Foundry Updates 3D Software, Introduces Cloud Pipeline Service

Foundry katana kubo

Foundry has been giving public previews and indications of what’s to come in some of its of its new applications and software updates, including Nuke 11.0, Mari 3.3, Katana 2.6 and Elara, a new service for post-production in the cloud.
From NAB 2017 a livestreamed event explained what to expect in Nuke’s next major release v11.0 and outlined the services coming via Elara. Nuke 11.0 will affect Nuke, NukeX, Nuke Studio, Hiero and HieroPlayer. It has been in open beta since April 2017, and the primary updates are concerned with collaboration and performance, for example, Live Groups, lens distortion improvements and timeline disk caching. New collaboration workflows are part of the update, and improvements to playback performance in Nuke Studio.

Nuke software is being updated to meet the standards in the VFX Platform 2017, which is updated annually by a group of software vendors who collaborate with the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee. Meeting these standards changes various libraries used inside Nuke including Python, Pyside and Qt.

Foundry nuke Live Groups 04

Live Groups are a type of group node used in a new collaborative workflow for sharing work between artists. Live Groups referenced in other scripts automatically update when a script is loaded, without having to render intermediate stages, so that the artists can work simultaneously on different sections of a shot or project.

Frame Server, the intelligent background render process from Nuke Studio, is now part of Nuke and NukeX as well. The Frame Server takes advantage of available resources on your local machine, enabling you to continue working while rendering is happening in the background.

Foundry Timeline Caching 01

The LensDistortion node in NukeX has been rebuilt to support fisheye and wide-angle lenses, with better import of data from other lens estimation packages. It is now GPU-enabled as well. Nuke Studio has new GPU accelerated timeline disk caching. The function will cache part or all of a sequence locally to playback sequences more smoothly without having to keep footage locally. AMD GPUs are supported on Windows and Linux.

Katana 2.6 will be launching with the initial version of its new viewer API, which will then form the basis of the new Hydra-based viewer currently under development for the next series of Katana, version 3.0. Hydra is the scalable, multi-pass rendering architecture based on OpenSubdiv that ships as part of Pixar’s Universal Screen Description (USD) distribution. USD has tools for reading, writing, editing and quick previewing of 3D geometry and shading. Because it is 3D agnostic, USD can be extended to encode and compose data from other environments.

Foundry NukeFrameServer 01

Better technical documentation and various UI/UX improvements will allow pipeline TDs to improve the artist experience when using Katana.

Mari 3.3 has new shading functionality, Shader recompilation – that reduces the amount of waiting time between operations. Also, an update to the colour management tools will allow artists to calculate colour transformations more efficiently on the GPU. Mari uses OpenColorIO for colour management. All of the colorspaces in Mari, either those supplied with the application or custom colourspaces loaded during production, are defined in OCIO config files and therefore have been fairly inflexible.

Foundry katana dory

Improvements to the Marquee tool have added to Mari’s Lift action. Before now, the area selection tool Lift could only be used to reveal areas covered by unbaked paint, to view the contrast. Now it will work with previously baked paint.

Mari 3.3 and Katana 2.6 are expected to be available for purchase on Foundry’s website and through resellers before the end of May 2017.

Cloud Infrastructure, Software and Pipeline

During the same livestreamed event, Foundry introduced Elara, an upcoming service for post-production that centralises a studio’s infrastructure, software and pipeline in the cloud. Their team members can access what they need to work via their web browser including, for example, Foundry and third-party applications, integrated cloud rendering, scalable storage and compute power.

The purposes of Elara are to make it possible for a facility, a team or an individual to take advantage of the flexibility of a cloud environment - to adjust more easily to changeable demands, to support collaboration and to operate with a minimum hardware investment. The Foundry was also interested to see the impact that unlimited compute power would have on VFX workflows and productivity.

Foundry Katana in Elara

Elara is the hub of a distributed studio, and is intended to make the infrastructure elastic and the team dynamic. All of the expected studio services run on cloud-based servers - software, licenses, data storage, rendering on demand, business processes, collaboration, cost and usage metrics, and virtualized infrastructure. The pipeline itself is still customised, and dedicated render capacity is available immediately.

Storage and compute power are scalable per job. To control costs, you can set resource quotas in advance, for instance, render sessions can be set up with per-node control. This is similar to having physical resource restrictions, but you retain the ability to up or downsize as needed.

Because everything exists in only one place, in the cloud, collaboration is not only possible but necessary. Data must be shared, and can be used by a wider, dispersed team. New data resulting from someone’s work becomes immediately available for the rest of the team as soon as it is generated.

Software packages are run on a GPU-enabled server through a high-performance screen session, and shared sessions are possible with any of the applications. Real-time interactivity is possible because Elara runs each package locally to the user, which allows V-Ray’s Live Render to be used, for example. APIs are available for integration of cloud software into your existing local pipeline. Or, you can use the data you have stored on Elara on your local applications.

Foundry Elara Dashboard

Elara is context aware, which means that the user of a particular package will not be confronted by the entire database but only what applies to that software. The required data is placed in a buffer for the user to work on, and you can run multiple applications at once. Context-aware also means that Elara configures the environment for each application and project, including plug-ins and layout. The goal for Elara is to be able to integrate any app and use any type of local computer.

Elara includes an analytics engine for visibility into the team’s functions. Depending on the person using the results, each system usage may be viewed as an operational expense.

It makes certain options more viable, which once would have been too expensive or impractical. By bursting temporarily into cloud resources an artist can make a particular skillset available for others to use – anywhere or at short notice - or a studio could operate only for the duration of a single project.