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justin harwood
smoke on mac speed
on Sep 5, 2010 at 4:16:29 am

Hi,

Just wondering if anyone out there has any experience using FCP and Smoke? I run a small studio, and our main platform is FCP. But I'm about to get a SMOKE for MAC and want to know the render / output speeds for Smoke. As it it seems FCP only uses 640kb of RAM when doing ANYTHING I'm sure smoke will be quicker for rendering (with clients hanging over your shoulder) and output when said clients have changed a title 3 hours before broadcast deadline.

Also I'm sick of the FCP / AE / COLOR / SHAKE roundabout.

Any comparisons would be helpful. Thanks.

J


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Alexander Higgins
Re: smoke on mac speed
on Sep 5, 2010 at 3:41:06 pm

Hey Justin,

Let me get on my apple box.

I am in the same boat and I have been working on integrating smoke into our facility as well. First thing SMOKE's learning curve is very very steep. I am not joking when I say this. Get ready to pull your hair out and jump off a bridge, but I must say that I finally got a bit of comfort with the workflow and interface, it took a few months, and lots of reading and lots of tutorials, but I finally got it.

Now my thoughts, Let me first do the GRIPES then the APPRECIATION.

GRIPES...
1. WORFLOW: SMOKE almost has it all, but its all over the place. So when you start to try and do regular day to day effects/finishing, those workflows in SMOKE are soo different than SHAKE or NUKE. Their is no one effects place, things are really spread all over. Stuff like B&W or NEGATIVE or LITTLE EFFECTS type things are in a different place then say, doing basic composite. I think this is broken out because if you just want to make a clip B&W you don't have to go through ACTION, but if your like me it takes soo much time to remember where you should do what. Not all stuff can be done in Action, so you have to do it somewhere else, maybe in the MK, maybe over here.

The most anoying things for me where like ACTION has its limits in power, and you get into situations where one workflow ends and can't be picked up by another.

EXAMPLE.

I like to use LUMA keys when I paint, so I am only painting on certain parts of an image. The Painting in SMOKE can do this, but you can't not modify the LUMA KEY during the painting step.

So say I wanted to paint a sky, and I had a bright sun in the shot, so I wanted to paint on the image but use the LUMA key of the sun as a matt that I couldn't paint on. I would have to go into the MK or LUMA-KEY, KEY, then render that clip with an ALPHA to the desktop.

Then I would go into Paint, use that LUMA key as my matt for my paint, and paint. Say I start painting, and I realize that LUMA-KEY I pulled sucks. I can't modify it, its BURED in forever. I have to go back to the LUMA-KEY or MK, pull the KEY AGAIN, and hope that this time it works.

There is no way to modify that LUMA key while painting. In SMOKE you have to think very very many steps ahead. Its an AUTODESK curse or something.

2. Lack for BATCH: A lot of major workflow annoyances can be eliminated if Autodesk included BATCH. I personally thing SMOKE on OS X is great, but it is severely crippled without BATCH.

A lof of the old SCHOOL smoke guys would say that they used ACTION fine before BATCH, but the problem is that was 10 years ago, and the sophistication is way way up. You can say 10 years ago ACTION was all that was needed to do decent composites, but if you say that now, your out of the loop.

So the MODULAR KEYER is like BATCH, and it is super powerful, but its annoyingly separated from ACTION, you can make it work, but you can't see both at the same time. Another Anoying workflow issue. It is possible to make great composites, the workflow is just difficult without BATCH.

3. GRADING: I think the CC tools in SMOKE are fine, but its not grading tools. Autodesk wants you to used LUSTRE. I want grading tools. You will still need COLOR or DaVinci.

4. EDITORIAL: Editorial is fine, its just soo different than AVID of FCP. Its not that bad of a gripe, it still edits fine, but like someone said on this forum, "IT'S LIKE EDITING WITH BOXING GLOVES ON"

APPRECIATION..
1. SPEED and INTEGRATION: SMOKE is awesomely fast, once you get stuff into the desktop, most things are pretty close to realtime, the interface is pretty snappy. Once you get the project in in SMOKE, it has so many tools you need. I think the workflow is ARCHAIC without BATCH, but its all there and very powerful.

2. DELIVARBLES: This is amazing. Your edits can sit on your desktop like clips, so say you need window burn or a b&w copy for some client, its easy to do and render out. Maybe one needs a 1D Gamma LUT, burn that into a timeline. It's so great when you can do multiple deliverables of the same timeline on the desktop.

3. FILM WORKFLOW: 16bit, great DPX workflow, REAL LUT support!!

3. BACKUP and ARCHIVE: This is amazing, and if you have lots of clients that need stuff two years down the road, its easy to pull up an archive. I have no idea what happens if archives get corrupted, that might be a mess, because it archives using unix compression, but its powerful.

4. PRICE: Its cheaper than smoke for linux, but its still not cheap.

Anyway, sorry to talk so much, its like anything else out there, there is no magic wand, just a bunch of tools we need to figure out how to integrate.

AUTODESK give us BATCH for OS X!!!!!


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justin harwood
Re: smoke on mac speed
on Sep 5, 2010 at 9:33:59 pm

Hey Alexander

Thanks for that, it was excellent. It's quite hard to find this kind of detail and so brilliant for what I'm thinking. I was going to use FCP for offline cutting and SMOKE for finishing and output. We are looking at more long form and FCP is a pig to get a master out of. Plus any little change to the master can mean hours of output. So I'm keen on getting a faster finishing pipeline.

I think you answered this. Thanks and yes, BATCH seems critical to the power of Autodesk, weird that they have left it out. Punishment for not buying the $150,000 version?

Cheers

J


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Alexander Higgins
Re: smoke on mac speed
on Sep 7, 2010 at 1:26:15 am

I think the power is there, its just all over the place. In SMOKE there was a pre BATCH workflow, but anyone using SMOKE ADVANCED will never again use that outdated and old workflow. I know some power AUTODESK users who are really fast at the SMOKE workflow, even the limited OS X version, but they have been using it for many many years..

The biggest problem for me was the trial length, 30 days not nearly enough time to get a grasp of the program, especially since I work 12 hour days in NUKE, FCP, AE and COLOR. I don't really have the time or brain power to then go do tutorials on SMOKE.

Needles to say I was going to try and integrate SMOKE, but I didn't get good enough at it in 30 days to feel comfortable and fast enough to put into our facility. I am not sure where to go from here, if I can get a new 30 day trial, or what? I think I can still do the 4 day one offs, but I honestly haven't checked.

I remember the first time I bought After Effects Advanced or whatever it was, it was a big deal to get the full version, back in the 3.1 days. I bought it and was able to get good enough at basic stuff, then work towards getting better through books and tutorials. SMOKE wasn't like that. You have to hit the ground running with a 15k program, especially in today's cut throat market.

My hope was to try and get good enough at basic compositing with SMOKE to be able to do a lot of my basic compositing jobs done within the timeline. I would say stuff like TV comps and generic Greenscreen(WEATHER MAN STYLE), no problem. But COMPS that require lots of light wrap, lots of shadows, massive BG plate paiting and stabalizing, any tough shot I deal with all the time, NO WAY. Not without BATCH.

In a way AUTODESK knows the market better than anyone else and they know not to give too good of an offering because in an sence they will be killing their own other software, and their own market. SMOKE with even the most basic LUSTRE controls kills LUSTRE, and SMOKE Advanced makes 80% of flame jobs obsolete.

I would love to see it in our facility. I have come to terms with how much I hate FCP, and if the right job came up that would allow me to buy SMOKE, I would buy it, no doubt, it just can't make programs like COLOR or NUKE obsolete, but anything below that, it could.


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justin harwood
Re: smoke on mac speed
on Sep 8, 2010 at 7:03:24 am

This is all excellent stuff, exactly what I need to know. I have some pretty big long form stuff coming up and the client has a habit of "tweaking" things after they are mastered so SMOKE, with it's archive abilities seems to be perfect.

Learning curve here we come!


Cheers


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Paul Carlin
Re: smoke on mac speed
on Sep 8, 2010 at 3:32:33 am

Smoke is simply the best tool for client attended finishing sessions or for people under intense deadlines. In the Fast/Good/Cheap conundrum... Smoke is Fast and Good. FCP is Good and Cheap.

[Alexander Higgins] "First thing SMOKE's learning curve is very very steep."

Agreed. It is very different from Avid and FCP (who copied Avid). However, I am fluent with all three and can say that Smoke is the fastest system to edit with. There are a mind boggling number of hotkeys, but once the appropriate number of brain cells have been allocated, you will be flying. There are gestural ways of editing and redundant keyboard ways of editing. Trust me, once you learn it all, you will be able to stay ahead of the clients thought process... which is very impressive for client sessions.

[Alexander Higgins] "I personally thing SMOKE on OS X is great, but it is severely crippled without BATCH."

Agreed. Batch would solve most of your gripes. But Smoke on Mac is one tenth the price of Smoke on Linux with Batch. Autodesk is not interested in decapitating their existing customer base... and yet they wisely ported Smoke to Mac to reach a new generation. The next generation. It is a delicate balance of survival.

BMD (Black Magic Design) was able to drop the price of Resolve to $1K by buying a company that was holding onto the old Big Iron mentality of $800K systems 'til their dying breath.

[Alexander Higgins] "I think the CC tools in SMOKE are fine, but its not grading tools."

Agreed. But to give a slightly different perspective... 95% of the jobs I do don't need Lustre. I can do anything those finicky agency types want with the built-in color corrector. I wouldn't do a feature film with it... but for short form or spots... it's all the power you need. You need to evaluate what your needs are... and if you can tie up the Smoke room to do color when you might be able to send that off to another system to maximize your investment. If I were to compare Color Warper to Apple Color, I'd say I'd much rather be in Color Warper... and the best part is that it is a soft-effect on the timeline. Changes? No Problem. Smoke even has a way to color trace last minute revisions (called Copy Effect). New version? No problem... in a few seconds the new version is done.

Smoke is really all about finishing and making last minute revisions a fact of life instead of a nightmare.

Smoke's Tracks vs. Layers means you can track revisions and solve difficult troubleshooting problems with EDLs. You can easily split your master with your offline. And Align Edit is a conformist dream. Smoke's tools are designed to overcome the biggest problems caused by the least paid people when it comes to conforming. Integration with FCP is very tight using XMLs. Especially if using shared media on the same system or a SAN.

[Alexander Higgins] "2. DELIVARBLES: This is amazing. "

Real time deliverables is reserved for the Linux systems. I believe this is a hardware limitation of the Macs. The graphics card required to do this on the linux systems costs somewhere around $8,000 alone.

Bottom line... If you have enough work to justify it... Smoke is like a microwave oven. Once you own one, you will wonder how you did things before. Sure, you can preheat the oven and wait 30 minutes to cook a frozen burrito... but when it takes 3 minutes in the microwave...?

- Paul


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Alexander Higgins
Re: smoke on mac speed
on Sep 8, 2010 at 3:46:40 pm

Hey Paul, I totally agree, I am still trying to get it up and running, I'm getting a new station, and hopefully it will allow me to get a new demo, and from there I hope to really take it through its paces. After my initial shock and awe.

There where so many areas that I was drooling over and then areas I was soo confused, like the conform tools, which I could tell where powerful, but I didn't know the best way to conform. Like sometimes I would loose the option to do soft imports and the way to mount directories via the network was kinda confusing.

I must agree about the FCP/AVID part, I mean, it takes better control of my KONA3 card then even AJA's own tools. Also, its digitizing and audio monitoring are totally amazing.

I am still trying, and hopefully Autodesk stays committed, I mean they released a SP4!


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Walter Soyka
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 8, 2010 at 4:50:01 pm

[justin harwood] "I'm sick of the FCP / AE / COLOR / SHAKE roundabout."

Justin, this quote from your post above has really resonated with me. I hope you don't mind me joining in the thread with another question.

I'm looking at Smoke for my finishing, too, and I'm curious about the conceptual differences between Smoke and FCP/AE/Color. Does anyone have any big-picture guidance on what pre-conceptions I should put out of mind as I sit down to learn Smoke, or anything in particular that I should keep in mind?

Thanks,

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Brian Mulligan
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 8, 2010 at 5:57:04 pm

Since Smoke and Flame have been around for years and were originally developed on different platforms there is a lot of legacy code that might through you off in how Smoke THINKS.

If you are looking for clips that have embedded alphas, there aren't any, Smoke is still very much an RGB system. So your alphas are separate clips as RGB B&W mattes.

When working on Smoke on MAC you have to think ahead and visualize the pieces and parts that will make up the whole. Then you create those parts. Example: you want an organic wipe or unique displacement map.
You would need to create these elements in Paint and maybe animate the mattes in Action. Render these... then use them later on in a new Action Comp with your other clips.

There are some great tutorials here:
http://www.youtube.com/user/creativefinishing

Smoke really is very powerful, but there is a steep learning curve.
But once you get there, you can blaze through spot work.



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Aaron Neitz
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 8, 2010 at 7:26:39 pm

Brian nails it pretty well; here's my perspective. I recently switched from an all FCP/AE/Color/Nuke workflow to Smoke.

It's a legacy program. It's got leftover ideas from 10 years ago when computers were slow - so there's some very different concepts in workflow and approach. It's a lot like going back to Avid for me in the timeline - a lot more setting hard in/outs and deliberate trimming where in FCP you can just swipe you pen around and make edits at breakneck speeds (which, honestly, is not so good in an online situations)

It's DEEPLY complicated. It's has a derth of tools to do all sorts of media management and conform functions. And there are some redundancies to where things can be done and why one is better than the other for certain situations. And they're not always user friendly or obvious. The user manual doesn't tend to help - if you look up "stonifise" it might still leave you scratching your head. So it will take time, trial and effort, and asking a lot of questions!

Hotkeys. I've never been a huge hotkey guy, but Smoke will wear the paint off your control, alt, shift, and spacebar. Literally.

There also seem to be a lot of "bolted on" modules that have been added on over the years. So the formatting and display of modules can be oddly different from one to another.... Common buttons in slightly different places (like delete keyframe), or things like Undo is sometimes limited to 1 level, but in other places is user-definable. Or Control+i hides you interface overlay in some modules, but not others. Again it's just trial and error till you memorize the idiosyncrasies.

If you're a Shake/Nuke compositor, Action might leave you in tears for awhile. I'm working on Smoke Advanced so have Batch available to me. Even then, Action is such a central part of Batch that it stills frustrates me. There's a little bit of "ooohhh magic" to how it all works - and once you figure it out it's FAST... but sometimes I miss the stark simplicity of having a gmask node, trackers, translation, or color correction node I can re-noodle anywhere. It's like driving a Prius will all sorts of computers running the car vs. a '66 Bronco. If that Prius breaks down you might not have an easy option to fix it ;)

It's a modertaly capable machine for motion graphics. But even hardened Smoke users seem to defere to After Effects. I find the keyframing interface a little too "rich" in Smoke to effectively do motion graphics.

BUT IT'S A MONSTER! I wouldn't go back to FCP given the option.



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Paul Carlin
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 8, 2010 at 8:51:14 pm

Does anyone have any big-picture guidance on what pre-conceptions I should put out of mind as I sit down to learn Smoke, or anything in particular that I should keep in mind?

Smoke is an all-in-one finishing tool. No need to bounce between applications.

Smoke has a steep learning curve. Stick with it.

The are no quality compromises. Easy I/O.

Revisions are easy. Escpecially since most everything is a soft effect or has history attached.

Smoke is good and fast, but not cheap.

You will make it home for dinner and spend more time with your family(when using Smoke).

You can invtie the clients to attend without hesitation, eliminating the need to make changes later.

Bragging rights.

Best support in the business. They answer the phone... although it helps if you can speak French.

Is that enough?


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Hans von Sonntag
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 9, 2010 at 10:13:24 am

This is my take:

I'm a filmmaker not an full-time editor. I need a reliable and fast postproduction pipeline for my projects. I'm also a director for TVCs, so Autodesk/Discreet FFFI were pretty familiar to me, although not as an operator. For my own projects Discreet's solutions were completely out of reach.

I've been working with FCP since version FCP 1.0. I added Shake when it became available for the Mac. I then added FinalTouch which became 2 years later Color (lost 5K in this game). I then added SpeedGrade because I needed a robust and creative colour correction solution. I then bought 2008 a RedOne.

From then on all my trouble started.

FCP became a gamma shift hell, Shake became a slow dog and Red permanently changed their SDK. Turnaround times for medium complicated projects were tediously long, I got stressed and spent nights to troubleshoot all known and unknown software shortcomings. I then put all my hopes into PremierPro CS5 on Windows (SpeedGrade runs very well well under windows) plus CineForm as the intermediated codec.

The CS5 suite is a big step towards the right direction. For all folks on a tight budget surely a clever solution. We use it on a daily basis for layouts, and smaller projects, it swallows DPX and exports FCP XMLs. But it is not a comlpete finishing solution.

Long story short: I bought Smoke on Mac half a year ago and don't look back.

1. NO gamma shifts!

2. NO 8-Bit RGB problems, such as banding

3. Conforms very well - from FCP XMLs a dream.

4. Loves ProRes (unfortunately not yet CineForm)

5. Always best quality

6. Fast

7. Reliable

9. Brilliant keyer, second to none if speed is of any concern

10. Can accomplish almost any task I throw at it. Even the sound tools are better than in any other NLE I know.

Smoke's infamous Action compositing module is very, very powerful but getting used to it takes much longer than the classic, procedural node compositing (Batch, Nuke, Shake). You can accomplish a lot within Action, you just have to know how. The only thing I'm really missing is an automatic DOF in Action.

BUT: Even for a seasoned editor the learning curve is very steep. The Smoke beginner should know a lot about conforming, editing, compositing and grading. Smoke on Mac is nothing for the absolute beginner. It needs expensive hardware, such as a fast and big storage, Nvidia Quadro board, AJA Kona 3, Wacom A3 and a good 24" screen from Eizo or HP (Dreamcolor).

BUT: Smoke is not a grading tool. Color Corrector and Color Warper are good CC tools but aimed to solve problems that occur in compositing such as white balancing and colour matching. Creative grading should be done elsewhere. Replacing dailies with graded selected takes is a pen click.

Summary: If you have projects that justify the investment and the time to learn the application you will safe tons of time and deliver better results than before.



Hans


PS: Thanks to Grant Kay for his very well done tutorials that helped me a lot to get along with Smoke.


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Aaron Neitz
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 9, 2010 at 5:09:23 pm

Replacing dailies with graded selected takes is a pen click.

Which reminds me of:

You start an online, several days later the client decides they want a alternate cut... in FCP good luck trying to reconnect a new XML/EDL to the footage you already captured. you end up doing it all by hand or waste disk space and re-capture media

In Smoke, it simply looks at the timecodes and tape and conforms the the edit.



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Jason Kalinoski
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 9, 2010 at 6:05:47 pm

Aaron,

Can you expand on that a bit?

One of my biggest concerns while evaluating smoke is Autodesk seems to be focusing on conforming from a FCP XML...and while I'm sure it works fine, I know my clients...there's always changes.

So if the edit changes, do you generally update the FCP project and export a new XML?

The wrench in my workflow is RED footage...we shoot most everything on RED so not being able to bring the proxies into Smoke for a quick "in context" look would be limiting...



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Paul Carlin
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 9, 2010 at 10:40:51 pm

While there are many Smoke workflows... here is one for your situation.

Smoke can "Soft" import your RED media. They don't call it that anymore... in fact I don't know what they call it now, but regardless...

You can Soft Import ALL of your RED media from the R3D files using, let's say, a quarter res debayer. This put's ALL of your media online in seconds/minutes, and uses minimal storage space. This is the "Quick in-context viewing" that you desire. It is quick.

Once the media is online, you can easily Relink your EDLs, AAFs and XMLs to your heart's desire. Then you can consolidate your timeline and re-import the RED media at your desired finishing debayer settings and "store local copy" (AKA Hard Import) the media.

Different versions, new versions & works in progress are easily manageable. You can start working on a timeline right away and recapture/relink missing media later. You can even start working with the timeline while Smoke builds the proxies in the background.

And don't forget Copy Effects which allows you to copy selected soft-effects (color corrections, axis, etc.) from one timeline to another based on tape and timecode information (color tracing).


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Brian Mulligan
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 10, 2010 at 12:15:00 pm

And to add to the FCP workflow. If an editorial change is made, you know SMOKE is an EDITOR. Just import your video and fix it in Smoke.
I edit from scratch in Smoke all the time, both long and short form.

It's beautiful that you can offline/online and work on effects all at the same time.



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Walter Soyka
Re: smoke on mac speed, now concepts
on Sep 9, 2010 at 9:03:40 pm

Thank you all for sharing your insights -- all these posts have been very helpful!

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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