Foundry’s Katana 4.0
Late last year, Foundry released the 4.0 version of its look development/scene assembly/lighting tool Katana. Within that release are some substantial improvements in workflow and efficiency, but none more important (in my opinion), than the UX for lighting artists.
The new Lighting Tools function within the Hydra viewport dramatically increased productivity for look development and lighting. Within the viewport, you get progressive render feedback as you make changes. This isn’t anything new, but the way you make the changes is. Now, through click and gestures (which definitely is optimized for Wacom tablets), you can place and adjust lights. Clicking the surface of the model, you create a light based on how you want it to act on the surface at that point.
In the Katana 4.0 workflow, you click on the surface that you want illuminated — and that could be where you want the light, or a specular kick, or a reflection, or even how you want the shadow to land. Then, the light is created pointed at that spot. Through some modifier keys and pen gestures, you can move the light closer or further away, because as all cinematographers know, the proximity of the light is one factor for how bright it is, due to exponential falloff. Or, again with a gesture, scale the light up or down — which will modify the intensity and the softness of shadows.
You also have a floating interface within the Hydra Viewer of the most critical parameters of the light you have selected — or all the lights. There is a default set, but you can show more or fewer parameters if you want. The major point is that everything you need to make your lighting adjustments is right there at your fingertips.
Since progressive rendering is what this is all about — the fast iterative nature of lighting — Katana 4.0 can render multiple preview renders at the same time. So, you can launch a preview with parameters, the computer can chew on that image while you move on to make a new iteration. In earlier versions, you’d have to wait until that first image was done (or you cancelled it) before you began working again. This is optimized further through Katana Queue, where you can tap into a render farm for your preview renders as well as your own workstation.
There are many more advances in the way items are organized and displayed in the catalog, USD utilization, and how the network material nodes can be iterated, spawn children and shared with other artists. But it’s the aforementioned workflow and UX changes for the artists that get me the most excited. I totally encourage the update because this version is pretty darn robust!
Pricing by request
Boris FX’s Mocha Pro 2021
Last year, I was working on a project where I had to insert photos into a book where the pages were bending and distorting. It was a tracking nightmare where planar tracks weren’t going to do it, and Nuke’s vectors didn’t work either because of reflections moving across the pages. I sure could have used Mocha Pro 2021 way back in 2020!
The latest Mocha Pro now has a mesh warp tracker, called PowerMesh, for those crazy situations as mentioned above. Also, my problem wasn’t even as heinous as some. At least my photos were relatively stable — it wasn’t like a tattoo on skin, or a logo on a t-shirt, or a rip in some blowing curtains. These are the situations where PowerMesh shines.
As a sub-process, PowerMesh works underneath the primary planar tracker for added efficiency as it utilizes the gross movement to drive the wrap track. This makes it faster than transitional optical flow processes. Once planar tracked, you can choose between two approaches: automatic and uniform. Automatic mode analyzes areas of contrast to identify useful areas to track, while uniform mode creates a uniformly dense mesh over the entire surface. Further, you can control the mesh track points manually to inform Mocha Pro what you want tracked, and by adding points, you can add detail and density to the mesh. And because the mesh warp is calculated under the planar, you can use a smooth parameter to tell Mocha Pro how locked or loose you want the mesh warp in relation to the planar track.
The mesh warp data is not just for tracking stuff onto other things. It can also be used to assist in rotoscoping highly deformable objects as well as completely stabilizing the deformed surface to make patching and decaling much easier. And while all of this data (tracks and mattes) can be exported to host programs outside of Mocha Pro (as it always has), Boris FX has upped the ante by allowing you to export the mesh data into a 3D animated alembic file. The alembic file retains UV maps based on the frame you decide on, so your tracked element will stick to your footage as seen through the provided camera. This is extremely useful if you need to add fancy 3D things like new lighting or proper reflections.
I should also mention that Boris FX has bolstered the AdjustTrack features, to make fixing finicky, drifting tracks way easier. By adding a layer to the primary track, artists can make interpolated keyframes to shore up the track. But more important, you can add additional control points within the boundaries of the planar track to aid the points of the plane that might have gotten lost when it was occluded or lost in motion blur. Moving and nudging points creates adjustments to all points to keep things nice and smooth.
In addition, for the techy techs out there, Boris FX has brought over Python from the standalone Mocha Pro into the plugin version so that custom tools will be available to use or create from within the host software.
Price: $37 (per month), $297 (per year)
Todd Sheridan Perry is an award-winning VFX supervisor and digital artist whose credits include Black Panther, Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Christmas Chronicles. You can reach him a firstname.lastname@example.org.