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November 2014
Issue: February 1, 2013

Review: Autodesk Flame 20th Anniversary Edition

By: Fred Ruckel
PRODUCT: Autodesk Flame 20th Anniversary Edition

WEBSITE: www.autodesk.com

PRICE: Since this version is exclusively available to current subscription users, Autodesk says, “Check with your local reseller for subscription pricing.”
- The always active library 
- Instant access to Batch 
- Features the Smoke timeline

I could sum up this review with just two words….kick ass! Autodesk has really made a mark in the industry over the years, and the new 20th Anniversary Flame is a testament to the company’s commitment to excellence. Through the years we have seen many products come out and fade away, but Flame stands tall… 20 years after being introduced. Flame is still the big gun, must-have tool for visual effects companies working in the fast paced, quick-turnaround market. 

I started using the box back in 1995. I grew with it over the years, and was even a beta tester for a time. Being fully immersed in everything that is new, working with the most cutting-edge technology is almost like a drug, an addiction to some extent. Using a machine that gives you infinite creative options, as well as a full suite of tools to fix nearly anything that might have gone wrong on-set, is what the Flame artist is about. 

The title of the “Flame Artist” carries a lot of weight. There is an expectation... if you are the Flame guy (or girl), you are the one who will make the project look amazing, jump off the screen and cause people to take notice.

With all this great power also comes great responsibility, as Spider-Man once said. Mastering Flame is not quick, not painless and not for the faint of heart. This new release has so many new features that even a die-hard 15-year user like myself has got to crack the book (or wiki) to learn how these new tools will change what you do everyday. 



PLENTY OF NEW FEATURES

Many of you are not manual readers. Who has the time, right? Well, with Flame Premium 2013 20th Anniversary Edition, make the time to read, watch videos, and do the tutorials. The software is rich with new features and changes to many things that you use everyday. To make the most out of it, and keep competitive, it is important to learn the new offerings in this version. So, let’s jump into the software and take it for a spin.

The first thing any user will notice is the redesign of the interface. The library module is always present on the screen at the left side. Gone are the days of exiting a module and going to the library to perform a task; the library is readily available without the need to halt the creative process. This is a huge change and time saver, but for those with years of hands-on Flame experience, it will take getting used to. Having instant access to the library is invaluable while using batch or action. A user can literally pull a clip from the left side library menu and drop it in a comp and continue working without delay. 

The desktop reels have been changed as well. There is now a snapshot reel button on each reel for a quick save of the current state. We are no longer locked into the eight-reel max. While there can only be eight reels present on the screen at any one time, due to screen real estate, you can have unlimited reels on the desktop and make them visible as you need them. This proves especially useful when you have reels with elements, edits, generics, audio, etc. You can simply choose to hide them to keep the workspace uncluttered and faster to navigate. There is also a storyboard view, where before we only had collapsed and uncollapsed view
Along the bottom there are tabs with modules that are most commonly used. Among them are Media Hub, Conform, Timeline, Batch and Tools. These tabs allow for a faster-than-before ease of use and will speed up any session. Tabs have become commonplace in many things we do everyday, and they really do speed things up.

The Media Hub allows quick access to media across your network. This newly-designed module replaces the wiretap method and the gateway, both of which never worked properly all the time. The Media Hub allows export of multiple clips at once. 

There are some issues still with Open EXR slowing the system down a bit, since they are cumbersome data wise. The 16-bit DPX workflow is now supported, which proves very helpful for the DI users. The Media Hub opens up the system and allows it to use many file formats natively and keeps things neatly organized. For those who have avoided the gateway in the past, myself included, this is one new module worth getting friendly with.

The Conform tab is for assembly of the material. In the old days a conform was using an EDL. Those days are long past, most newbies don’t even know what an EDL is — I am mostly kidding. The vast majority of all material is file-based, it’s not that tape is dead, but it is on the way out. With the new conform tools you can dig into an XML and scan the network for the files you need. You have a lot of criteria you can scan with to create a precise search. You can even take in ProRes files directly now. The event list can be color coded to let you know what is missing, and with one click you can re-link shots. 



THE TIMELINE

The timeline is the Smoke timeline. In the past we had Flame and Smoke with round tripping to finish a project, which made users nuts and made for a lot of extra work and clutter. Thankfully this is a thing of the past. Smoke is now completely integrated as the editorial side of the program. 

On the bottom of the screen there is the timeline tab for quick access. If you want to go into the edit module, it’s just a click of the tab and you are ready to make any adjustments to your edit, add layers, trim or whatever your project requires. The Timeline tab allows you to create or access the timeline from almost anywhere in the software. You can create an edit from a reel of clips and immediately go in to trimming them. With the timeline open you can drag clips from the desktop right into the timeline. This is a huge improvement. I have wanted this one feature since 2006. I have always done editing on the Flame, and even as cumbersome as it always was, it worked. With the new capabilities of the timeline, this is truly becoming a heavy-duty edit and effects machine.

There is even a tab at the bottom for Batch, a direct line to the heart of the system. Batch, to me, is Flame. I do everything in Batch. It is an all-encompassing module with endless possibilities. I have been a diehard Batch user since 1998. You have access to almost every tool in the software from this one place. Batch has seen some enhancements in this release as well. 

You can convert a full Batch into a BFX clip and drop it into a timeline. Rendering in Batch has now been sped up thanks to GPU/CPU processing. With the new always-active library on screen, getting clips into a set-up is instant, unlike before where you left the module, went into the library, selected clips, and then came back. 



The new snapshot functionality is very handy to have. You can click snapshot and save your current workspace. How is that different that saving a set-up? Well, snapshot not only saves the set-up of nodes and animation, but it copies all the clips into the folder with the set-up. This means when you archive it back in later, you can bring in the snapshot file and it takes all the clips with it. No longer do you need to archive in a project to make sure you have all the clips in your set-up. I like this one a lot.

NEVER STOP LEARNING

It’s important to note that there are many other features that were introduced with the main Flame Premium 2013 release. The software has come a long way in the last few years. Autodesk has been listening to users and implementing features that become more common in everyday use. 

There is a great set of tutorials online for users to watch and learn all the new features and how to adapt there current skill set to the new workflow — http://www.fxphd.com/news/flametraining. I highly recommend going through the tutorials. There are so many new things to learn, and while many users insist on simply getting on the box and playing around to figure it out, unless you read the manual and/or watch the videos, you are doing yourself a disservice.

In recent years there has been a lot of software out there to do similar tasks of the Flame. Autodesk has merged the Smoke and Flame together to make for a super-software. There is no other product on the market that offers such a diverse toolset in one place, period. The other contenders offer many pieces and parts of what is inside the Flame. 

If you need a fast moving, creative toolset with editing capabilities, then try Autodesk Flame 2013 20th Anniversary Edition. It is the big iron, must-have tool for anyone serious about editing and effects.

WHERE NEXT?

It is amazing to have seen and been part of the growth and evolution of Flame. I started with Inferno, which faded down into Flame, then there was Fire, which burned out into Smoke. Now Flame and Smoke are united as one application. On the higher end there will be Flame Premium and Lustre still standing. I feel the next logical progression will be to incorporate Lustre into Flame as well. 

For Smoke users, Autodesk will still be offering Smoke on Mac, which was just released after a long public beta that drew in many new users to the platform.

While Autodesk is pointing people to their local resellers, I offer you these rough, but close to reality, estimates of cost: To purchase a full Flame Premium 20th Anniversary set-up with hardware and storage (14TB), the price is $160K. Without storage is $109K. While that sounds expensive, it really isn’t. Upgrading any version of Flame to the newest version is $49K. Consider that 10 years ago the same system would have cost $500K. Autodesk has adjusted pricing to keep competitive.

There is also Flare. Current owners of Flame can buy a second system for $6K (software only). This is great for current owners who can now offer more without a big expense.

Smoke on Mac is going to $3.5K, and in my opinion is a steal, as well as a gateway drug to getting to Flame. To keep software current you must have subscription, which can cost up to $10K a year. That’s a tough nut to swallow for anyone, but it saves money in the long run. I think that Autodesk really needs to revisit the subscription model. 



Fred Ruckel can be reached at fred@rucksackny.com.