Pulling a chroma key with Autodesk Smoke

Pulling a chroma key with Autodesk Smoke

Date: June 2013
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When I found myself wanting to pull my first key on some green screen sequence I was wondering what would the best way to get there. What would be the best green screen software to execute this? We often find tons of stuff online when it comes to chroma key compositing, or chroma keying. But when it comes to execute such visual effect and make it looks realistic, choosing a VFX software is a tricky step. I went for Autodesk Smoke mainly because I had heard for years that these guys had some of the best keyers on the market.

My best friends soon became Google and the various Autodesk portals and tutorial videos, which are a goldmine of free information. I felt like I needed to aggregate the various links in one page so that I can refer to it later on for some future work.
The 2013 release saw the birth of the new Smoke, new UI, new NLE functionality, and with that, new tutorial videos. Some pre-2013 videos are also still available and remain very useful when a particular detail of a specific action is approached in a slightly different way, showing things under a different angle. I'll list on this page what was particularly useful to me for what I needed to accomplish.

A quick look at the various keyers
Brian Mulligan goes over all the key nodes in this breakdown of the keyers so you can better decide which is best for your next project.
Smoke ConnectFX: The Keyer Nodes

There is also obviously the Autodesk Smoke online help that goes into the details of chroma keying and working with green screens. A lot of text explaining how to setup your media and the nodes in order to key your footage with the Modular Keyer.
Chroma Keying and Working with Green Screens

The chroma key tutorial videos
The absolute gold mine of information to me was this video from Ken Larue.
It's quite long, 49 minutes, but I found almost everything I needed to know in there for complicated keys. And when you'll find yourself working on such key, you'll likely enjoy having this resource handy. I watched some sections several times since sometimes because I was always catching a detail I had missed in a previous viewing.
This green screen tutorial was put together for a VFX challenge, and even though it is hosted by the Autodesk YouTube channel, not the Smoke Learning Channel, to me, it was more complete than what I could find on the Smoke Learning Channel tutorials at the time, where tutorials often focus on one specific node or effect, and are shorter to watch.

Here's the result I came up with. I had never touched Smoke before that exercise, nor had I even tried to key anything before. This was quite an extreme first attempt, but to me it shows how approachable Smoke can be for new users and VFX beginners.

Here's what the Smoke guru Brian Mulligan produced. Nicely color corrected and finished. Also I dont't know if it's due to the YouTube recompression or to my screw up, but it looks way crisper.

Here is a series of shorter Smoke 2013 tutorials from Grant Kay, each one focusing on a specific part of the workflow with various levels of difficulty. Grant's tutorial are short, thorough and really efficient. These were published a few months later and should cover all the pieces covered in the longer tutorial above.

The Modular Keyer
Part 1

The Modular Keyer
Part 2
Basic Example

The Modular Keyer
Part 3
Dealing with a challenging key

The Modular Keyer
Part 4
The Matte Blend Node

The Modular Keyer
Part 5
Colours, Edge and Pixel Spread

The Modular Keyer
Part 6
Workflow 'Gotchas'!


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