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How to Create a Set Extension in Nuke


This is a simple, straight forward guide on how to plan and create a set extension inside Foundry’s Nuke, from concept to composite. The scope of this is mainly give a overall idea, taking care not to go too deep on any particularity of the shot. It is very intuitive but nonetheless requires attention to a few imperative details.

Set extensions are often really fun to work with for their relatively wide creative freedom in look development and experimentation, however, it does require dedicated time to research, iterate and for color matching.

This project is particularly interesting due to the location we filmed and costumes chosen by the Directors (Mark and Ria Benard), conceiving a very “Viking” shot. Likewise, there are plenty of props and spots of interest in the frame which can be used artistically for composition.

There are, of course, many ways one could approach a shot like this. Personally, Instead of 3d modelling something, I decided to research reference images and blend them elements, transforming, recoloring and relighting them.


Before actually starting googling anything, it’s good to sketch a simple frame with the paint and text node to highlight points of interest and observations. This will help save time along the way, and will serve as guide to what particular look to research elements for. It is also a quick and productive way of sharing your ideas with your team.



Let’s start by putting it into context. My job was to paint in another level of stones above the existing structure, extend the set on the Upper Right Screen corner above that, Paint Out the rope on the tree, a bypasser appearing through the vegetation, the open end of the tunnel so the structure appear as deeper, and naturally, look develop the scene.

Roto and Paint

In this particular workflow, I decided to denoise the plate, work on it, and then just match the noise on patches merged back, keeping the original plate and noise as much as possible.

The roto was straight forward but a bit tricky due to the fine details of the leaves and for the characters colors were relatively close to background’s. I’ve faked the motion blur by extending the edges and time-blurring the ​matte before premultiplying.

eduardo-bivar-23Since the plate provided plenty of areas of organic variation, the paint work was relatively simple and forgiven to a level, and I could get away mainly holding a reference frame, painting on it, premultiplying, tracking in and morphing with a ​gridwarp.


For matchmoving, I’ve used Nuke’s camera tracking, masking out the characters on scene, and after the camera stops, switched to a 2d tracker – to get rid of the jittering. The Camera track generated pretty solid 3D Scene and accurate lens distortion, which It was handy for matching the element to the camera’s rotation and movement.


Research and Development

After Roto, Paint and Matchmoving done, that’s when I went ahead and begun the actual search. Considering all we are able to do just by painting and grading our element, a few other things had to keep in mind while looking for images in order for them to share a contextual relationship and be visually compostable as well:

– Matching vantage point: In this case, camera is at a lower ground looking up. So our element should also have this particularity, at least to a certain degree. Also paying attention to transformability. In this case, I’ve mirrored and distorted the image a bit.

– Resolution and color space: It’s not imperative it to be super huge resolution. Ideally it should be the same or higher than original. If the resolution is not considerably lower, you may get away with some filtering, and we could match levels later on.

– Related to the Viking Age: Got to be related but just to a certain degree, enough so elements don’t look out of place or time.

– Add production value to the shot: Probably if it is too little of a change, it’d be better to don’t touch the plate at all, the element should bring additive aspect to the shot.

The keywords used to search were “Ruins” “Stone” “Moss” “Viking” and a few iterations of these words, and filtered by resolution size “>1600 x 1200”.

Reference Analysis

After considerations and iterations, I’ve made up my mind. Ideally, search for an image that fits contextually and visually as much as possible.

Picture A ​is a very neat photograph, but focal length seemed to be non matching, and transforming/distorting i felt it would just don’t look convincing or take to much time; the tree also don’t see to geographically match those at the location we filmed.

Pictures B and C ​have a “bricky” structure, rather than the Large Stones present on the original. It would be highly unlikely to see these two construction techniques in the same edifice.

Picture D was on an relatively matching point of view and the focal length feels more or less close to plate’s. The parallel highlights on the stairs would help sell the shot, when corresponding to the plate’s structure. The issue with this one is that there’s a “Buddhist” carving on the side pillars, which would render the scene logically impossible – Vikings didn’t share time or place with those kinds of ruins.

Set extensions are often really fun to work with for their relatively wide creative freedom in look development and experimentation, however, it does require dedicated time to research, iterate and for color matching.

So I deposited my faith over Picture D, remembering to redesign the themed carving on the pillars into a more contextually logical element. Shortly after, I found a Celtic Carving that felt suitable. It was surprisingly working right out of the box, and it required little time blending it.


Set Extension Integration

First things first, let’s clone paint and raise that extra level on the stone structure. Use additional paint to get rid of any unwanted symmetry or evident repeated pattern patches and taking care to match the shadows on the columns according to the natural light source.


Now, flowing within integrational phase, I begun matching colors, highlights, levels and wearing (erosion and moss) and transforming it into place. In this moment I tried to replicate the natural curvature of the structure, by morphing the element round, matching the curved stair rungs lines to the structures top edge, matching focus and time blurring the motion.

Last thing would be to merge the premultiplied element over the B-Pipe, and before incorporating that we should Plus a bleeding luminescence from the Background, light wrapping our element. By this point, we’ve composited our primary task; so let’s move on to the supplementary additional elements that will assist blending everything into a coherent final composite.

Supplementary Elements

Again, I reserved some time for development. Closer observing the plate and the characters acting, I’ve imagined this scene as a “coming back” from a battle. So I kept these in mind while researching:

– Add signs of battle to the set. (arrows / blood)

– Add a more evident Viking nuance. (carving on foreground rock / greenscreen viking).

– Roto vegetation, add branches, leaves and their shadows over the main element.

– Smoke beaker coming down the stairs matching the practical smoke on set.

– Moss on key areas.

These are the elements I’ve ended up sticking with.

It’s not the scope of this guide to exhaust the technicalities for blending each element, so again, I’ll try to be as concise as possible going through each. I’ll start by saying the obvious: Match black & white levels for all elements.

– The green screen footage didn’t require a very thoroughly matte extraction. I’ve just used a simple ​Ultimatte. The defocus matching would help blending its edge in. Note that this time, before combining our elements, the light wrap involving our green screen comes from the bleeding of our main element, not the background. The main element light wrap, as already stated, will be later blent before merging to the B-Pipe. It also helped sell the shot to simulate the green screen actors shadow cast over the element. For that, I just used its alpha to mask a color correction, and transformed it so it looked perspectively coherent.

– The smoke beaker element was keyed with ​Luma Keyer​ for its white over black. The quality of the footage wasn’t the best one, but I managed to get away with just some filtering. I had to duplicated a few times on different rungs as well as in the structure’s edge.

– The carve on the rock required a bit of work. A saturation keyer was used to extract the design of the carving. It was filtered with with a Matrix node (diagonally), to simulate the engrave bevel.

– The arrow just needed simple roto, and focus and color matching. And also added a bit of damage to the tree where the arrows are craved, and light wrapped.

– The moss came with an alpha, so I only spent time on color matching and cutting reference pieces.

– Furthermore, because it was on the center of the screen, against a bright area and over our main element, I opted for adding an extra element for the “branch and leaves”, rather than rotoscoping or painting, the plate’s back on top of our set extension. It required a bit of color as well as focus matching, not forgetting the light bleeding.

eduardo-bivar-13Above, I’ve used the branches alpha to simulate the shadows over the stairs. I used a ​difference node​ between our denoised plate and our final output. I took care to crank its gain up so it outputs a hard edge solid matte (a soft edge will introduce double grain). Using an ​alpha, i added noise to the specific areas we’ve changed in the plate. After adding the noise, I used the difference matte to premultiply the renoised elements over our original grained plate.


Lenses Artefacts and Final Grading

Apart from the camera ​sensor, this is the last light interaction we’ll integrate. Essentially, lenses contain a variety of artefacts that affect images. For example, when a lens is directed at a strong light source, a whitish flare is produced. When unneeded light reflects off the lens surface and mirror frame, ghosting occurs. Additionally, the lens’ natural surface causes some degree of image distortion and artefacts such as chromatic bleeding.

On this particular shot, our director managed to get this sweet looking lens flare. I just had to mimic it over our elements, and enhance it just enough.


Final touches would be add in volumetric rays, to make the shot a bit more ​dreamy and cinematic. Luma-keyed to mask and extract final details of the trees, branches and leaves overlaying the bright sky.


Very last thing was a final grading. For this I used Nuke’s grade node, and just tried to experiment as much as my deadline permitted. When the time to render the final came, It was just a matter of getting a final look to it.

I hope this proves useful and serves a few fresh artists out there. Please, I’d be very happy to receive feedback and criticism over this. Thanks a lot and remember: Have fun while compositing! 🙂

Author: Eduardo Bivar

Eduardo Bivar is a Visual Effects compositor residing and working in Canada, Vancouver - British Columbia. Was born on June 1st, 1983, in Brazil. Began his visual effects career in 2010 as Art Director and founder of an Architectural Visualization Studio. In 2015, moved to Canada to further develop skills through feature films pipelines. Graduated with honors and started working in great productions such as Blade Runner 2049 (Ridley Scott), Annihilation (Alex Garland's adaptation of Jeff Vandermeer's novel), The Mummy, among others.

1 Comment

  1. jolene jolly
    September 22, 2017 at 6:33 am ·

    This was a great overview and really helpful! Thanks for sharing!

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