Nothing Real's Shake 2.2: A Faster Way to Manipulate Large Images

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or those of you who don't know, beta testing is the process whereby asoftware manufacturer selects some guinea pigs to test itsyet-to-be-released software. The fun part is getting an early look at thesoftware and having a chance to shape how it will eventually look and work.The bad part is that you frequently end up fighting with software that isnot ready or, in some cases, just doesn't work.

Digital FilmWorks beta tests for more than one company, and, without namingnames, I can tell you that the beta-testing process can be painful. But inthe case of Nothing Real's Shake 2.2 beta program, I think I only checkedmyself into the hospital once or twice. Truthfully, the Shake 2.2 betaperiod went smoothly, and when we encountered problems they were fixedquickly.

What is Shake? In Southern California, the word Shake can have manymeanings. At Digital FilmWorks Shake is understood to be a high-speedcompositing software optimized for large image resolutions-without the needfor specialized hardware. It works within a process tree or flowgraph-based interface to manipulate and process high volumes of largeimages while maintaining the greatest degree of quality. Shake offers arange of 2D features for film, HDTV, video and broadcast, and interactivegames and multimedia-effects applications. It merges compositing, colorcorrection, image manipulation, and special-effects tools.

Nothing Real's staff of feature-film special-effects professionalsdeveloped Shake and continued to refine its capabilities. It makes adifference to us that the people who design and support the software haveall been in the business of creating visual effects in previous lives. Theyknow what it's like to meet deadlines and put up with demandingpersonalities. We want them to feel our pain when we pick up the phone andask for help, and they do. Nothing Real is responsive and quick to fixproblems or implement new features.

We were able to extensively beta test Shake version 2.2 (now in release) onseveral large shots for the Fox motion picture Anna and the King. NothingReal developed many new features for this release, includingmultiprocessing, Primatte keying, tracking, and animated shapes-featuresthat really round out the product.

DFW's work on the film included the panoramic opening visual-effectssequence of the boat harbor (consisting of some 1336 frames) and otherharbor-related shots, as well as multiple shots of a bridge exploding atthe end of the film.

For the opening sequence (roughly 55 seconds in length), DFW had totransform a modern-day boat harbor in Malaysia to resemble a harbor fromthe 1860s, the period in which the film takes place. In the original shotof the harbor, a giant, swooping camera move traces the docks andshoreline, portraying everyday modern life. Included are small boats in theforeground and several large modern-day ships in dock.

The main compositing challenge was to match the camera motion andbelievably create new elements, including CG ships, a shoreline, water,sky, smoke, and other elements, against a moving foreground. Match movingis always a challenge, especially in this case where we were dealing withquite a bit of lens distortion. When we first started this shot, Shake'stracker wasn't ready yet. We used another tracking system, but were unhappywith the results. When Shake's tracker became available, we used itinstead. Together with the "Pin Cushion" tool, the tracker allowed us tocorrect the lens distortion and facilitate an otherwise difficult trackingjob.

Many elements constituted the opening scene. Only two period boats were inthe original shot; the rest of the boats, about one hundred, were allcomputer-generated. (Our 3D artist, Ed Quirk, looked through period booksto match the look of the sails and boats from the 1860s.) The boats are allmoving and have wind blowing in their sails. The water was replaced, andthe shoreline was painted with old period houses. Shake's Z-depthcompositing features really helped this composite look real.

For the bridge shots and bridge explosion sequences, DFW had to orchestratea number of intricate elements to make the explosions appear more dynamic.We included additional explosions, and a main character from the film wasshot against green screen to make it seem as though he was on the bridgeand then blown off it.

I first stabilized the background shot, used Primatte for the green screen,and then added the additional explosions into the scene. The only thingmissing at this point was some "good" shaking to coincide with theexplosions. To simulate the quaking of the explosion, we used the "cameraShake" function, which did the trick! The overall effect was seamlessintegration all of these elements, as if they were photographed as one.

For the other bridge shots, DFW took images from various sources and addedthem together. The original bridge from Malaysia did not have waterunderneath, and its pillars were not tall enough. DFW had to add the waterand extend the bridge height. The final bridge shots are a blend ofCalifornia mountain streams, a miniature bridge constructed and filmed atthe Van Nuys (California) airport, and the original Malaysian bridge andmountains.

It was just amazing to be able to mix together images from so manydifferent sources. A lot of color correction and changing of sizes andheights was involved, and we are pleased it came together so well. Asalways, it's normally risky to use beta software on a real project, but wehad smooth sailing with Shake on Anna and the King.

When Shake first came out a couple of years ago, we quickly adopted it asan all-around utility for playback, image conversion, and color wedging. AsShake has progressed to Version 2.2, its new tools have allowed us to useit for the majority of our compositing tasks. Its quality, speed, andfeature set have become indispensable to us in our day-to-day operations.

Marco S. Paolini is a senior visual effects artist at Los Angeles-basedDigital FilmWorks. Started in 1995 by Peter W. Moyer and Cosmas Paul BolgerJr., Digital FilmWorks is a full-service, negative-to-negative facility.Aside from the latest 2D and 3D graphics gear, DFW uses color correction,image processing, and proprietary up-res and sharpening algorithmsdeveloped in-house. Recent projects include Navy Diver and Big Momma'sHouse for 20th Century Fox, as well as Red Planet for Warner Brothers. Formore information, call Digital FilmWorks at (323) 874-9981, or