By George Maestri
Productions that use special effects usually run footage through a compositing software suite. These suites have traditionally been expensive, so a market definitely exists for lower-priced compositing tools that can run on the desktop. Packages such as Discreet's combustion and eyeon's Digital Fusion are examples of these desktop programs, as is Shake, the baby brother of Nothing Real's high-end Tremor compositing suite. Shake supports most image formats and offers a number of heavy duty features that will satisfy production requirements in both film and video environments.
One great thing about Shake is that Nothing Real offers a fully operational version that can be downloaded from its Web site and used free of charge for 15 days. This is enough time to get used to the software and run a project or two through it.
Shake runs under Linux, SGI Irix, and Windows 2000 operating systems. A Mac OS X version is in the works. I tested the software on a Windows 2000 machine. Installation was fairly easy, though I had to call tech support and adjust some network settings to get the license manager running.
Shake uses a node-based interface to help organize and speed workflow. Each part of the composite, from the input of an image sequence, to effects, motion tracking, and final output, are all represented as nodes. Connecting the nodes builds the composite, which makes it easier to visualize the workflow, as well as to quickly make changes to the composite. In addition to the node editor, the software also lets you view composites in a timeline-style interface, similar to that of packages such as Adobe Systems' After Effects.
Shake is quick and responsive, and it's multithreaded to take advantage of multiple processors. I had no problem scrubbing several layers of good quality on my dual-processor 800mhz machine with an IDE RAID, which I've found difficult to do in other packages. Once I added a couple of filters, operations did slow down a bit.
|Shake's node-based interface is flexible, well-organized, and easy to use.|
Shake allows layers to move in both 2D and 3D space. Layers can be keyframed, as well as moved using expressions. For automatic motion, the software offers a number of handy motion-tracking tools, which let you stabilize shaky footage as well as track moving objects within a scene.
Once images are layered, you can either key or mask them to combine them into a composite. Keying allows a range of colors in an image to become transparent. This method is used primarily for blue- and greenscreen applications. Unlike most other compositing packages, Shake includes a copy of the Primatte filter, one of the most robust keyers on the market.
Masking allows another image or alpha channel to control how one image blends with another. In Shake, masking is easy. One helpful feature is quickshape, which allows you to instantly create simple masks out of geometric shapes. For more complex shapes, you can use a bezier-style drawing tool to create masks. For advanced rotoscoping applications, you can create multiple masks per node. Finally, Version 2.4 includes a nice vector paint package, which can be used to create masks as well as perform any other type of painting, including tasks such as wire removal or the creation of garbage mattes.
One of the major challenges of any compositing project is matching the look of one bit of footage to that of another. To that end, Shake has a number of tools for tweaking images, including filters for adjusting color. The most useful filter, color correction, combines a number of functions into one interface that gives you the ability to individually adjust parameters such as gain, gamma, and contrast to each RGB channel of an image. The software supports a wide range of color depths, including both 8-bit and 16-bit images, which makes Shake particularly adept at working with images from multiple sources.
For effects, Shake provides a generous supply of filters, including some nice blurs that include non-uniform and realistic motion blurs. For users working with film, Shake has a nice film-grain node. Shake also offers a command line interface that is great for anyone doing simple tasks such as file format conversion or file resizing.
Shake can render on the workstation or over the network. Network licenses are priced at $3900 each, pricey compared to most compositing packages, some of which offer network rendering at no cost.
Overall, I like Shake. At $9900, it's more expensive than other desktop compositors, but its speed and ease of use make it worthwhile. The inclusion of the Primatte keyer adds a lot of value for anyone doing greenscreen.
George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.
Price: $9900. Additional render-only network licenses, $3900
Minimum System Requirements: Linux, SGI Irix, Windows NT/2000