With Apple releasing Final Cut Pro version 4 today, the next anticipated offering from the pro applications group is Shake version 3. The fxguide crew had a chance to chat with Dion Scoppettuolo, Senior Product Manager for Pro Applications, about Apple’s new offering due to be released this month…..

Shake has developed a great reputation as a solid, fast and effective resolution-independent compositor. Apple looks to build upon the software’s roots since acquiring Nothing Real in June 2003, by adding some key Macintosh-only features as well as continuing to support the software on the Linux platform.

What is interesting about Shake from a discreet user’s standpoint (in addition to the strong Shake feature set — we’ll get to the new features in a moment) is the ability to add new and extended capabilities to support the main workstations. Scoppettuolo points out that it is a “cost effective way to extend (not replace) a inferno/flame current setup without giving up quality.” The scriptable command line heart of Shake on a Mac OS X workstation also allows a facility to “add a toolbox of 2D tools to serve other needs (file conversion, up-rezing, channel manipulation, etc.).”

One major benefit is also the ability to obtain plugins for Shake at a price point that is lower than the price on a discreet system. Shake ships with the Primatte keyer as well as CFC Keylight — two packages which would cost as much as a Shake license if purchased for flame or inferno. Shake (and plugins for shake) also has floating license support, so you aren’t limited to installing on a single workstation, which can provide better flexibility in facilities with multiple systems or suites.

fxguide is currently reviewing The Foundry’s Furnace plug-in set, which has some incredible tools for grain removal, rig removal, and motion estimation retiming. From our preliminary look at the software, it provides some outstanding additions to the capabilities of the discreet systems and possibly even justifies the purchase of Shake as a vehicle to use the plugin. As an inferno user who absolutely loves batch, it didn’t take me long to get used to the process tree of Shake (and it ships with some great intro tutorials). We’ll be publishing the review shortly, so stay tuned…

What’s new in Shake?

From a creative features standpoint, one of the big new additions is the ability to track vector paint shapes as well as roto shapes used for masking. Tracking of shapes is something that flame and inferno artists have taken for granted for years, and it is a welcome addition to the Shake toolset. You can easily track a shape in one node and pipe it into the mask layer of a single or multiple nodes. The rotoshapes also have adjustable softness along the entire path, similar to the gmasks in the inferno/flame modular keyer and batch gmask nodes.

Shake 3 will ship with support for Photoshop PSD files. Photoshop docs can be read in with layers intact, complete with blending modes creating an entire process tree. This seems to be the “Year of PSD”, as this feature was also demoed at the discreet NAB users group meeting as a technology demo (aka — not guaranteed to make it in as a feature). It is an interesting feature addition, since it begins to open up the possiblity of design work in Shake, especially with Shake’s built-in native support for the maya IFF file format.

Audio support is also introduced in the upcoming version of Shake. Users can import a single audio file (no editing features as of yet, though one could always purchase Final Cut 4 to help in this matter). Even though there aren’t any editing features per se, artists can change the in/out points of the audio as well as slip the track in time to line it up to effects. What is really nice about the audio waveforms is that they can be viewed in the animation channels so that artists have a visual cue about keyframing effects. This feature addition is critical for those of us working on tv commercials and not necessarily tackling effects on a single scene basis. Animation curves can also be created based upon the audio waveforms so the process of timing can be automated, at least as a starting point for further tweaking.

There have also been numerous enhancements and performance improvements to workflow — things that current users will benefit tremendously from. The curve editor has been a part of Shake ever since it has had a UI and according to Scoppettuolo “so many small features have been added in Shake 3 that it almost feels like a new Curve editor.”

  • Resample Function/Expression Baking: Allows users to resample a curve using the Curve Function list (smooth, jitter, etc.). An artist enters a time range to resample over, with a step to represent the keys. For example, 1-100×10 creates keys every 10 frames, removing previously existing keys. This can also be used to bake expressions.
  • Overlapping Keys Controls: There are controls to determine the behavior of the keyframes when they collide with other keyframes. They can be either Bounded, Interleaved, Pushed or the points are Replaced.
  • Key/Value Text Fields: If multiple points are selected, you can enter a Key or Value for all points in the group. After you enter a value, you can use the virtual slider in the Value text field to raise or lower your points.
  • Manipulator Box: There are now transform controls to move and scale your points.
  • Split Editor Windows: You can split the Editor into two windows

In June of last year Apple purchased Silicon Grail, including the RAYZ and Chailice product lines. It appears as though some of the outstanding film grain technology has made it into the next version of Shake with a new grain tool node. There is also a new “multi-node”, which allows the artist to input multiple fgd/matte layers into a single node, as opposed to the single-layer only composites which are currently available.

Shake 3 has also added broadcast monitor support, something that those in the commericials post market have been hoping for. This means that the output from a node in Shake can be mapped to a broadcast video card from Digital Voodo or AJA so that you can accurately make color judgements. The software supports either high-definition or standard-definition video resolutions.

The biggest “architectural” change in Shake is possibly the new Shake Qmaster render manager for Mac OS X. The software uses Rendezvous(TM) technology to automatically search out Shake render stations on the network as well as distribute the rendering between the machine. Unlimited network rendering is available for no additional cost for Power Mac G4 workstations running OSX. When you start the render queue, the software searches the network for available rendering stations and sends the render to available workstations. It takes into consideration rendering speed on the remote systems, so there is some intelligence built into how the job gets distributed. For many facilities that have many mac graphics workstations, it openes up a large distributed system for rendering projects when machines aren’t being used for other purposes. Apple has also introduced a new one-rack unit Xserve dubbed the “Cluster Node”, which contains dual 1.33GHz PowerPC G4 processors but without a display card or CDROM drive. Its 2,7999 USD price point (vs. the 2,7999 USD for the single processor standard Xserve) makes it much more attractive for network render clusters. Network rendering will still be supported on IRIX and Linux platforms, but at an additional charge for the render nodes

Pricing for OSX Shake licenses is $4,950 per seat on Mac OS X systems and $9,900 per seat for Linux and IRIX systems. Shake’s list price generally resided around $10,000 for all platforms until Apple purchased Nothing Real and began offering an OSX version. They dropped the price in half for the Mac version, obstensibly allowing for people to obtain both the software and a Power Mac G4 system for less than the cost of a license for the other platforms. Annual support for systems is $1,495 USD on the Mac and $1,199 on Linux/IRIX systems. The support fees also not only pay for tech support but also all Shake software releases for the year of the contract.

One worry among facilities and artists has been that the hardware on the Mac platform has not kept pace with the processing horsepower of Intel-based Linux workstations. There are frequent discussions on the high end 2d Shake mailing list about which platform is better and which is faster. It isnot only a hardware issue, as anyone who has tried to quickly copy a 2000 frame image sequence in the OS X Finder has discovered — it simply doesn’t happen as fast as it should (though one benefit of OS X is certainly the ability to use Terminal and unix commands to quickly copy files). Apple is surely aware of all of these issues, the question is only when and how they will be addressed.

This may be changing in the coming months or even weeks. The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference is taking place from June 23 – 27 in San Francisco, and attendees will have the chance to get a preview of the next major version of Mac OS X (“Panther”). On the hardware side, Motorola has struggled keeping up with development of the G4 processor, IBM has been working on the PowerPC 970 processor, the first 64-bit PowerPC. Interestingly, this chip also contains the AltiVec vector engine which Apple uses to speed up functions in Final Cut pro and other applications. This chip also maintains full support for 32-bit applications (current OS X)…in other words the current OS and apps could run on it as well. While there have been tons of rumors drifting around the net regarding this, Apple has not confirmed any rumors so the true story will have to wait two weeks until the open of WWDC.