Nuke: The X Factor

Resident VFX expert Amitaabh Naaraayan offers his take on Nuke.
Amitaabh Naaraayan.
Amitaabh Naaraayan.


Star Trek (2009) with its Vulcan death grips, mind-melding and intergalactic adventures galore may remain loyal to the Star Trek canon but it comes with a modernised production design giving a fresh touch to the film.

Svengali, a small but enterprising VFX boutique, based in California worked closely with the filmmakers, using Nuke to deliver around 80 VFX shots for the film, including a host of enhanced environments which give it that modern touch.

Likewise, anyone who has seen Watchmen (2009), directed by Zack Snyder, cannot fail to be utterly transfixed by the shape-shifting inkblot on the mask of vigilante Rorschach.

These subtle but stunning effects, which express his changing emotions through the story, prompt ‘How did they do that?’ reactions.

The answer is Nuke. Nuke helped the visual effects team at Intelligent Creatures in Toronto, Canada, deliver more than 320 shots for the film.

Originally developed by Digital Domain as its in-house compositing system, Nuke is now owned and marketed by The Foundry – a developer of high-end effects plug-ins.

A powerful compositing application, Nuke delivers an efficient multi-channel scanline rendering engine, and a first-class feature set that is unrivalled in the desktop market.

If you are in the business of creating high-quality digital images, Nuke is a production-proven visual effects tool that brings speed, functionality and flexibility to your VFX pipeline.

Let us jump straight into some of the most apparent and exciting features of Nuke. Nuke 5.2 borrows the best bits from the UIs of other visual-effects and motion-graphics systems — including Fusion, Shake, After Effects, Combustion and Motion, and blends them into a coherent whole, slick application.

From a learning point of view, if you know how to composite, it’s really not hard to jump on to Nuke at all. Of course, you have to get your head around 3D compositing because that’s the way the wider world of compositing is heading.

To create compelling visual effects, one must think and work in 3D space. Nuke’s powerful 3D workspace supports OBJ import, projection mapping, geometry modifiers, and more.

This true 3D environment creates powerful workflows and exciting new ways to approach compositing. Nuke, together with the Occula plug-in, is currently the only visual effects compositing system with an embedded and complete 3D stereoscopic workflow, where left and right eye channels can be manipulated separately or together.

As a compositor or a VFX Artist, the most important module is the effects and plug-in integration. The Foundry’s OpenFX (OFX) plug-ins are all fully compatible with Nuke.

Currently, the Keylight keyer, the Tinder collection (which includes lens flares, warpers, and lens blurs) and the Furnace collection (which includes motion vector retiming, wire removal, clean plate creation, grain, and texture tools) are available for OFX, with more collections added all the time.

Nuke 5.2 enables video monitor output through Blackmagic, AJA Kona and Xena and introduces a RED R3D Redcode format reader that brings the full range of picture information into a full 32bit float processing environment.

The Foundry team will showcase Nuke 6.0, a major release which delivers a totally re-written Paint and Roto toolset resulting in significant performance improvements and shape flexibility.

The release of Nuke 6.0 coincides with the launch of NukeX, a brand new compositing application. Building on Nuke’s toolset, NukeX gives digital artists integrated access to sophisticated lens tools, 3D camera tracking as well as image and motion analysis.

Many of these tools and technologies are expensive to purchase and maintain, but would make a considerable difference to the overall speed, efficiency and quality of work produced by artists if they had access to them.

Amitaabh Naaraayan is a freelance VFX specialist and can be reached at

System Requirements:

  • Windows XP SP2, XP64 and Linux CentOS 4.5 (32-bit and 64-bit)
  • 550 MHZ Pentium III or newer processor.
  • Windows XP (with Service Pack 2 or later) or Linux CentOS 4.5. 5GB disk space available for caching and temporary files.
  • 512MB RAM (minimum requirement).
  • Workstation-class graphics card, such as NVIDIA Quadro series or ATI FireGL series, or newer.
  • Display with 1280 x 1024 pixel resolution and 24-bit colour.
  • Three-button mouse.


  • NukeX - $6,000 with annual maintenance $1,200.
  • Nuke $3,500 with annual maintenance at $1,000.

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