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Digital Domain buys first Katana site license

The Academy Award-winning VFX studio Digital Domain has bought the first site license of Katana, The Foundry's 3D graphics software. The Foundry is also adding Weta Digital's compositing technology to its flagship Nuke system.

The Academy Award-winning VFX studio Digital Domain has bought the first site license of Katana, The Foundry’s 3D graphics software. The Foundry is also adding Weta Digital’s compositing technology to its flagship Nuke system, writes David Fox.

Katana was developed at Sony Pictures Imageworks, before being taken on by The Foundry in 2009, and Digital Domain has bought a pre-release version (the eventual product is scheduled to ship in September).

It is an environment for preparing 3D graphical assets for rendering, and allows artists to define and control look and lighting whilst maintaining performance with very large datasets. It operates non-destructively using a rule-based approach, allowing modelling, look development, animation and lighting teams to work in parallel.

Katana is already proven in full-scale CG feature animation and visual effects films at Sony, and The Foundry claims that its “innovative recipe based approach” enables large or small facilities “to build highly scalable and efficient lighting pipelines without a large internal engineering effort.”

“Digital Domain has been actively involved throughout alpha and this significant investment is a true display of confidence in the technology and the route the team are taking. We look forward to progressing our position in the market with our launch later this year,” said Bill Collis, The Foundry’s Chief Executive Officer.

“The integration of lighting and compositing with Katana and Nuke is a powerful combination that brings a new level of efficiency to our pipeline,” added Cliff Plumer, Digital Domain’s CEO.

Nuke mines Avatar tech

Following on from The Foundry’s collaboration with Weta Digital on the Mari 3D texture painting technology, the pair have entered into a new agreement to bring to Nuke the deep compositing technology developed by Weta Digital during its work on Avatar.

Deep compositing allows artists working with CGI material to process and composite ‘deep images’ containing multiple opacity or colour samples per pixel at different depths. As well as enabling new creative possibilities in compositing, such as volumetric effects, the technique leads to higher-quality imagery when integrating and finishing CGI-rendered elements. By increasing the amount of useful data available in compositing, the toolset provides greater efficiencies by reducing the amount of re-rendering typically required from CGI departments. For example, the generation of holdout mattes for individual CGI objects or characters can then be performed within Nuke itself. Such savings can run into hundreds of hours on large-scale projects that prominently feature CGI assets.

Nuke 6.3, due for release next month, will support deep data within the node graph, and contain a range of ‘deep compositing’ nodes. Nuke’s NDK will also provide a common API for studios to write and exchange new deep image processing tools.

“Deep compositing allows ambitious new effects whilst achieving big time savings in production,” said Collis. “Weta Digital has been leading the promotion of the technique and has now ensured that the tools we provide artists within Nuke are thoroughly battle tested and ready to face production. The further announcement of an OpenEXR format to support deep data this week is also being supported by Nuke enabling greater collaboration.”

“Working with the Foundry to have our tools integrated into the core of Nuke ensures that the rest of the industry has immediate access to this technology”, said Peter Hillman, the Lead Developer for the Deep Compositing workflow at Weta Digital. “This integration, together with the collaborative effort between Weta Digital and other leading VFX studios to integrate deep data into the OpenEXR format, helps establish a true cross industry standard for utilizing deep data.”