE, AND ROTATION

When first learning how to control text, one must learn to keyframe the text and control simple 2D functions such as Position, Scale, and Rotation. POSITION – when you have your text layer selected in the layers window, hit ‘P’ on the keyboard. Position is what controls the location of your text in the composition and how it moves throughout the timeline. In order to create a KEYFRAME, you must CLICK the STOPWATCH icon next to POSITION under your TEXT in the LAYERS WINDOW.

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Once you CLICK the STOPWATCH, a yellow diamond will appear on your TIMELINE.

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If you move further down the timeline, and then move your text’s POSITION in the COMPOSITION, you will notice another KEYFRAME appears on the TIMELINE marking the POSITION at that exact moment. As you add more keyframes in your composition, you will also notice a TRACK will be generated showing you where your text’s position is moving over time.

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SCALE – when you have your text layer selected in the layers window, hit ‘S’ on the keyboard. Scale is what controls the size of your text throughout the timeline. For instance, if you want your text to be very small and slowly grow larger over time, you would set a keyframe early in the timeline with the scale set on a lower number, move down the timeline and increase the scale number. Depending on how close or far away the keyframes are on the timeline will dictate how fast or slow the scaling will take place.

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ROTATION – when you have your text layer selected in the layers window, hit ‘R’ on the keyboard. Rotation is what controls the text’s angle throughout the timeline. If you want your text to spin and twirl as it emerges, or even simply be displayed at a 90 degree angle, then the rotation is what you need to control. Just like position and scale, rotation is controlled throughout the timeline by setting a series of keyframes. Here, rotation is measured in degrees, and as you increase the number, it will range up to 360 and then clock over to one, signifying one complete rotation, and so on.

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Stay tuned as I cover more advanced techniques of animating text, including fade on and off, opacity, and using Z space to create 3D Depth and movement.

FCPX must have utilities

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When Final Cut Pro X first came out in 2011, I wasn’t too fond of the new interface or the editing paradigm, as it challenged everything I was taught to do in school. After numerous updates to the software, third party party utilities coming to market, and using it for the last four months, I’m more confident in Final Cut Pro X’s workflow than I ever have been before. Here is a quick rundown of some applications I’ve found helpful with transitioning to a FCPX workflow.

Event Manager X

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This handy must-have app is the creation of the folks at Intelligent Assistance. The process of dealing with events and multiple projects can be tedious at times. This app has a lot more going on under the hood, and gives you control of your events and projects with an easy to use interface.

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According to the description from the site, Event Manager X allows you to do the following:

-Quickly manage Events and Projects using visible checkboxes.

-Filter through libraries to find specific Events and Projects.

-Keep track of hidden Events and Projects.

-Check all storage devices that hold needed Events are properly mounted.

-Launch FCPX much faster using fewer active Events in the Event library.

Those are just a small list of the many things Event Manager X can do. At $4.99, it’s a no brainer purchase if you want to relieve yourself of sluggish performance Final Cut Pro may experience with multiple projects and events.

7toX

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This is another must have app from the folks at Intelligent Assistance. This app allows you to bring projects from Final Cut Pro 6 & 7 into X. The simple to use app takes an XML file of an edit you create in those legacy programs, and translates it into a workable project in FCPX. Below is a small list of the things that carry over during the import process:

-Bins become keyword collections.

-Sequences become compound clips and get tagged as FCP6/7 sequences.

-The track structure is represented by Roles.

-Multicam is fully supported.

-Motion Tab parameters are translated to Transform, Crop, and Opacity parameters.

From my experience, this process has worked 95% of the time with most projects I have sent from FCP 7 to FCPX. This app is great to use if you need to update old projects and want to cut them with the speed of FCPX. At $9.99, it will pay for itself in less than an hour of work.

ClipExporter

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This app is a free workflow and export tool from Mind Transplant. It allows you to send your entire timeline to After Effects, and batch export selected clips to Quicktime movies. You can also convert your clips for Nuke. Previous versions of FCPX were limited in their export abilities. If you are an editor who relies on these compositing applications to fix a project, this was an obstacle to overcome. Below is a video explaining how ClipExporter helps the editor overcome that obstacle and keep working.

Overall, this application is very handy. With a few more updates, it will become more utilized among filmmakers.

Motion Template Tool

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With FCPX effects, generators, and transitions all being Motion 5 templates, it’s now easier than ever for users to create their own effects from scratch and download them from other users across the internet. One thing that can be a pain is going through the folder structure of your Mac to install them if they don’t have custom installer. With the free Motion Template Tool, you can manage and install custom Motion Templates. Created by the folks from Spherico, this app is helpful for users and developers who want a hassle free way to manage templates. Popular FCPX editor Alex Gollner makes great use of this tool for his templates. All you have to do is install the app, download a custom template, and double click it to install. The tool does the rest.

CreateDiskImage

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Sparse disk images and bundles have been around for years, but recently it has become a preferred workflow method for popular FCPX users like Ripple Training and Magic Feather Inc. This has been a workaround for backing up projects, creating projects, and working collaboratively. Mac users can create a sparse disk using the Disk Utility app, but the folks from Spherico created the free Disk Image Creator to simplify the process. As explained by John Davidson from Magic Feather in this video below, using the Disk Image Creator to create a sparse disk is the preferred workflow when he cuts spots in FCPX for clients.

This is app is handy if you want to manage your projects from a disk image as opposed to a root of your internal or external drives. These are just a small selection of the third party utilities available for Final Cut Pro X. At first, I wasn’t too happy to find out that I had to go to other sources to get functionality that should have been built into FCPX. However, my opinion has changed after some time. I respect the fact that Apple gave developers the ability to shape how they worked in FCPX instead of determining it for us. I’m the NLE Ninja with Audio Micro asking you to stay creative.

Sound Effects

Interview with VFX Pipeline Developer Carlos Anguiano

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Pipeline developer, Carlos Anguiano, offers insight on his role, how he got there, and what it takes to be successful, not only as a pipeline developer but anywhere in the VFX industry as a whole! Here is what he had to say —

G: Can you explain in your own words what pipeline development in film is?

CA: A pipeline developer tends to work mostly at the studio-level. While I work with folks to implement solutions on a particular show, they also need to be accessible to every other show at the studio. The biggest difference between a Pipeline TD and a Show TD is that the show TD is allowed to work more within the bubble of his or her show. They are free to quickly develop solutions for problems at the show level without having to worry about how s/he effects the rest of the studio.

Pipeline development is about making tools, scripts, and APIs that all artists and TDs can use to more effectively get work done, while setting a standard the whole studio can follow. This way pipeline becomes a set of tools and standards that are constantly being improved rather than reinvented on every show. Consistently reinventing the pipeline makes it stagnant and sharing resources across shows difficult if not impossible.

G: As a pipeline developer, what programs or processes do you use on a regular basis?

CA: As a pipeline developer you need to know a little of everything. We are primarily programmers; therefore, a strong knowledge of python, qt, maxscript, .net, Mel, etc, are a must. In addition, a deep understanding of object oriented programing and databases are mandatory. At the end of the day our job is to make other people’s jobs easier by writing code. As a pipeline TD you always have to pick up something new, whether it is a new programing language, library, or a new software package. In addition to this technical side, there’s also the challenge of knowing and understanding how the artist your developing for actually work. A strong knowledge of modeling, shading, rigging, animation, lighting, and compositing, along with understanding on how the work is handed of from one department to the next greatly influences the success in adoption of the tools you write. This knowledge base is probably what makes good pipeline developers hard to find.

G: How did you decide, or fall into the role, of becoming a pipeline developer? What kind of background knowledge/education is necessary to handle this role successfully?

CA: Becoming involved in pipeline was an organic process for me. I started as a generalist with a focus on animation setup (rigging). Early in my career, I worked in smaller studios where one had to do a bit of everything. So I think  this experience along with my background in art (B.A in media arts and animation), gave me a good interest and insight into the big picture of creating rendered images. At the same time, my focus in animation setup had me learning about expression and scripting, which eventually evolved into tool development outside of rigging.

It was because of these experiences that I went from being a generalist at smaller studios to being a full-time rigging and set up artist at larger studios. During this time I was lucky enough to work at companies like Disney, Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues, and ILM that allowed me to get some great insight into the pipelines that create some of the most cutting edge work in our industry. These experiences motivated me to bring some of the ideas that I learned to smaller studios. I began to do consulting for commercial shops and smaller boutique-style Vfx shops.

One of these studios was Scanline Vfx, where I eventually took the role of Character Supervisor and developed their asset pipeline and  their rigging and simulation pipeline for assets. At Scanline I spent most of my time working on pipeline which was a responsibility I shared with another fellow artist Lukas Lepicovsky. Two years into working at Scanline, Pixomondo reached out to me about joining they’re pipeline development team, which lead to my first official position as a full-time  pipeline developer.

G: What kind of person do you recommend for the role of a pipeline developer? 

CA: Pipeline developers need to be critical thinkers, have good communication skills, love programing, have an interest and solid understanding in the process of creating visual effects. Moreover, they should excel at working in a team and be willing to do the work for the pride and hardly ever for the praise. The most important quality a pipeline developer should have is that they always work for the end user. The moment a developer elevates him or herself over the end user, he is no longer working for the betterment of the studio. If I may be honest, you have to be a little messed up to be a good pipeline developer or show TD for that matter 🙂

G: Does pipeline development take place before post production begins? — So once the pipeline is set into place your job is done — or is it an ongoing process that evolves throughout the life of the project?

CA: A place that has good respect for pipeline is always working on developing optimizing and evolving they’re pipeline. Pipeline is a topic that is very broad; it deals with the everyday artist tools, which is what most people limited to, but also expands to IT, production, and HR. Pipeline is about the big picture of running a business. It helps to ensure the maximum output with the least amount of input necessary. These days it is becoming a deciding factor on whether a studio stays open or goes under.

G: How did you end up working on Star Trek Into Darkness? How long were you working on the film?

CA: My involvement with Star Trek Into the Darkness was through the development of one of several tools I created for Pixomondo world-wide adoption. These tools were part of a larger effort to unify the studio under what I refer to as a modular non-linear asset flow pipeline. The tools that were used to achieve this included: a proprietary hierarchal referencing system for 3dsMax and an easy to use render pass manager system that had full Deadline and Shotgun integration for versioning and batch submissions of elements to the farm. The nature of this type of development is that it’s not usually adopted by the entire studio in one swift move. Instead, a single show that is early into production will be used as the test bed. In this case, it was the crew and supervisor for Die Hard 5 who took the ball and ran with this new pipeline that allowed us to quickly prove the difference that these tools were going to make in our ability to create the work faster with more revisions and hopefully less overtime. They were also critical in helping us workout some of the main bugs within the new workflow.

Due to the success of the Die Hard Show, the Star Trek crew showed great interest in adopting the new tools. However, the asset system proved to be tricky because it meant retrofitting certain parts of the show that had already been approved using the older pipeline. At that point we switched our focus towards moving Star Trek into our new render pass manager tool workflow. The tool was adopted quickly with only small bugs being reported which I was able to immediately address. The scope of Star Trek show pushed the render pass manager to some pretty crazy limits which made it evident that I needed to optimize the code. At the same time the trek artists and artists evaluating the tool in other branches were coming up with a number of exciting feature request which were impossible to ignore. All in all, I was on and off-the show helping with development for around 8 months.

G: Did you encounter any challenges while working on the project? Were you mentally stretched in any particular way, or learn something new as a pipeline developer, that you would like to share while working on Star Trek Into Darkness?

CA: As a developer at Pixomondo the biggest challenge is being able to keep track of how changes effect each and every branch. Changing something that seems insignificant can have devastating effects at another branch. During Star Trek, we were in the process of unifying our pipeline across all branches and all shows to facilitate asset and work sharing. Since each branch has a unique history, and pipeline legacy a developer must tread carefully sense things that he/she takes for granted might not work in other facilities. Hitting these types of walls usually means taking a detour into fixing a different set problems before one can continue to make progress with the original task. It can be a slow process and can greatly test people’s patience at times.

G: What projects are you working on currently?

CA: I am currently taking some time off to develop some pipeline tools. For anyone who’s interested I have some information about it on my blog.

G: Is the role of a pipeline developer your end goal, or is it a stepping stone towards something else? Do you intend to take on another role in the future?

CA: I enjoy being a supervisor and I wouldn’t mind getting back into that sometime. Ideally, I would like to do more consulting, training, independent software development, and remote support.

G: For people striving to become a VFX artist in the industry, can you offer any advice on how they can get their “foot in the door?” Are there any pit falls you would recommend avoiding that you personally experienced?

CA: It seems to me that companies looking to hire pipeline developers are putting great value on computer science or equivalent degrees. Pursuing this area of study is probably a more direct way to getting into pipeline work than a degree in art which I received.

If you go the computer science route, make sure to make time to learn packages like maya, max, and Houdini. Many programmers finish school having learned all there is to know about complex programming such as writing a fluid simulator from scratch, but have no practical knowledge of the software that is used on the industry of how to develop for it. If you can figure that out on your own, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

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