The Hills are Alive
This has been one of my favorite projects. For quite some time, I've been on the fence as far as using Nuke; but , after this project, I think that I've fallen in love.
It takes a bit of energy to get used to using a node-based compositor, but I've finally realized how powerful such a UI can been when working with more complicated shots. In some respects, After Effects can be a nightmare when trying to organize large projects on multiple layers. With a node based approach, I'm able to see the big picture.
For the composition above, the scene was stitched together utilizing multiple reference photos and the beauty of masking layers in Photoshop.
Here is a rough sketch of how I wanted the composition to turn out. Notice the differences in the shading for the set elements. The mountains further back in the background are lightly shaded to denote distance. The darker elements are closer to the foreground.
Once all the reference photos had been masked and set in place within Photoshop. I saved each photo as a Tiff file (in order to be recognized in Nuke) as well as saving the Alpha channel of each image as a separate file in order to have the opportunity to make adjustments in Nuke.
Once in Nuke, I dropped each individual Tiff file into the Nuke's Node Graph and attached a Card node to each individual image. Once all of the images had Card nodes attached, I created a Scene node for all of the Card nodes to be attached. I then created a Camera & Scanline Renderer node, and linked them up in a way that all the environmental pieces were visible in the viewer. Here is a screenshot of the final node graph:
With the cards in place, I had to arrange all the individual elements in the 3D viewer in order to resemble the Orthographic view I had in mind in photoshop as well as give it a sense of depth.
While arranging the cards, I had to be mindful not to have cards intersect with one another on the Z-plane. With everything in place, all the cards in the background and foreground had to be color corrected in order to make sure all elements fit into the scene. In order to pull this off, each card was given a color correct and/or a grade node to make adjustments in the saturation and white point properties. Once that was complete, the camera was animated in a way to give a panning shot as well as give the semblance of parallax.
For the camera's final frame, I left a little space below the visible scene, so I would later on have room to insert animated grass (via C4D) into the scene.
If you look at the images below, these are screen shots of the grass as they were created utilizing C4D's Hair Simulation tools. Adjustments had to be made in the properties in order for the 'hair' to simulate grass behavior rather than typical hair behavior. Also, in order to give the impression that wind was blowing over the grass, turbulence was added.
After the grass animation was complete, it was rendered out as as Tiff sequence with a separate alpha channel. This sequence was later imported into Nuke to be placed in the foreground. See below:
If you look at the screenshots above, multiple copies of the grass animation were created within Nuke. In order to create the illusion of depth, some grass pieces were placed closer to the camera than others. Also, I made sure not to overlap grass pieces since that would lead to flickering in the animation.
Once all the grass pieces were set in place, two noise nodes were created to give the illusion of fog. One noise layer was place over the mountains and keyframed in order to animate the movement. The other noise node was set in front of the foreground elements, but behind the grass. This node has its own animation. To close things off - the green foreground elements were color corrected and two windmills (created in After Effects) were placed within the scene. An offset node was placed over one of the windmills, so it would not move at the same time as the other.