Digital Compositing with Nuke

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For novice compositors and veterans moving over from Shake or After Effects, this book is the essential guide for learning Nuke, the powerful, node-based compositing software and standard choice for the VFX industry. This book provides a complete overview of the Nuke software,, from an introduction to the user interface to more complex compositing tasks such as keyframe animation, rotoscoping, matte pulling, motion tracking, and filter application. Far beyond a button-pushing manual, critical lessons in compositing theory are also offered, allowing the reader to use the software more intuitively. The tutorial-based approach, augmented by video footage and project files, will have the reader up and running in Nuke in a matter of hours.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There really is Nuke and nothing else. Other products out there are dying or don't have a future. Nuke is really moving forward in a changing industry."—Lindsay Adams, lead compositor, Animal Logic, Sydney, Australia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780240820354
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 8/29/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

visual effects/animation veteran of over 20 years. Formerly a senior animator at PDI/Dreamworks for Antz and the original Shrek, his other credits include Ace Ventura, James and the Giant Peach, and Escape from LA. Over the last decade, he has taught at several Academy of Art Universities as well as the Gnomon School of Visual Effects.

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Read an Excerpt

Digital Compositing with Nuke

By Lee Lanier

Focal Press

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-240-82036-1

Chapter One

Nuke Interface

Nuke was designed to create digital visual effects on feature films. As such, it carries a robust set of tools that make high-end postproduction available to professional digital artists, independent filmmakers, students, and hobbyists alike. The core of Nuke's functionality is a system of connected nodes. Although node manipulation may seem odd to an artist who has mastered layer-based programs, the efficiency and power of nodes comes to light after a basic knowledge is achieved.

This chapter includes the following critical information:

• Overview of interface panes and panels

• Comparison of layer-based and node-based compositing

• Node manipulation, including creation, connection, adjustment, and arrangement

• File importation and output rendering

• Timeline and flipbook playback

Interface Components

By default, Nuke's main window is divided into three panes: the Viewer pane, the Node Graph/Curve Editor pane, and the Properties Bin/Script Editor pane (Figure 1.1). Any given pane may have more than one tabbed panel. For example, you can switch from the Node Graph panel and Curve Editor panel by clicking the Curve Editor tab. Each pane includes a content menu, as represented by a gray-checkered Content Menu box at the top left of the pane. If you click on the Content Menu box, a pop-up menu opens and displays a set of options you can use to customize the pane.

The menu bar is located on top left of the Nuke window. The bar hosts commonly used dropdown menus, including File, Edit, and Viewer (Figure 1.2).

The toolbar is located on the left side of the Nuke window and contains between 13 and 17 icons, depending on the version of Nuke you are using. The icons represent different categories of nodes such as Image, Draw, and Time (Figure 1.3). You can use the toolbar to add nodes to the Node Graph. To do so, click on an icon and choose a node from the resulting dropdown menu. It's also possible to add nodes through an RMB shortcut menu in the Node Graph; this is described in the "Using the Node Graph" section later in this chapter.

Layers Versus Nodes

Adobe After Effects, which is the most widely used compositing package in the world, is layer-based (Figure 1.4). Adobe Photoshop shares a similar layer structure (Figure 1.5).

Nuke, on the other hand, is node-based. A node is a discrete unit used to build linked data structures. On a more basic level, you can think of a node as a box that contains specific information that can be shared with neighboring node boxes. In Nuke, a node is represented by a rectangle icon in the Node Graph (see Figure 1.6 in the next section). The information the node carries is displayed as parameters through its properties panel.

With layer-based compositing, each utilized image sequence, still image, and movie file is placed on a layer. Each layer has its own set transformations and carries an optional set of filters. Layers are stacked and processed in order from bottom to top. This is roughly analogous to a stack of cut-out magazine photos. Higher layers win out over lower layers unless nonstandard blending modes are selected or the higher layers possess transparency. Photoshop PSD files store layer transparency information. Other image formats, such as Targa or TIFF, store transparency through a fourth channel known as alpha.

With node-based compositing, each utilized image sequence, still image, and movie file is represented by a unique node. In Nuke, the Read node fulfills this duty. The output of each Read node is connected to the inputs of other nodes, including various filter nodes and merge nodes. The final result is output to a Viewer node (for display in the program) or a Write node (to write an image sequence to disk).

A Nuke node supports a limited number of inputs. However, you can connect the output of a Nuke node to an unlimited number of nodes. When multiple nodes are connected through their inputs and outputs, the structure is known as a node network, tree graph, process tree, or node graph. In Nuke, the work area that you use to create and edit such node networks is called the Node Graph; the Node Graph can carry multiple networks. More specifically, the node networks are a directed acyclic graph (DAG) where information only flows in one direction for each connection.

There are several advantages to using a node-based compositor:

• You can easily create complex node networks. In contrast, you can only stack layers. With a layer-based system, it's difficult to connect the output of a single layer to the input of multiple layers; workarounds require the nesting of composites or prerendering certain layers to disk.

• When carefully set up, a node network is easy to interpret. Complex layer-based composites can be difficult to navigate due to the sheer number of layers that are required.

• High-end compositing systems used in the feature animation and visual effects industries are node-based. The systems include Flame, Inferno, Shake, Fusion, and Toxik.

Node Anatomy

Any given node in Nuke has a set of input and output pipes. A pipe is a connection between nodes that allows the flow of information between nodes. A pipe can only send information in one direction. Before a node is connected to another node, the pipes are broken or are indicated by arrow stubs (Figure 1.6).

More specifically, a pipe carries one or more channels. A channel is a discrete component of a digital image that represents specific information as scalar values (whereby a pixel of a single channel can only carry in single magnitude or intensity); the information may be the distribution of a primary color, such as red, or the distance an object is from the camera, as with a Z-depth channel. Channels commonly used in Nuke include red, green, and blue (RGB) color channels; alpha channels; Z-depth channels; and U and V direction channels. Thus, a node affects the quality of the channels that pass through the node. That is, the numeric values of the channels are affected by the node. Channels are discussed in more detail in Chapters 3 and 4.

If a node is connected to one or more nodes, Nuke indicates the channels that are flowing through a node by adding small colored lines to the bottom left of the node icon (see Figure 1.18 later in this chapter). If the channel is affected by the node, the line is long. If the channel is unaffected, the line is short. The color coding follows:

Channel Color Red Red Green Green Blue Blue Alpha White Z-depth Purple U Pink

In addition, Nuke indicates the channels a node is affecting by printing a word at the bottom center of the node icon. For example, (red) is printed for the red channel and (all) indicates that all input channels are affected. For information on channel control, see Chapter 4.

Importing Files

To import an image sequence, still image, or movie file, you must create a Read node. To do so, follow these steps:

1. Click the Image icon on the toolbar. Choose Read from the dropdown menu. The File Browser window opens (Figure 1.7).

2. Navigate to the file you want to open. (For tips on navigation, see the next section.) Once the files are listed in the Pathname field, click the Open button.

3. The File Browser window closes and a Read node is placed in the Node Graph. Nuke numbers new nodes consecutively. To view the imported file, you must connect a Viewer node to the Read node. The Node Graph is provided with a Viewer1 node by default. To make the connection, LMB-drag the dotted 1 pipe extending from the Viewer1 node and drop it on top of the Read1 node (Figure 1.8). The output of the Read1 node is thereby connected to the input of the Viewer1 node through a pipe. Alternatively, you can select the Read node and press the 1 key to automatically connect to Viewer1.

Note that Nuke automatically recognizes numbered image sequences and lists them as under a single name with the format name.placeholder .extension startFrame endFrame. For example, a sequence might appear as name.%02d.tga 1 60 or name.##.tga 1 60. With these examples, the %02d and ## represent the total numeric placeholders, where the original files are named name.01.tga to name.60.tga.

Using the File Browser

The File Browser window offers several ways to navigate the directory structure. The Favorites section features icons for commonly used locations such as the Nuke working directory, system root directory, or various hard drives. To jump to a Favorites location, click the location name so it turns orange. You can add your own Favorites location by navigating to a directory and clicking the + button at the bottom of the Favorites section. To remove a Favorites location, highlight the location in the Favorites section and click the - button. In addition, the window provides Create New Directory, Up One Directory, Previous Directory, and Next Directory buttons at the top left (Figure 1.9). To preview a selected file or image sequence in the File Browser, click the black arrow at the top right. A viewer with playback controls is embedded in the window (see Figure 1.8).

Supported Image Formats

Nuke supports a wide array of image formats. A few of the more commonly used ones are described here.

AVI (.avi). The AVI (Audio Video Interleave) movie format was developed by Microsoft. Nuke's AVI support is dependent on the FFmpeg opensource audio/video codec library. If an AVI file fails to open, try adding ffmpeg: to the head of the path name (e.g., ffmpeg:C:/Projects/ test.avi). For more information on the FFmpeg library, visit On Windows systems, AVI support is also dependent on the DirectShow multimedia framework.

DPX and Cineon (.dpx and .cin). The DPX (Digital Picture Exchange) format is based on the Cineon file format, which was created for Kodak's early line of digital film scanners. Both formats use a 10-bit log architecture, which is well suited to capture the full exposure range of motion picture film stock. DPX is more flexible than Cineon in that it supports 8-, 12-, 16-, and 32-bit variations that may be linear or log. (Linear and log encoding is described in Chapter 3.)

MayaIFF (.iff). MayaIFF is native to Autodesk Maya. The format has the advantage of supporting alpha, depth, and motion vector channels. Nuke can read MayaIFF but cannot write it.

OpenEXR (.exr). The OpenEXR format was developed by Industrial Light & Magic and is currently available for public use. The format supports linear 16-bit half-float and linear 32-bit floating-point variations. OpenEXR can support an arbitrary number of custom channels, which makes it particularly useful for compositing. OpenEXR is quickly becoming the standard format for animation studios employing floating-point pipelines.

PNG (.png). The PNG (Portable Network Graphics) format was developed to replace the older GIF format. PNG carries an alpha channel and high-quality compression.

QuickTime (.mov). By default, the QuickTime movie format is supported by Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. Linux versions, however, can utilize the QuickTime format through the FFmpeg open-source library. If a QuickTime file fails to open, try adding ffmpeg: to the head of the path name (e.g., ffmpeg:C:/Projects/

RAW. RAW image files contain data from the image sensor of a film scanner or DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. Nuke can read a limited number of DSLR camera types.

REDCODE (.r3d). REDCODE is a proprietary format encoded by the Red One and Red EPIC digital video cameras. Because the Red cameras are often used to capture visual effects plates and shoot high-definition television (HDTV) programs and feature films, Nuke's ability to read the format is currently evolving and expanding.

Targa (.tga). Targa was developed in the 1980s by Truevision. Common variations include 24-bit (8 bits per channel) and 32-bit (8 bits per channel with alpha).

TIFF (.tiff, .tif). The Tagged Image File Format was developed in the 1980s as a means to standardize desktop digital imaging. The format exists with various compression schemes and supports 16-bit and 32-bit floating-point architecture as well as an alpha channel.


Excerpted from Digital Compositing with Nuke by Lee Lanier Copyright © 2012 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Nuke Interface....................1
Chapter 2: Transforming and Keyframing....................31
Chapter 3: Bit Depths, Color Spaces, and Color Grading....................61
Chapter 4: Alpha Mattes, Merging, and Rotoscoping....................97
Chapter 5: Keying....................133
Chapter 6: Manipulating Channels and Matching Artifacts....................161
Chapter 7: Time Warping and Image Distortion....................197
Chapter 8: Motion Tracking....................227
Chapter 9: Working with 2.5D, 3D, and Stereoscopic 3D....................255
Chapter 10: Optimization, Scripting, and New Techniques....................293
Appendix A: Shake/After Effects to Nuke Conversion Chart....................323
Appendix B: Working with Interlacing, Pulldown, and Rolling Shutters....................325
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