Modo and NUKE Case Study

a tidy NUKE workspace makes Mike a happy boy!!

a tidy NUKE workspace makes Mike a happy boy!!

Delighted to say that I have just finished my first animation using a modo/NUKE workflow. Unfortunately I can't show any of the work, but thought I would outline my experiences of the change in workflow anyway.

There were challenges, namely figuring out how the modo timeline works, it is a very different way of working to Cinema 4D, and I wasn't really taxing modo too much, simple camera moves and on and off states in materials. I learned there is much to like, the different types of markers in the timeline, the ability to pick animated objects AND channels were a real timesaver.

The reason that I had picked modo for this specific job was that a lot of cutaways were required, so Render Booleans were needed, which is modo's excellent ability to cut through objects at render time using either a procedural mesh or a mesh that you have created. 

As Render Booleans work with the shader tree rather than directly with objects (unless you use an item mask), there is a lot more granular control than there potentially would be with a normal geometric boolean, and therefore the resulting image is much cleaner as well.
The Render Boolean effect is animatable at a material level, and this is where the ability to use the shader tree and schematic view in modo was really powerful as I needed to animate the 'same' material at various stages through the animation. 

The modo schematic view for materials, is much better for an artist to get grips with than Xpresso for example in Cinema 4D.

The modo schematic view for materials, is much better for an artist to get grips with than Xpresso for example in Cinema 4D.

I was able to use the shader tree to apply different materials for each stage of the animation, but use the schematic view to pass attributes such as reflections, colour, etc. from parent to child, while adding a separate channel which defined if the material would be affected by the render boolean.

This was a huge timesaver, and the modo workflow of creating new workspaces in the schematic view is much more straightforward than doing the same in CINEMA 4D, where I find XPresso great as a way to drive animations but hopeless to easily keep track of.

When I had the animation laid out, I was able to test using the modo render pass system to switch between full render setup and a pass setup for proxy animations which would render in a fraction of the time that the full size render would. As I was using Render Booleans, Open GL previews where of no use.

I had installed 'Deadline' from Thinbox as a render manager, and while slower than rendering with modo's own native network render, and not ready for cross-platform rendering yet (as there is a bug which doesn't let modo's render outputs save properly) for  simple proxies where I only needed one output it was perfect as I could dedicate one machine to rendering while I cracked on with setting up the comp.

For the comp, I had decided to bite the bullet and use NUKE.

For a year I have been boring everyone I know that for CG compositing work After Effects wasn't working for me, After Effects was still great for motion graphics and text work, but for day to compositing, the cludgy and outmoded After Effects workflow was getting in the way.

I had been looking for a job that I could do from end to end in NUKE and this was it, while I tried to make it a true all in one foundry project, and use Hiero for the edit, I just found that for what I needed Hiero wasn't there yet, (roll on NUKESTUDIO) and the latest release of Premiere came just in time and handled the edit smoothly.

I used NUKE in every stage of my build, where it particularly impressed me was in the middle phase where I was working with the proxy animations, where I needed to check that the animated content supplied from the client would be laid in at the correct points across the edit. This content was to be integrated into the 3D as graphics, so placement was crucial. 

As I was creating the animation in one modo file, and outputting animations at various points along the timeline, NUKE had no problem matching up shots to their correct position and using the time offset node, I could quickly time the client content specifically to where I wanted it for best effect.

Nothing here really that could not have been done in After Effects, but the difference between a nodal compositor and a timeline one really comes through in workflows like this, as I only needed one time offset node, which was easy to find in my node tree. In fact the efficiency of working with a nodal workflow makes it hard to think about going back.

The huge plus point for NUKE was finally getting my head around a modo to NUKE alembic workflow. Not doing this sooner to be honest was due to sheer laziness on my part.

Once the alembic workflow clicked it makes working with the AE/C4D import system look like a toy, the ability to bring in specific model elements along with the correct cameras, meant I was only working with the geometry  I needed, and the ability to use geometry as mattes, etc QUICKLY was great fun. The only thing that was a persistent issue was the alembic reverting back to 24fps on load, but hitting the reload button on any affected 3D element quickly fixed this.

I also used REBUS render farm for the first time on this job, which worked really well for me, although download speed could have been faster (my experience with REBUS is listed here).

Finishing in NUKE was a breeze, the nodal workflow made it so quick and easy to compare workflows between shots, and the dope sheet is a good way to animate.

Comping definitely felt quicker than doing it in After Effects, with none of the waiting for file imports or figuring out which pre comp was where, as everything was there in the nodal view at a glance.

The only downside to working with NUKE is that you need to bring your A-game, while there are a ton of features, NUKE bites back hard if you just try and slap things together which you can do in After Effects (which ultimately always comes back and gets you anyway).  Things which are straightforward in After Effects like using Matte layers etc, take more steps to setup in NUKE, but ultimately thats worth it, as I found with modo's schematic view for textures, Nodes for compositing does make life so much more efficient.

So does this mean I will be doing all my work in modo and NUKE from now on, nope, as the wonderful thing about doing what I do is the variety of work that comes through the door, and in some cases that will  suit Cinema 4D and After Effects better. 

However, there is no denying that for general compositing work, I will be switching to NUKE unless specified by a client and the upcoming release of NUKESTUDIO will hopefully mean I can start to centralise my edit on short form work as well.