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After Effects To Nuke — Three Tips For Making The Jump

After Effects To Nuke — Three Tips For Making The Jump

Transitioning to Nuke? We've got a few ways to streamline the process.

Some will frame the separation between various compositing software as an “entry level” vs. “big boy” conversation. The problem with this, however, is that it ignores the open evaluation of not only the strengths and weaknesses of each tool, but of their purpose.

For many VFX artists, animators, and motion designers, After Effects was one of the first tools we had access to. It’s affordable, within the Adobe ecosystem, and brings with it a wealth of knowledge on the internet that is free and easily accessible.

The same can’t be said for a software package such as The Foundry’s Nuke. It’s not always affordable and it’s not automatically linked up with other daily use apps. There’s plenty of supporting resources online, but it naturally doesn’t hold a candle to the endless video tutorials behind After Effects. 

What Nuke is though that After Effects is not is a dedicated compositing software. The difference here is simply in focus. Think of After Effects like a multi-tool, and Nuke like a fixed-blade Rambo knife. If you want to double down on compositing specifically, Nuke will open up new worlds for you as an artist. Here are three tips for making the jump.

1. Start Thinking in Frames

One of the first things you can do to enter the Nuke mindset and save yourself some headaches is to start thinking in frames. One of the niceties of After Effects is that it’s laid out very similarly to standard editing software. You have a timeline with clips you can split, shorten, extend, etc. 

In Nuke, you have the same capabilities, but it’s a much different approach. Rather than thinking in terms of time like you would an edit, you’ll begin to think only in frames. This will naturally bring you to two conclusions which will help you immensely as you learn Nuke. 

First, you’ll find comfort in the exactness yet simplicity of time controls in Nuke. On your footage or assets, you have frame ranges. On your project, you have frame ranges. And within your node graph, you have several key tools as well: frame range (yes, again), frame hold, and time offset are a good place to start. 

The second take away from thinking in frames is one of my personal laws for Nuke: always work in image sequences. Not only does this avoid any confusion or issues with frame rates when working and communicating in a team, but it’s simply more efficient within Nuke. Scrubbing will be faster, rendering will be easier, and you’ll find yourself having a generally more stable experience than when working with video files.

2. Control and Reuse your Alphas

I know that I said not to make Nuke vs. AE a big time vs little league conversation…. But alphas (or frankly channel data management in general) are where Nuke flat out wins the head to head. The approach of “controlling” your alphas is barely even a consideration in After Effects. 

In Nuke, it’s simple: your pipeline has information in it, usually RGB, and then A for alpha. Once you’ve created an alpha through keying or rotoscoping, you have complete control and more reusability of that alpha. 

This is a concept that, due to the track matte and layers process, was completely lost on me inside of After Effects. In Nuke, if you have the data, you can just use it. If you have an alpha of a human shape walking and you want to fill it with a galaxy, you don’t have to reorder your layers or click through drop-downs, you just shuffle-copy your alpha of the person into the RGB of the galaxy.
Nuke Interface

3. Simplify your “Effects” 

In After Effects, your primary toolset is aptly named: effects. In Nuke, everything that creates, adjusts, reads and writes is called a node. This is where you start to see the fundamental differences in each software when it comes to compositing. 

The beauty of Nuke is that it’s fully stripped down and raw. You have access to each granular component of each composite you’re creating. In After Effects, you have a lot of control as well, but many steps are skipped and taken care of for you. 

This is what I mean by simplify. Reconsider certain effects you use in AE based on their components. For example, effects like twirl, liquify, and bulge are all simple distortions based on various noise patterns, gradients, and masks. In Nuke, you’ll be able to deconstruct finished effects like this and build them. Giving you complete control over their components.
Control over the components—this really is where Nuke’s strength lies and the area with the most room to grow if you have a background compositing in After Effects. You get to transition seamlessly from granular control to a bird's eye view of exactly what’s happening to each and every pixel. Find comfort in that control, and of course, have fun with it! 

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