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Natron: Open-source compositing software for Mac, Windows and Linux (natron.fr)
256 points by based2 on June 25, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

I'm a compositor & motion graphics artist. I've never used Natron, but I've done a lot of compositing in After Effects and a little bit of compositing in Nuke (which is the industry standard for photorealistic vfx compositing). Another free compositing option is BlackMagic Fusion [0]. Fusion is a node based compositor, like Natron and Nuke. Fusion has a free version that has a few restrictions and a paid version that is $1,000.

I've always been surprised that open source software like Blender and Natron has not really caught on at studios. Nuke licenses cost between $4,000 and $8,000 per seat, plus a maintenance cost of over $1,000 per year per seat. These cost add up very quickly and vfx jobs even at big studios generally end up having a razor thin profit margin of 3-5% [1][2] So it's strange that these vfx studios haven't embraced open source software to cut costs.

[0] https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/fusion

[1] https://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/about/

[2] http://www.ew.com/article/2013/04/05/peter-jackson-hollywood...

As someone who works in the industry developing software, it's because for the high-end VFX studios, software like Blender and Natron just don't cut it in terms of efficiency, power and flexibility.

Artist time costs more money than software licenses do, and as the open source software isn't generally good enough for their needs, using better off-the-shelf software that have fairly decent and flexible plugin APIs is good enough for them.

A lot of the code VFX studios have is proprietary (as in unique to the individual studio who wrote it) plugins for host apps like Maya, Katana and Nuke, and shaders/integrators for renderers like PRMan and Arnold.

There are open source projects that are used for glue in the VFX industry:

https://github.com/alembic/alembic https://github.com/PixarAnimationStudios/OpenSubdiv https://github.com/imageworks/OpenShadingLanguage https://github.com/ImageEngine/gaffer https://github.com/dreamworksanimation/openvdb https://github.com/openexr/openexr

But these have almost exclusively been internal proprietary projects started within studios that have been open-sourced, to help transfer assets between studios, and are mostly open file formats for images, volumes and geometry, as well as other intermediate tooling.

I guess I've just always been a little surprised that studios didn't open source more of their internal software. For example, Nuke was originally internal software at Digital Domain before they sold it to The Foundry, I believe. Rhythm & Hues also has a lot of its own internal compositing and 3D applications. And Pixar's Renderman software is also not open source (I know some aspects of Renderman are open source, but the actual Pixar Renderman software is not open source). It just surprises me that more of these internal applications didn't get open sourced. Blender is a good example of one that did. While I'm sure these studios were getting an edge by having their own software in the early days of cg, now I would think the studios would actually benefit more by open sourcing their apps so that other developers can contribute to the project. And the studios that make this software might be able to cut back on their dev teams. Just something I've always wondered about.

But having their own software still gives them an edge - that's why some companies are actually going the other way entirely - like Weta writing Manuka renderer and Animal Logic writing their Glimpse renderer. It allows them to iterate extremely quickly on-depand for shows that have issues and design things properly, instead of shoe-horning existing (and often badly designed and implemented) open source software that can do simple stuff, but wasn't designed with full flexibility in mind.

Different pipelines work in completely different ways, and what works for one studio doesn't necessarily work well for another.

However, I do agree in principle that given a clean start (Which is never going to happen given the hundreds of thousands of lines of code VFX studios have in plugins for proprietary systems) it would make sense for all VFX studios to share a loose framework application that very flexible and advanced plugins can be written for. Image Engine's Gaffer is probably the best fit currently. In some respects it looks like Fabric Engine might at some point fit this bill, however it's not open.

> I've always been surprised that open source software like Blender and Natron has not really caught on at studios.

Natron wasn't really even a usable piece of software until maybe a few months ago. It's making great progress, but at this point I think it's still reasonable to be nervous about relying on it for commercial work.

I think Blender is somewhat used in big studios, although mostly for its core strength of 3d modelling. Blender's compositor suffers from a lack of any kind of plug in option, so there are many things you can do in Nuke / Natron that are just impossible in Blender's compositor. It's nice to have it there, but it's not really a competitor for Nuke.

I think it is the accumulation of people not wanting to learn something new (fear of the unknown), managers not knowing about it (misaligned agendas) and executives wanting the peace of mind of knowing the job will be done (because it has been done the same way many times over).

Same reasons many things in technology remain prevalent when they're the worst possible tools (allow me to only name PHP to avoid a useless war).

Yeah, a lot of it comes down to network effects. Studios have to ramp up staff quickly, so they need to be able to find freelancers that already know the software they are using. So the studios have to use the "industry standard" software, unless they want to train artists, which wouldn't make sense since they are constantly ramping up and down their freelancer workforce. The Foundry (makers of Nuke) are surely making a tidy sum off of this situation.

> So it's strange that these vfx studios haven't embraced open source software to cut costs.

Open source is pervasive at visual effects studios. I'm not sure where you're getting your information.

Also, studios don't pay anywhere close to list price for Nuke licenses. That's for the little guys.

Linux is definitely used often at studios. But I don't know of any studios in Los Angeles using Blender as their primary 3D animation application. Alembic gets used, but that's basically "glue" as another poster pointed out. Do you mean Linux when you say that OSS is pervasive at studios?

For those of you like me that don't know much about video editing and you're curious what compositing is, here's an article: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/compositing-video.html

This article is nice, but it's missing discussion of a key component which is painfully obvious in the composited image: you have to match the lighting on your subject with how it would look in the actual scene.

You can do this digitally (as part of color grading), but the ideal solution is to do it IRL with light color. Especially if you're shooting with a consumer grade camera and have to live with the severely limited colorspace headroom.

Natron was a mixture of salt and baking soda that egyptians used to extract moisture out of the body during mummification. Perhaps in this context means extracting out relevant parts of the video for superimposition; just a guess.

Thanks, because nothing on the homepage made sense to me!

As I understand it, this is basically an open source clone of The Foundry's Nuke software. Nuke is used widely in the VFX industry -- probably the dominant software in its niche.

I'm not knocking the effort it takes to clone its GUI, plugin API (OpenFX [0]), or basic plugins. But I'll also point out as an alternative that The Foundry offers a free non-commercial version of Nuke [1].

[0] http://openfx.sourceforge.net/

[1] https://www.thefoundry.co.uk/products/non-commercial/

The non-commercial version is a crippled trialware. Also you will get bitten very aggressively if you built your project in the first phase in a non-commercial version and some time later manage to get funding and want to import your work into a commercially licensed version - import will not work. Especially this looks like a proactive attempt to harm people - potential customers! - very stupid idea.

It is the same as everywhere else - honest users are seriously harmed by licensing policies while thieves are just using the latest torrent release.

Nuke is, no question, an industry leader, but an open source competitor will hopefully make the featureset of this kind of software more widely available also for projects with very low budget [while starting]. Meanwhile TheFoundry management should look at Unreal for licensing ideas.

> Also you will get bitten very aggressively if you built your project in the first phase in a non-commercial version and some time later manage to get funding and want to import your work into a commercially licensed version - import will not work.

Qt has a somewhat similar provision in their licenses [1]. Personally I think it's acceptable, but walking a fine line. It's an attempt to make sure users can't skirt paying for a commercial license if they are, indeed, commercial.

I would hope that if you contacted their customer support and politely explain how your project was using the free license in the spirit it was intended to be used, they would allow imports from the free version, say as a once-off when you purchase the licenses.

[1] http://www.qt.io/faq/#_Toc453700698

Nuke is essentially a successor to Shake, which was basically a cheaper alternative to whatever Sony, Avid, and Qauntel were pushing way back when.

Natron is a node-based compositor, there have been many over the last few decades.

Another open source node-based compositor is Blender which also has an non-linear editor.

Lots of compositor customers just buy Nuke, Fusion, AE, etc to process sequences through different commercial plugins; having an open source wrapper to run and control the plugins is an excellent alternative.

This looks superficially like Blenders Node based compositing engine. Some of their demo videos used blender as part of the pipeline. I wonder what a comparison with Blender would look like. Does it offer any value if you are already use Blender?

Either way more Open Source competition in this space is a good thing. For a long time Blender was the only Video Editing software out there with any quality.

Blender's node system can do compositing and basic video editing. Another free software graph based/dataflow system that can be used as a basis for such video editing and fx is GIMPs new engine GEGL; this goat filled video presented at this years libre graphics meeting was edited and composited using software based on that stack https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJJPgLGrSgc

Blender's compositor is good enough for lots of things, but it's a bit limited. Natron has a larger range of node types and also allows you to run OpenFx plugins, of which there are many (including both free ones and expensive professional ones).

Blender is one of many node-based compositors. They became a thing in the late 90's. Everyone is just copying what nreal, Discreet, and Avid did.

This is a compositing package, much different from blender.

If you believe that blender is a "quality video editor" please try at least kdenlive to understand what a decent video editor looks like. The video editing feature set in blender is a nice addon for hardcore Blender users but totally inaccessible for anybody else and missing a lot of must-have features. But it is nice, however, to see that they are working on it, maybe in a few years it will be great.

I have in fact tried kdenlive in the past and found it be (for my needs which are admittedly small) to be subpar compared to Blender. Addtionally, so as far as I know it's only available on Linux while both Blender and Natron appear to be available on multiple platforms which is an important feature to me.

I'm not a professional video editor of course and everyone looks at this stuff with different slightly desires. Blender had NLE before kdenlive even existed, if I recall correctly. My comment was in reference to that period of time. It's nice to see competitors like kdenlive and natron have appeared.

What must-have features are missing? Last I checked it did basic video editing really well and it's compositing engine is really quite nice. It's not Adobe Premiere but for most use cases I've found it to be the most complete and featureful editor out there that is both multiplatform and Open Source.

I'm with you on the Blender VSE vs Kdenlive question fwiw. First tried Kdenlive years ago and couldn't get sound to sync, so gave up. Tried again a few months ago, can't remember what the exact problem was but found it to be wanting compared to Blender.

I will admit that Blender has an unusual UI that will deter a lot of people.

was a few months ago when you tried kdenlive before or after their recent major overhaul? Basically, did you use the older version that was the traditional sequential-numbers versioning or the newer date-based versioning? (note that lots of progress has happened in even just the last few months)

Dunno to be honest. I've become a bit cynical because for the last decade or so people have claimed that there are good FOSS editors, then when you try and use them they fall apart at the first opportunity. Blender's the only NLE I've found that's not comically flaky. It's possible Kdenlive really has improved though.

Same here, for quite a long time there were a number of projects claiming to do video editing. (Anyone remember Jahshaka?) Blender was literally the only thing out there that delivered for years. This is one of the first projects I've seen that looked like it also delivered.

Like I said before it's good to see some actual competition in this space.

I used kdenlive 2 months ago. Worked very nice and was very useable (for someone without much video knowhow). There were some occasional crashes but thanks to autosaving this was not a big issue - but of course crashes should be fixed)

How many NLE software packages have you used?

I find it interesting that it seems that for a some people, Blender is their first experience with a node-based editor. They've been around for years. While I haven't used Nuke (or Shake), I was very good with Houdini for CG which is all based around nodes. It does include some basic compositing (or at least it did the last time I used it).

I tried maybe a dozen FOSS NLEs before finding Blender. Many, many years ago I used Premier.

The other big node-based thing is audio synthesis / effects, for example Pure Data. As far as I know these are the only areas where dataflow programming has really taken off.

LabView is node-based. It's extremely popular (and quite old).


Matlab's Simulink is also node-based (probably because of LabView). It's also widely used.


Yeah, well, I'm not going to feed the cynicism by claiming that the FLO editors are on par with proprietary ones. I will say that Kdenlive is orders of magnitude more powerful and usable than whatever there was several years ago, and Openshot 2 looks to be a massive improvement (complete rewrite) over Openshot 1

Are you aware that kdenlive has been totally redone for qt5 / KDE5 and has had lots of continued work lately?

Overall Blender, Kdenlive, Natron, and perhaps the new Openshot 2 are the current best FLO options for video with some stuff like Pitivi something to keep a watch on.

I have an older, portable version lying around in my machine and I really liked it (though knowing very little about compositing when I downloaded it). It helped me do some nice animations to explain a few things through video.

Now I'm a bit surprised that they require you to register to download any version... I know it's free, but it still feels unnecesary... I just want the file, why do I have to register?

Your comment inspired me to discuss the promise that GitLab will never ask for an email in order to download https://gitlab.com/gitlab-com/www-gitlab-com/merge_requests/...

The register feature doesn't even work. I got the following plain text email:

  Username: xxx

  To set your password, visit the following address:
The mentioned link was missing :(

(weird that an PDF was attached too with the same text, and no link)

They could have at least added the binary to the Github release: https://github.com/MrKepzie/Natron/releases/tag/2.0.5 The software looks interesting, but I cannot try it even out.

Here is an unencumbered download link for Linux:


Replacing Linux with Windows does not work for me, but it may for you if you are using that OS.

EDIT: Oops. Should have tested some of these before posting... Seems like it only works for some links but not others. Leaving for future reference.


Windows 64bit: https://downloads.natron.fr/Windows/releases/64bit/files/Nat...

Windows 64bit Online Installer: https://downloads.natron.fr/Windows/releases/64bit/files/Nat...

Windows 64bit zip: https://downloads.natron.fr/Windows/releases/64bit/files/Nat...

Mac: https://downloads.natron.fr/Mac/releases/Natron-2.0.5.dmg

Linux TGZ: https://downloads.natron.fr/Linux/releases/64bit/files/Natro...

Linux Online Install: https://downloads.natron.fr/Linux/releases/64bit/files/Natro...

Linux Portable: https://downloads.natron.fr/Linux/releases/64bit/files/Natro...

Linux RPM: https://downloads.natron.fr/Linux/releases/64bit/files/Natro...

Linux Debian: https://downloads.natron.fr/Linux/releases/64bit/files/natro...

  Note: Future versions - URL is in form 
  - Remove the http://natron.fr/login?os=Linux&file= 
  part and you are good to go.

The Linux Portable download goes through happily, but every other link redirects to login page. Thanks for the effort though.

> they require you to register to download any version

The source is on Github and is GPL.

If they didn't provide the additional option of registering to download a binary, you probably wouldn't complain.

I complain because they used to offer unencumbered binaries, and now they don't. I complaing about the change of policy, not just the new policy.

....becuse the entire fabric on the internet is based on the exchange of thing of "value".

Your email has value, and they'll exchange their hard work (software) for your information (valuable for marketing, and understanding their users)....

Not sure why your downvoted, this is absolutely right.

It's worth noting that Natron uses a number of very high-quality open source projects under the hood, including OpenImageIO[0] and OpenColorIO[1]. Many of them (unlike Natron) have a commercial-friendly BSD-like open source license.

[0] https://sites.google.com/site/openimageio/home

[1] http://opencolorio.org/

Huh, guess I can stop keeping my really old copy of Shake around. Was so bummed when Apple canceled that.

Shake is more complete than Natron still - and some parts of Shake are still world class, the spline-based warping for example is still on par with Nuke and Flame, and the included versions of Keylight and Primatte haven't been hugely improved on since. And Smoothcam is super handy.

I have had to take increasingly drastic measures to keep it running on modern Linuxes though, and on OS X it sadly now seems impossible :(

I never understood why Apple ruined Shake. I'm friends with Shake's developer too, but he never discusses it. He got paid, is what I figure.

Anyone know some really good tutorials to get moving with this?

From my brief explorations in the past, I just haven't found graph based compositing to be intuitive. I'm hoping it makes more sense once you understand a few key concepts.

BTW, I really liked the MOOC Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/vfx-for-filmmakers

It uses Hit Film Express, a free version of the commercial product. I was able to learn the basic techniques of VFX and started to use Hit Film to edit my family videos. Win-Win.

+1 for GPLv2 or later. It's nice to see new software have strong copyleft licenses.

Is there a reason its not signed on the Mac?

Probably the $99 / year cost of a software licence to sign it.

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