Natron 1.0 brings free VFX compositing to Linux, Windows, Mac users

The great free/libre VFX compositing curse might as well be over: Natron v1.0 has just been released and features more stable core, better UI, and a handful of new nodes.

Natron has a rather solid foundation: OpenFX-focused processing in a 32bit float linear color pipeline, OpenColorIO-based color management, OpenImageIO-based support for DPX, EXR, TIFF, PNG etc.

The project is still maintained by just two developers, hence it’s still somewhat fragile. And yet, so far its development is going strong. The quick list of new features is:

  • much lower RAM footprint thanks to improved caching strategy;
  • new HSVTool node for color grading in HSV or color replacement, new HSVToRGB and RGBToHSV nodes;
  • new Saturation node to adjust just the color saturation;
  • new DiskCache node for caching a branch of a compositing tree to disk;
  • tracking is threaded now to deliver better performance.

For the full list of changes head over to release notes.

We asked Alexandre Gauthier and Stephane Ribas for comments regarding their experience working with the free software community and their future plans for the project.

What’s your impression of community’s involvement with the project?

Things have been moving at a crazy pace since we released the first beta build of Natron. We doubled the code base since then and fixed hundreds of bugs. We reached a point where there are more feature requests than what we can handle, and we just stack ‘em up for future work!

The real game changer for us was the introduction of the snapshots system, that is, an automatic build system which makes a new version of Natron at each commit we make on GitHub. 10 minutes after a change, users can download the update and test it.

This had quiet a success as for people this enable them to use the last stuff we’ve written and for us it avoids the very lengthy process of making a new “release” just for testing a particular feature. At some point it went crazy: we didn’t even finished implementing a feature, and people were already reporting bugs :)

That said, we haven’t got many contributions of code so far. The whole Linux distributions system has been made by Ole Andre Rodlie, but we still remain two active maintainers of Natron.

On the plug-in side, there are several developers, but people don’t have to submit any pull request to make a new plug-in, that’s the whole point of using OpenFX.

On the other hand, we had several contributions of artists and designers which help us a lot regarding the design of the application (the “look”).

Anybody in particular?

Sure, Jean-Christophe Levet joined us and is now officially proposing designs, icons, web-site content, and artistic work for Natron.

I don’t want to break the surprise here, but we’ve a lot in mind to get a fresh new look to the UI and to the look & feel to match what applications look like nowadays on Mac OS X Yosemite. However, any ETA on this is not possible as we’re really busy doing other things right now, so it could be in 2 months as well as in 6 months.

Wait, earlier you deliberately designed the UI after Nuke. What’s the idea behind the redesign? What would it fix, exactly?

We love Nuke’s user interface, but we feel, and the community feels, that today some applications have a better look & feel which makes the current standard in compositing look like a scripting application, and that is not very appealing. We do not want to redesign the whole layout — just the look & feel, to make it more flat and readable.

What about producing commercial and advanced amateur quality work with Natron? Have you got any notable showcases for the project?

We do get reports from people who say they successfully managed to produce commercial or amateur work with Natron, and that they are very pleased to be able to use a 100% free and open-source pipeline. Unfortunately we’re not allowed yet to showcase videos produced with Natron, but we will soon be, and will post that on our webpage.

Is anybody helping you to grow the professional community?

Francois “Coyot” Grassard, VFX & CG artist, teacher and Blender master joined us in the core team. He’s promoting Natron across different conferences (RMLL, BUG) and teaches using Natron during a few courses at ATI — a school dedicated to arts & technologies around imaging.

What things are you going to focus on beyond the usual bugfix routine now that v1.0 is out?

Some of the things we’ve already been working on for a while are optical flow nodes (motion vectors generator, motion blur, retiming, rolling shutter) and full Python 3 scripting integration. The scriptable features will be:

  • parameters expressions;
  • user-defined parameters;
  • node groups (same as gizmos in Nuke);
  • scripts editor to globally control the application
  • user-defined Python callbacks to respond to particular checkpoints of the internals of the software (change of a parameter, before rendering a frame, etc…)
  • integration of PySide into the GUI, so that the interface will be extensible with new menus and windows.

Other things we’ve been working on are natural matting node, deep data implementation, and G’MIC integration. And the aforementioned GUI revamp, of course.

We have a plan for two more features, although we don’t have an estimated time of arrival for them yet: dope sheet for motion editing (much like timeline in After Effects) and CUDA integration.

Natron 1.0 is available for both Linux, Windows, and Mac users. Download it here.