Finally, I’ve finished this up and I’m getting it out there! The first Natron tutorial for OpenVisualFX. If you haven’t heard of Natron, it’s an open source compositing program very similar to Nuke. In fact, it’s similar enough that if you know one, you know the other. I wanted to come up with a fun scene with some relatively standard compositing work, the kind of thing an artist at a professional studio is going to be doing all the time, and the TNT television show The Last Ship gave me the perfect opportunity.
Occasionally I do some work on The Last Ship, and for season 3, episode 1 (see it at 1:55-2:08), I was tasked with putting a mural of one of the characters on a brick wall. In the world of visual effects, it was a pretty easy shot, and while working on it, I thought it would be a perfect introduction to compositing. While not being a complex shot, it does involve many techniques that are very commonplace and useful in visual effects.
Check out the scene we’ll be working on. Download it HERE.
I called up some actors, found a location, and went out to shoot a scene that replicates the shots from The Last Ship. It’s just a quick scene, where our main villain stumbles across a defaced mural of herself. And we won’t be concentrating on sound in this tutorial, so for the audio, I’m simply providing the finished clips as individual WAV tracks. That way, if you want to change things from what I did and put in your own music or sound fx, you can.
Check out the intro video above, download Natron and the assets below, and let’s get compositing! Keep a notepad nearby, there’s lots of hotkeys to remember. And if there’s anything specific you’d like me to cover in the future with Natron, please message me!
Oh, one last thing. I’m posting the script for the shoot, as well. It’s nothing amazing, and in fact, it’s not even a full page long. But this way you can see what went into getting the shots. Both the Trelby file and the PDF are in the zip file, and you can see how much it differs from the final scene.
Leader – Joanna Triantafyllidou
Henchman – Stephan Singh
ADR – Kristen Kennedy
PA – Paul Herskovitz
Sound design – Vince Tennant (here’s a short video about my friend Vince!)
- Pathway_mural_shot_01 footage
- Pathway_mural_shot_02 footage
- Pathway_mural_shot_03 footage
- Pathway_mural_shot_04 footage
- Matte painting elements
- Audio WAV files
- Project files
- BONUS filesets
Right click the names of the tutorials to download the videos directly.
Intro Tutorial – The Natron UI.
Tutorial 1 – Tracking & removing the window.
Tutorial 2 – Integrating the mural & creating a luma matte.
Tutorial 3 – Adding the graffiti.
Tutorial 4 – Adding some finishing touches – color correction, bloom, flare, and grain.
Tutorial 5 – Moving on to the next shot, which has different challenges, beginning with tracking.
Tutorial 6 – Removing the window, bringing in the mural and aligning it to match the previous shot.
Tutorial 7 – Copying over the luma matte, graffiti, and all the style nodes, then getting started on the rotoscoping.
Tutorial 8 – Timelapse of the rotoscoping.
Tutorial 9 – Finishing up the shots.
Tutorial 10 – BONUS! Hopefully, if you’ve watched to this point, you should have a pretty good guess at what it is.
Finally! I have been waiting so long for this 🙂
As always a really fantastic tutorial, and on top of that I finally understood clean-plates and rotopainting, rotopainting has always given me a headache in natron.
Wonderful to hear, glad it helped you out, ageha!
Thanks a lot for all your wonderful work!
Did you ever find out why the RotoPaint node misbehaved in the one shot?
I haven’t yet, but I haven’t tested v2.3.1 yet, so maybe they fixed it? It was just released a few days ago. Slammed with a project right now, but as soon as it’s done, I’ll test it out, and if it’s still broken, will show it to the developers.
And your welcome! 🙂
Thanks for this Sean. I’m wondering if Gaffer (gafferhq.org) is on your radar at all? Seems to be another node based, OSS, VFX thing. Not sure how it compares with Natron.
I have seen the website for Gaffer before, but I’m not 100% clear on what it is. It seems like something perhaps built more for lighting and shading 3D, but that can also do some compositing as well? Looks interesting. I think something like Fusion, which isn’t open source but is free, will compare more directly with Natron. But Gaffer is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Maybe I’ll look up some tutorials on it next week.
Yeah, same, the description makes it sound like a general purpose compository thing but the examples seem to focus on 3d modeled stuff. Would be awesome to have an assessment from somebody who actually knows about this stuff.
Hahahaha, I agree. I’ve never known anyone who uses it.
Gaffer is an open source lookdev application. It’s basically ImageEngine’s version of Katana. Great tutorial BTW!
Awesome, thanks for the clarification, Jon! And thanks for liking the tutorial!
Excellent tutorial! It’s really amazing the level of detail of the tutorial.
Thanks, Marcos, glad you like it!
Thanks so much for creating these tutorials. I am new to Natron but coming from a Nuke background it’s pretty easy in terms of understanding the software. Not that stable but looks great, and hopefully will continue to be supported. Haven’t finished your videos yet but where did you get the Ignite Plugins from, cant seem to find them? Would be great to get them installed. Thanks
Glad you like them! Have you found Natron to unstable? Is it crashing, locking up? I’m very curious to hear what you’re experiencing with it. And thanks for asking about the Ignite plugins! I totally forgot to post links. I’ll update the post, but for now, here’s the link to grab them. https://hitfilm.com/ignite-express
Great thanks for the link. I’ve just had a few crashes in Natron, one most recently being just trying to open the Glow node. And it does seems a bit slow/laggy (on Mac – not tried any other platform). But I haven’t used it extensively yet and been using MP4s rather than DPXs. So probably a few areas I need to explore too. However, it really seems like a great piece of software considering it’s free, and seems like the team involved have done a good job, would be very happy to see it develop further!
If you do find bugs or things that crash it, please get involved with development! At the very least, head over to the forum on their website and post the problem there. I really want them to keep making it better so it gets adopted more and more!
Personally my biggest issues have been viewer errors and what could possibly be a memory leak. With the viewer when you start to get a complex node tree certain levels of ‘zoom’ will cause glitches in the viewer. Just zooming in or out usually fixes it.
With memory the app starts off reasonably but the longer I use it the more and more memory gets eaten up. Clearing all the caches doesn’t free any RAM. I open a file and it takes 2.5gB but after a few run throughs and some new nodes it maxes out the full 16gB of RAM on my desktop.
Yeah, you should definitely head over to their forum and post these comments over there! Maybe even with some screenshots of your memory usage. I’m sure they’d be anxious to jump on it and figure it out!
Awesome tutorial !!! Very good explanation from start to finish. Natron is a very good Nuke alternative for video composer. One thing I would have liked to see was the development of the weapon section in Blender and then the integration in the Natron. Still 100% recommendable. Great job, waiting for other tutorials of such quality.
I could show that in the future if more folks want to see it. I wanted to leave a little bit for people who follow along to try and figure out themselves. 🙂
Not sure when this posted… but I’m assuming the footage is MIA due to Amazon? The footage to use link is missing. If there’s another way I’d love to play w Natron. Thanks in advance,
Hi Dean, the footage links all seem okay to me. Are you looking in the correct spot for them? Above all the video tutorials is a section labeled “Assets Required”. The first 4 links there should let you download the footage from Dropbox as a zip file.
I just discovered your site, and I love it! It’s so nice to have quality tutorials from people that actually professionally use the tools they’re teaching. I’m using Natron 2.3.2 on my custom Debian Linux system, and it works like a charm! Thanks for taking the time to do such a wonderful tutorial. I hope you do more!
Thanks, Michael! Glad you like it! I’ve been a bit slow with the updates since the holidays, but lots of good things coming this year!
I really appreciate these tutorials – thanks a bunch for helping me into Natron – Great work. I especially like the fact that you have left in the parts where you had problems with software glitches, or the time you spent figuring out how to get the effect that you want to achieve. Trial and error are a really important part of the compositing process – so thanks for leaving it all in there!
My pleasure, Phil, glad you liked it! And yeah, I agree with you about leaving in the mistakes. Polished, perfect tutorials are great, but it’s also good to know that no matter what level someone is at, there’s always problems. 🙂
This series has been very helpful, thank you so much. Any chance for a tutorial on set extension in Natron and or Blender?
Thanks Steve! What kind of set extension tutorial would you like to see? How simple or complex, or is there a specific sample from a tv show or film you’ve seen that you’d love to recreate?
I would liked to see something fairly complex. I might be wrong on if its actually set extension but an example would be “The Wolf of Wall Street” http://bit.ly/2hzrE54 The wedding scene on the beach. I’d like to know a good way to blend the original footage into the extended set. For example if the original plate was on the edge of a small cliff and the final version was zoomed out and made to look like a huge cliff. I’m hoping to not rely on green screen because its not accessible for me as a newbie. Thanks
Great example, thanks for sending that! I’ll definitely plan something like that for a future tutorial, and I’ll make it as detailed as I can. In the meantime, Micah at Film World did a very simple version that may give you some ideas to get started with. Check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc6m7yBqvpo
Thanks for the referral, i watched his tutorial and it gave me some idea.
Would fusion have the same approach?
Yes, absolutely, although nodes/tools will be named differently. but the general workflow will work in any program, even Blender.
Im having trouble with the first scene on my rendering…. when I render out the file it is only rendering the graffiti and not the footage. I compared all my setting with yours but nothing. I tried, jpg, png, dnxhd, and all have the same results it just renders the mural… any idea? is it a bug?
Hey David, I’d have to see your node setup to try and figure out what’s happening. Feel free to send it along and I’ll take a look when I have a moment!
Hey, I have currently problems with RotoPaint and FrameHold node. When I set the FrameHold node and try to go to a different frame in the editor, the source video stays in the same frame, but the RotoPaint is suddenly gone in the different frame. When I change some settings in the FrameHold node the RotoPaint gets corrupted and when I change back the settings, it’s still corrupted.
I use Natron version 2.3.14
The frameHold node is working correctly if you go to a different frame and it shows the same frame. That’s what it does, it holds a single frame forever. The roto paint is probably gone because it may be set to only show the paint strokes on that frame that you are holding. You could set all the paint strokes to be on ALL frames, or you could put the paint node above the frame hold node (as long as the frame with the paint strokes matches the frame being held).
As for the paint node becoming a corrupt, I have also run into that issue sometimes. A few times I’ve had to redo my paint node because I just couldn’t get it back to working correctly. I’m pretty sure this is some kind of bug in Natron.
Thanks for your tutorials, they helped me a lot.
Switching from Fusion to Natron, quite confused with all the shuffle alpha stuff…
Your google doc with all the foss listed is great, found good tools I didn’t know.
You’re welcome, so glad you’ve found them helpful! And yes, the Shuffle node can get very confusing. When I first started in Nuke, it took me a while to grasp what all the Shuffle node can do. Be sure to check out Nuke tutorials about it, as well, since it works the same in both programs. Glad you like my FOSS Google Doc, too! One of these days I need to get in there and clean it up.
Hi Sean. I went ahead and created my own staff in Blender, and I made it a little thinner than the prop the lady carried in the shot, figuring that I wanted something that could more realistically be wielded by a female, plus I wanted a more wicked looking weapon as well. Of course the prop poked out around the edges of the weapon I made, but I figured there would be a way to paint it out where necessary without having to do it on every frame. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a way to do that and had to paint some of it out on a frame by frame basis. Is there a way to make one paint out last for several frames in a case like this one? Thanks for this tut, by the way, I really learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know before about how real world shots get done. Keep doing more like this one.
Hi Alex! Glad you liked the tutorial, I’d love to see your result if you’re willing to share it!
As for painting out the prop staff, there’s a couple different ways you could handle it. Painting a clean patch of the background and tracking it in is the most straightforward solution, and is going to take a lot of tracking, tweaking, positioning, and rotoscoping to get just right. Another way could be to do a garbage roto of the staff, then use luma and color keying to create a matte of the white and red parts of the staff, then using that matte to cut it out of the footage. There may be a node in Natron similar to Blender’s Inpaint node, which fills matte holes by stretching the pixels around the edge of the hole towards the center to fill it. I don’t have Natron open in front of me right now, so I can’t check to see if it has a node that does that, but I can check in the next day or so and let you know.
Those are just a couple ideas. If more people would find it useful to see these techniques to remove the staff, I could do some short videos showing each technique.
Sure, I’d be happy to share. The only thing I did other than following your directions was to create a different staff. I’m an old school martial arts nerd, I wanted a staff with a little heft on one end so she could swing it like a club, and a sharp end so she could thrust it two handed like a spear. I made the shaft a little narrower so she could get a good grip on it, and that created the problem of seeing the prop behind it, especially after I blurred it. I figured you can’t send a model back to the modeler if it doesn’t suit you, so I tried (I think) to do the first option you mentioned. I assumed that I would need to track the actress and do a cornerpin type thing like for the mural on the wall, but I never got any tracks to really stick to her, so I bit the bullet and painted it out manually. The other techniques sound familiar, like something you covered in other tuts on the site, so I will try to figure out how to apply them to this problem too (the Blender Inpaint node may be just the ticket). One more question, if you don’t mind, how long would you get to finish a shot like this, on a real show?
Hi again Alex, I checked, Natron does have an inpaint node, so you could give it a try in either Natron or Blender. Usually painting out manually works much better than an inpaint node, but if it’s a close roto and not much needs patched, inpaint might work. You did it the right way painting it manually, though. Please share a link if you can upload it anywhere!
And at work, they might bid maybe 8 hours for a shot like this, maybe a little more taking the staff into consideration. 10 or 12 tops.
Hi Sean. I uploaded it to Youtube here, https://youtu.be/EAqx6loEQmo. Any and all crits are more than welcome. I had a little trouble with object tracking the prop weapon in the first scene, where it disappears completely behind the actors. I think I got it looking okay, it’s a little jumpy but the video moves fast enough it doesn’t seem to create a problem. I’m sure my manual paintouts weren’t perfect either, and naturally I forgot some of the small detail things you brought up in the tutorial, so I’m going to go back and check and redo some things just for fun. I figured you’d probably get a day or maybe less to do this in the real world. I’m going to have to level up a little, but eventually I’ll get there. Thanks for this, and your other tuts. Have you considered starting a Patreon page?
That looks great! Nicely done! The paint out behind it looks great, from what I can tell. I see what you mean about the pops in the motion, but they’re not bad at all. The only major critiques I would offer would be that it feels a tiny bit dark, so maybe just lift the blacks a tiny bit, and then maybe soften it a tiny bit overall, as it feels a little sharper than the rest of the shot. That could also be something to do with the youtube compression, too. But really nice work, especially on the paint out and tracking! Thanks for sharing! So cool to see it!
Oh, and regarding a Patreon page, yeah, it’s crossed my mind, but I feel like I don’t post enough to justify monthly payments from people expecting new tutorials. Sometimes I get busy at work and can’t post for a while, and I’d hate to let people down. But there’s a donation button up there on the right of the screen, and people have certainly used it, to which I am forever grateful!
Hi Sean, firstly, thanks a ton for putting up these tutorials. I’m following them in sequence and learning a lot along the way.
My problem is I’m not able to get the color from the constant node through the PNG graffiti s, it is all white. I’m using the exactly same set up as you’ve shown. I’m not sure where I’m going wrong. I know it’ll be hard for you to say anything without a screenshot or something, but any tip will be appreciated.
Thanks for the nice words, Iqbal! Yes, a screenshot, or even sharing your project file, would be best. It’s very hard to tell what’s going on without it. ALso, Natron can be a bit buggy, so it may be a problem with the program. Something you can try is opening up 2 instances of Natron, one of your project your working on, and another one that is an empty, new project. Try to create a constant in the new empty project that is the color you need, then copy and paste it into your other project. Strangely, that kind of thing works for me sometimes.
I’ve also run into a situation that puzzled me about an alpha channel coming out of a node and when I toggled the alpha channel on and back off (or off and back on, I can’t remember) it worked as expected. Somehow the node had lost track of the state of the channels.
Absolutely, my pleasure!
Really a very good tutorial. Documentation on Natron is still scarce, even in the official site. To those who never heard about compositing and about Natron, it is simply perfect. Thank you for your help.
My pleasure! Glad you found it useful!
Thanks so much for this tutorial. Wonderful! I watched your amazing, warm talk at Blendercon 2017, which pointed to this site and said, man I want to hear more from him. Was not disappointed.
I’ve used Nuke a bit in the past and as you were going through the tutorial, I tried to guess what you were going to do next, and I have to say I was often pleasantly surprised with your approach. Which got me thinking: to what degree is this your personal preference and to what degree is it the Nuke Way? Not sure how you’d answer that, exactly, but I’m curious.
For example, I imagine the straight B-line is just the way Nuke folks work. Maybe because disabling a node shunts the B through, and maybe just because jumping into a production requires some level of being able to pick it up quickly so the B-line makes sense in a couple of ways.
Similarly, when I walked through the tutorial using Resolve 16, it was very similar but different enough that I read through their documentation a few times and it seems they have a Stabilize/Unstablize approach to match moving. Which is sort of appealing on the wall: stabilize the wall, do the window painting, the big painting, the graffiti all on the stabile image, then unstable everything back out, rather than maybe transforming each thing individually.
A little of your thinking on that kind of thing would be fascinating!
Thanks for the nice words, Wayne!
I think this tutorial series is a bit of a mix of the way Nuke inherently works and my own way of working. The B-line you mention, in fact, is an ideal way to work, and when you inherit a project from another artist on your team, allows you to very quickly figure out what’s going where and what nodes are doing what. Unfortunately, not everyone sticks to this workflow.
Another example is the “invert” check box for a mask input on nodes. To use it is a bit cleaner and easier, and keeps invert nodes out of your script, but if you hand that script off to another artist for whatever reason, they may be confused for a while as to why a matte looks a certain way, but when plugged into that node is getting inverted. We don’t always remember to look at that little tiny checkbox. So I use Invert nodes whenever I need to, so other artists can easily see what’s happening in my scripts.
The Stabilize/Unstabilize technique is great for some things. I don’t use it too often, but one of my favorite ways to use it is for rotoscoping. Like if something is moving around a lot and you have to roto every frame of it, it may be easier to stabilize that thing, roto like that, then do the unstabilize. But you’re right, it would work pretty good for this particular tutorial, as well! You’d still have to roto the people that cross in front of it on the original footage though. I don’t think Stabilize/Unstabilize would help with that task very much.
I love that you’ve thought about why I was working this way and about other techniques to accomplish the same end result!
Awesome tutorial, the Blendercon 2017 brought me here. Always wanted to learn compositing with nuke but the software is too expensive for me at the moment.
I follow this tutorial step by step and i’m already stuck at the part 1. I don’t know why but when I add the Shuffle node between the roto paint and the frame hold node i got a black screen. This shuffle node ruined all my progress lol. I don’t know what i’m am doing wrong. It’s the first time i’m trying to learn a node base compositing software so i’m a little clumsy.
Could you please help me with this and show me what am I doing wrong ?
Thank you for your time!
Glad you’re liking it, and sorry you got stuck so early! There’s a couple things it could be, but it’s tough to say for sure without seeing your project. Some things to try:
– Make sure the roto node is plugged into the A input of the shuffle node, not the B
– Make sure your FrameHold is set to the correct frame number
After that, are you still having the problem?
Actually, make sure it’s plugged into the B of the shuffle. In the controls of the shuffle node, you’ll see R, G, and B, should all be set to B.Color.R, B.Color.G, and B.Color.B. If you plug into the A of the shuffle node, just switch those to say A.Color.R, etc.
Thank you so much Sean it works!
I understand what I was doing wrong, very well explained. I can’t thank you enough. I am so grateful that you have take your time to help me with this. That said… I have one more problem 🙁 🙁 🙁
Now i’m in part 2, when trying to use the blue channel as a matte for hiding the mural. As always, I follow every step but I can’t have the same result as you. Here is a picture of my project and my result. https://ibb.co/n8Sx71z. You can see that it has affect the color of the shot very badly. I’m clueless again and stuck here. I absolutely don’t know what i am doing wrong.
Thank you again to help us. I’m sure it will help a lot of people like me who are trying to complete this tutorial and are new to the software.
Hard to tell without seeing how some of the node are set, but you definitely need to get Merge3 organized a bit. Plug the B line into Merge2, and the A line into the mural stuff, with nothing going into A2 or A3. I suspect something is going wrong in that Shuffle3 or the Grade node right after it. When you view that Grade node and look at the alpha channel in your viewer, it should be a nice black and white image, right?
hello sir in natron i found out a problem that shuffle node is not working, can you give me some solution?
Hi there, Adinath! You would have to show me a bit more of a detailed description or screenshots for me to be able to help. Feel free to use the Contact Me page if you want to send me something!
Is it possible to track mask for rotoscoping?
Yes, the easiest way is to simply create a matchmove transform node from a track, then place that after your roto node. 🙂
Can I track mask for rotoscoping?