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The Shake Up
By Ed Heede
Dec 7, 2005, 11:54     

    Shake began life years before it came to Apple in 2002, and Apple has grown it well. Shake-powered technology once sold for the cost of a median-priced home. In other words, Shake was always meant for industrial-strength film (2K and 4K) work. This Apple contender has also been well utilized in high-end studio films—virtually all Academy Award-winning films for Best Visual Effects since 1997 have used Shake. What must also be said is that Shake is not typically for the novice. It is big medicine that calls for steady commitment in time and energy to master.As

    Dion Scoppettuolo, Apple product manager for Final Cut Studio and Shake, affirms, “All types of production companies are looking for cinematic results by shooting at higher resolutions and greater color bit depths. Logically, the level of sophistication for visual effects is growing at every level as well. That’s when people start to realize they need Shake. Shake was developed with attention to quality, a flexible architecture and an overall efficiency when handling large-format, complex composites. Every compositing application can key and track and color correct, and they all do a decent job on average projects. It’s when you have those not-so-average projects, the really difficult ones, that people come to rely on Shake. Because it works.

“Shake Basics and Interface
    On the technical side, Shake offers full 10-bit Cineon support and selectable bit depths, from 8-bit up to 32-bit floating point color, for sophisticated control. That expanded color support prevents distortion such as banding, fringing and crushed, flat and milky imagery—the hallmarks of crude composites. Custom LUT (lookup table) tools are part of the reason this package is the pro workhorse it was designed to be. Film graining and management tools in Shake are mature and grown from technology brought in from Kodak (Cineon), Silicon Grail (Rayz) and from within the package itself.

    The Shake UI is oddly simple considering the power Shake has at its disposal. Of course, a neat user interface is a good sign in something as intense as Shake, and Apple has continued to keep the interface as clear-cut as possible. This is a key achievement for Apple and a plus for Shake artists everywhere.

    The Shake user interface is divided into five main areas: the Viewer, Node View (with Curve Editor, Color Picker, Audio Panel and Pixel Analyzer tabs), Tool Tabs, Parameters Tabs and the Time Bar at the bottom.

    It is in the Viewer Workspace that Shake artists gain visual feedback on all elements of a composite, including greenscreen/bluescreen foreground elements, live-action backgrounds, effects, 3D elements and CGI backgrounds. Artists do split-screen comparisons to tune their matte work and check fine rotoscope work in the Viewer Workspace.

    Node-based compositing is more than just a view in Shake; it is the logic behind all the compositing operations. In Node View, all effects are piped into one another in visible decision tree-style chains of nodes. Since every effect in Shake is represented by a distinct node that can be inserted into a node tree, the

    Node View is used to select, view, navigate and organize the functions that comprise the node tree. In the Node View, users can access any part of a composite. Entire node trees can be strung together for exotic treatments that can be saved to custom libraries and reused.The Node View also includes tabs for Shake’s Curve Editor, Color Picker, Audio Panel and Pixel Analyzer functions. Curve Editor creates keyframe-based animation function curves, Color Picker samples and adopts color selects, Audio Panel reads and mixes AIFF and WAV audio files and Pixel Analyzer classifies footage color values.

    It is in Tool Tabs that Shake nodes are chosen to execute their effects and composite work. Under the Viewer Workspace, Tool Tabs are marked for keying, transforms, filters, a Curve Editor and Time View.

    The Time Bar, at the bottom of the Shake window, displays the currently defined range of frames, the playback buttons and the Info field, which provides a brief description of each control you move the pointer over. While the Time Bar is adequate for creating keyframes for one parameter at a time, the Curve Editor gives you a much more complete environment in which to create, move and otherwise modify keyframes. The Curve Editor also provides the only place where you can see and modify the animation or lookup curves that represent the interpolated values that lie in between each keyframe.

    The Time View provides a centralized representation of the timing for each image used in a script. While the Node View allows you to arrange and adjust the nodes that comprise your composite, the Time View lets you view and arrange the timing of your nodes. Specifically, the Time View displays all image nodes, as well as nodes with more than one input, that appear in your node tree.The controls that let you adjust the parameters for each of the nodes in the node tree, as well as the global parameters of your script, are located in the Parameters Tabs. Parameter options change to reflect the many node choices available. A global parameters tab here is useful for transforming the appearance of an entire project despite the size or number of nodes involved.

Shake 4 Feature Upgrades
    Apple has added several feature boosts to Shake, many of them major production upgrades.Shake’s multi-plane compositing is integrated directly into Node View, making it seamless to jump from 2D paint, rotoscoping and image processing into a 3D layered composite. Adding a multi-plane node allows users to “plug in” any number of layers for 3D (z-depth) compositing. Match CGI-rendered elements with live-action scenes by importing 3D tracking data from applications including Alias Maya, 2d3 boujou and Pixel Farm. OpenGL hardware-accelerated previews ensure that layers remain interactive while the artist works. Multi-plane compositing is handy for options including adding perspective backdrops and mounting visual effects shots that include multi-plane work and transparency grades.Optical Flow-based retiming is a method of motion estimation that automatically tracks an image, pixel by pixel, to create in-between frames. Shake’s Optical Flow-based retiming allows smooth slow-motion effects at very low frame rates. Shake can nonlinearly retime any clip, allowing a user to ramp forward and backward though a clip.The Smoothcam node is designed to stabilize virtually any shot with ease and minimal fuss. Smoothcam uses Optical Flow technology to automatically remove camera jitter from static shots without setting tracking points. Smoothcam can revive “unusable” shots by correcting uneven pans across a scene.Shake’s AutoAlign functionality, an Optical Flow analysis-based transform node, allows users to combine multiple source images into a single panorama. AutoAlign may be used to align, warp and luminance-match images that overlap either horizontally or vertically. AutoAlign works with both stills and image sequences.Final Cut Pro 5 integration is achieved through a Shake node that automatically loads any Final Cut 5 cut for composite work, retiming and rotoscoping and allows easy export back to Final Cut.Enhanced Node View is a node-based management tool that allows artists to save favorite views so they can jump to specific areas of a node tree. Color-coded data paths mark nodes for bit depth, expression links, animated nodes and concatenation levels.Shake 4 supports import and export of the OpenEXR file format, the emerging industry standard for 16-bit floating-point images. OpenEXR is a flexible, cross-platform file format developed and maintained by Industrial Light + Magic (ILM). Key features of the OpenEXR format include support for the efficient storage of high dynamic range image (HDRI) data using the 16-bit float “half” format and support for auxiliary image data channels. OpenEXR 16-bit float and 32-bit float data channels can be read directly into Shake’s RGBAZ data channels.A major feature of the OpenEXR format is its ability to support an extremely wide dynamic range. Thanks to its floating-point support, a contrast range of up to 30 f-stops can be supported with no loss of precision. Color resolution in 16-bit float (“half”) files is 1,024 steps per f-stop.Another advantage of the OpenEXR format is support for any number of additional auxiliary data channels in addition to the standard RGBAZ channels. For example, additional channels can be written to store luminance, surface normal direction channels, velocity channels and even individual lighting passes written from a 3D rendering application.Another new feature in Shake 4 is the ability to track on rotoshape points. Artists may automate time-consuming rotoscoping tasks by attaching trackers to points on a rotoshape. User-tracked shapes make it easy to create masks or moving mattes. Create multiple shapes within one rotoshape node while modifying soft-edge falloff controls independently on each control point.Shake includes two industry-standard keyers, Primatte and Keylight, that operate with full 32-bit float precision to ensure the continuation of high bit depth throughout a project using Open EXR, Cineon or DPX. Shake allows artists to combine keys to achieve the best results.Shake 4 uses QuickTime-compatible hardware to preview composites on standard broadcast monitors using supported third-party video cards such as Blackmagic Design DeckLink and AJA Kona. Now artists can preview color corrections destined for the small screen more accurately as they are created. Users can also play back a clip of any length in SD or HD in real time with audio, a must for readying video for broadcast in both SD and HD.In order to preview these composites accurately, precise monitor calibration is a must. Monitor calibration via Truelight—an HD-to-film and film-to-film color management system from Filmlight—is integrated into Shake for pre-visualizing the look of projected film images on LCD and CRT displays. Use Truelight 3D Cube technology to accurately predict the look of HD or film imagery when printed, without unnecessary film-outs.Shake 4’s cached nodes increase performance by creating a memory or disk cache for selected portions of a node tree so Shake needs only to calculate the parts of the composite that change. This functionality gives you explicit control over which parts of the node tree require rendering while you work. The cache node increases performance while leaving the node tree intact and fully editable.

Shake in Action
    Shake is all about node workflows, which means—in most cases—layering effects through hooking node trees together. These node trees are entire chains of effects, filters and Shake modules that culminate in finished composite film or broadcast work shots. Artists not familiar with node-style packages will no doubt find Shake a bit like stepping into a foreign country where the signs don’t quite make sense. Once you’ve mastered tying nodes together, composite work in Shake is demystified fairly quickly.Shake is an agile performer on large-format images. Its use of proxies ensures maximized throughput speed when stacking large numbers of nodes at HD up to 2K and 4K film resolutions. Shake 4 allows users to change resolution and bit depth during the compositing process as many times as necessary. Users may output a film-resolution 32-bit plate and an 8-bit video-resolution image simultaneously. Shake allows users to work in 8-, 16- or 32-bits per channel, all within the same project.The 3D multi-plane composite feature is good and will no doubt be made stronger in future versions of the program. Rotoscoping features in Shake have always been robust, and the new rotoshape point tracking capability performed flawlessly.

Shake Training and Gnomon
    You may teach yourself to use Shake, but that would be anything but the easy way to learn this muscular tool. Shake requires good training to get up to speed quickly, especially if a production project with deadlines is near. Even if time is not critical, Gnomon DVD training makes grasping Shake a far less daunting issue. Gnomon’s six-set Shake DVD series goes from color theory and science of logarithmic and linear color space to real industrial composite issues. If you want to learn Shake fast, the first recommended stop is Gnomon training.

Summary
    To nutshell this deep package is simple enough. Shake is a professional pipeline film tool for elite composite work. Its extraordinary flexibility and scripting chops make it ideal for large effects facilities, though it can be used for smaller shops, where Shake’s unique power offers a remarkable edge. Shake is at home wherever clients and their artists need clear and unbounded power for the task at hand.

VFXPro – The Daily Visual Effects Resource

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