Shake 3.5 full review

Shake 3.5 is the newest version of the award-winning compositing suite, with a bunch of new features and a new, much lower price tag. For the past few years, leading visual-effects facilities around the world have been deploying Shake as the main film-compositing software for high-profile projects such as Men in Black and Matrix Revolutions, along with over 80 other films shown in cinemas. Compositing artists such as London-based Jonathan Fawkner and Gavin Toomey, best known for their work on Harry Potter, used Shake’s magic to craft scenes that are impossible in the physical world.

Apple obtained Shake with the acquisition of Nothing Real on February 6, 2002. At the time, the software was available only for Irix, Windows and Linux. Apple discontinued the Windows version right away, completed the port to Mac OS X, and introduced a new pricing policy making the Mac version the most desirable. Shake 3.5 now supports only two operating environments: OS X and Linux. The Linux version is much more expensive and lacks some of the features of the Mac edition such as audio playback (justified perhaps by the non-availability of QuickTime for Linux).

Shake 3.5 still welcomes you with the futuristic looks of an Irix application. The program features a unique user interface that at first makes you wonder where your files are and how to access them (FileIn from the Image tab). Only the Aqua window controls indicate the operating system. Apple apparently tried to win the hearts of existing users by maintaining the original look and feel. Sooner or later, Shake will probably morph more and more into a Mac-like app.

Rather than make users mess around with layers and keyframes, Shake can build logic designs of compositions in a process-tree, allowing for the most complex image manipulation to take place in real-time. Effects are represented by the nodes of the process tree. They can be previewed separately and edited at any time without restrictions. Under the hood, Shake performs scripted data manipulation and translates the process tree into a script file.

Shake 3.5 introduces new Warper and Morpher nodes not unlike those used by the RotoShape node, but with new, amazing results. These two new nodes, located in the Warp tab, allow for shapes to be drawn in the Viewer, be attached to the video, and control the transformation. The Warper node performs deformations that alter the shape of a subject. Morpher calculates the transformation of a subject changing its shape.

Each shape in a RotoShape, Warper or Morpher node can be identified by its numerical ID displayed in the Viewer and in corresponding menus. You can now copy entire shapes or their fragments between RotoShape, Warper, and Morpher nodes. Several parameters in the Globals tab allow a certain degree of customization of Shake‘s shape-drawing and shape-transform behaviours.

Nips and tucks

Apple has also improved many existing features. Each shape‘s transform control will no longer affect other shapes, no matter if control points on other shapes are selected or not. Manipulating the control while holding down the Shift key will no longer influence the entire shape – only its selected points. Holding 1 or Ctrl while dragging the centre of a transform control will move it in relation to the corresponding shape. This adds some extra precision, which in the end may account for precious time savings.

To finalize a project, a rendering process can be set-up in Qmaster (a batch-processing front-end to Shake‘s rendering engine). Shake 3.5 can also arrange clusters with its easy-to-use administration software Qadministrator, and to take advantage of unlimited network rendering on Mac OS X v10.3. This is a real advantage given that Shake’s engine also renders Maya projects (For a recent review on Maya 6.0 Complete, see Macworld July 2004, pages 50-51).

Other advancements include the now superior handling of QuickTime clips with a colour depth exceeding 8 bit. The new version also brings improved support for Apple Uncompressed 8- and 10-bit 4:2:2 codecs. (Apple recommends these codecs for highest quality when generating video output via the FileOut node.) A rewritten, more predictable caching logic contributes to a more reliable playback.

Shake has been the product of choice for the winners of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for the last seven consecutive years, including Lord of the Rings trilogy.

With each release of Shake, Apple made this high-end compositing box of tricks more affordable. Aiming to tap into broader demand, Apple has at least threatened to make significant inroads into the market share of Adobe‘s After Effects fortress. After Effects does not yet support running a job across a group of computers, a feature Shake 3.5 excels at. To provide similar functionality, Adobe plans to bundle a plug-in from GridIron Software, an Ottawa-based developer of grid-computing solutions, with an upcoming version of After Effects Professional.

Apple‘s Motion, a low-cost real-time motion effects application scheduled to ship in the summer, is supposed to fill the gap Adobe once tried to address with LiveMotion, Web animation software that the company discontinued some time ago. With Shake on the high-end of its motion-effects product line and Motion priced significantly below After Effects and addressing some of the same issues, Apple is certainly on the best way to providing two viable and very different alternatives to the complexity of Adobe After Effects.

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