Farewell, Shake

Alas, one more high-end video production tool quietly succumbed to neglect and the rampant industry “end of life syndrome” (EOL)—after long being ignored by its foster parent, Apple.

Apple has quietly discontinued the sale of Shake, which was for years the highest end professional compositing tool on the market. While Apple has made no formal announcement about Shake one way or another, the Apple devotee sites have been abuzz, particularly since the link to Shake on Apple's Web site now redirects to a page for the Final Cut Studio video editing suite.

was the kind of tool that once you mastered its very non-Mac nodal interface, the kind that makes Color ( ) easy to use by comparison, you found a wonderfully powerful compositor. This was a professional tool that did not hopelessly stumble along when doing RGB to YUV conversions, handling large film style DPX files, or keying greenscreen footage, in the horrible manner that the other tools in the Final Cut Studio suite have for so long. Shake was designed to handle the type of files used at the pinnacle of the Hollywood workflow, with the film industry standard DPX files in the 2K, and even the 65mm Imax frame size. No one thought about the fact that Shake was effortlessly handling 4K files more than five years prior to everyone jumping on the Red 4K bandwagon.

Apple acquired Shake from the Venice, California-based Nothing Real in February 2002. Apple needed the Hollywood hype and the underlying engineering and programming within Shake, and that software engineering is spread throughout the last three releases of Final Cut Studio.

The most visible part of Shake that people see is still the Qmaster rendering engine, used everywhere from Compressor to Motion ( ), and even accessible in current tools like Red Digital Cinema’s RedRushes. Qmaster was the unifying tool that allowed users to distribute rendering across multiple CPUs in addition to multiple cores on each of those CPUs.

I was lucky to be aboard the very first Apple Shake Train, the trainer classes held at Apple’s Santa Monica office in the summer of 2002, and I still to this day remember it fondly, as much for the people I met as the knowledge that poured out from that very small group of seven. I was the only person in the room who was not a working LA-based VFX or compositing artist.

Most people have forgotten that Shake was originally created at Sony Pictures Imageworks, and at the time Apple purchased it, the single seat price was $9,900 with each render license priced at $3,900. Apple had the current version on sale at the Apple Store for $499 just before taking it off the market.

Also forgotten are the innumerable films that have used Shake in some form or fashion since it was introduced in 1996. My first experience with Shake was while a friend of mine worked on the movie Armageddon, as a couple of the VFX shots for the movie were created using the command line only version of the tool. The list of movies that used this tool would literally stretch for miles, and include everything from Titanic, Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Dark Knight, The Incredibles, Fantastic 4, Mission Impossible 3, and Cloverfield. Even the Harry Potter films have not avoided Shake’s long grip in Hollywood.

Apple even touted that connection with Shake 3 in 2006, when all but one of the top visual effects movies used Shake in some way or form, and nearly every movie that had been nominated for a VFX academy award for the previous two years had some part of its visual effects workflow done in Shake.

Shake touched our visual lives on the small screen too, from effects on the X-Files series, on the long-running animated classic South Park, the restoration and re-mastering for the re-release of the original Star Trek series, and bringing John Belushi back to life for home video.

Shake has been a solid partner that offered me high-end tools when nothing else in the Apple realm did—until the latest release of Final Cut Studio. While I lament Shake’s passing, Apple has finally brought into Final Cut the last few things that I used Shake for on a regular basis, so hopefully all is not lost with this long-neglected flagship tool. Motion 4 includes many of the functions that people used Shake for, but without it as part of my toolkit, all that is left for desktop level compositing are Autodesk's Combustion and the current industry leader, the Foundry's Nuke. I'm just glad it runs on Leopard.

[Gary Adcock is a Chicago based Film and Television consultant, technologist and glassblower. He offers regular commentary on CreativeCow.net and the ProVideoCoalition.com Web sites.]

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