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September 2014
Issue: January 1, 2011

Review: Autodesk Smoke for Mac OS X

By: Barry Goch

PRODUCT: Autodesk Smoke for Mac OS X

WEBSITE: www.autodesk.com/smokeformac

PRICE: $14,995 for the software; $1,995 for the subscription



- ultimate creative finishing machine for the Mac

- stops endless round-tripping between applications

- built-in 3D stereoscopic editing and compositing

The world of production and post is now radically different from five years ago. Back in the day, we had standard definition TV and film. You had Digi Beta and film cans. Now, thanks to the digital revolution, started with MiniDV cameras hooked up via FireWire to your Mac and edited in Final Cut Pro, the world of production and post has changed forever. 

Now there is a tidal wave of HD and beyond, digital cameras with more formats than I have fingers. Red, ProRes, Canon 5D Mark II, F35, P2, Arri Alexa…What’s an editor to do when the client walks in and says, “We cut our Red short film in FCP and we want to finish in 2K for a film-out. Can you do it? By the way, there’s tons of greenscreen and rigs to remove. Can you do it all by Friday and, by the way, it’s in stereo.”

Fortunately, there is an answer. Autodesk Smoke for Mac OS X. For the first time in its storied history, Smoke is available as a software-only product on the Mac. In the past, Autodesk only sold Smoke as a turnkey Linux-based system that only large facilities could afford and that required a specialized engineering staff to install and maintain. When Snow Leopard was released, there was finally the 64-bit operating system that Smoke requires for maximum performance. You’ll need a beefy MacPro with plenty of RAM, a high-end graphics card and plenty of fast storage in order to have the performance Smoke  users have enjoyed for years on Linux.

UNDER THE HOOD

For me, the key thing that makes Smoke so cool is its integrated toolset. It has powerful timeline-based editing, a robust paint module, tracking and stabilizing, and keying, along with tons of what I like to call “fix it in post” tools. This integrated toolset stops the round-tripping from app to app, which can lead to serious color management issues. It also has the 3D compositing environment called “Action,” which is taken from Smoke’s big brother, Autodesk Flame. 

In the 2011 release, Smoke has gained a comprehensive stereoscopic toolset. In fact, Autodesk has brought the Maya 3D camera rig into the Action compositor. It’s really quite thrilling to load a stereoscopic camera, don your anaglyph glasses and create in 3D! In Action you can import 3D models with strong support for FBX models, which can include textures, lights and animations. 

One of Autodesk’s key strengths is its strong product development. If you’re on subscription, you can usually count on strong product updates at least once a year, announced at shows like NAB and IBC. There has been tremendous innovation in the product in the past few years, and you could say that the 2011 release is the strongest to date. Not only have they added the stereoscopic tools, but also massive improvements in file browsing and conforms. 

In the 2011 release, Autodesk introduced Wiretap Gateway. For the first time, Smoke now has thumbnail view file browsing inside the application and, more importantly, a player in the library. This player allows you to preview media files and get important metadata information before importing into the app.

Another new innovation for 2011 is the hugely improved conform workflow. Before, loading an AAF or XML and linking the files was an overly complicated series of multiple steps and stages. Now it’s (almost) as easy as drag and drop. Just collect the media and sequence in one place on your fast storage, find your XML or AAF through the Gateway, check your settings, then drag and drop your sequence into your Smoke library and you’re ready to go. The best part about this is that you can use your existing Apple ProRes (from the KiPro or Arri Alexa, for example), Avid DNxHD media and your Canon 5D H.264 files without the need to import and transcode the media. What’s more, all the metadata in the sequence comes across too, making conforms much faster.

Another recent innovation, announced at this year’s IBC convention, is support for the Avid Artist Series control surfaces. You can now control the color corrector and the more advanced color warper with this control surface.

There is also strong plug-in support for Smoke for Mac with the release of the ultra fast, GPU-enhanced Sapphire Sparks, and more recently Monsters GT, both from GenArts. And don’t forget the free trial. Yes you can work on your Smoke skills with a 30-day trial and plenty of online tutorials: www.autodesk.com/smoke-trial; http:// area.autodesk.com/smoke, http://area.autodesk.com/blogs/discreetuk.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Smoke for Mac is a one-stop shop — edit, VFX, color grading, motion graphics, stereoscopic. It’s an investment, but you get what you pay for by stopping the roundtrip merry-go-round.