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Smoke 2011 on a MacBookPro.... Updated Blog, Detailed Tests and Evaluation

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Jean-Marc Laurin
Smoke 2011 on a MacBookPro.... Updated Blog, Detailed Tests and Evaluation
on Sep 11, 2010 at 12:03:07 am

Since Autodesk has released smoke on mac in 2010, many users have tinkered with the idea of installing a licence on a MacBookPro. The main motivation to do so is its revolutionary price point ($15,000 US + $6,000 support) which makes it extremely attractive for many reasons. For my part, I am currently testing smoke on a 2.93GHz 17-inch macBookPro and I am flabbergasted at how great it is working.

I have an eSATA ProAvio 4x diskdrive and I can get 8 bit 24fps HD playback using a sonnet xpresscard. I can also access a remote stone on a ip network so that when working in my linux suite, i can actually use my laptop as a remote working station side-by-side, or on any table with an ethernet connection nearby, sort of like a killer backdraft/burn/precomp station. I recently completed a national commercial campaign with comp/tracking/paint using media on a remote stone running another live session with clients while I was upstairs in another room. When those clients left, my clients walked right in and i did my presentation as if I had been in my suite all day. You can also use any GUID partitioned disk as a stone.

Archiving material to USB disk is easy, and I actually finished my HD session on the train with a 350G usb drive. I ran everything in 720x405 proxy rez for HD RT playback and refresh was slow, but I still managed to get an hours' work done without power supply. Almost missed my stop. Tweaked everything after my kids went to bed and presented to clients the next morning in studio.

As for bugs, there are a few, but nothing that should get in the way of doing any real work. Smoke 2011 on a MacBookPro seemed to render soft FX just fine, but updating FinalCutStudio2 to FinalCutStudio3 may create some conflicts. 10bit HD multilayered SoftFX renders crash after a few minutes when using a remote stone via Ethernet, although using my ProAvio eSATA stone still seems fine up until now. SmokeMac Crashes when i load an action with several different resolutions in the source clips using a USB drive, but, again, local stone media through eSATA work fine. (Probably has to do with the NVIDIA 9600G memory allocation limits or multirez video partition read-write speed).

Autodesk confirmed to me over the phone that there is no difference between the trial and full versions except a few added features that will take up some disk space. The only difference between smoke on mac and smoke advanced on linux is the 40,000$ button to activate the powerful batch-compositing interface. Otherwise, the core rendering engine is is the software’s innards. Proof is that I was able to remotely render clips with batch setups created on a smoke-linux. You get a taste of batch fx in the modular keyer, though, as Autodesk has retooled it to look and behave like the nodes in the batch. You can also get away with simple compositing using logic ops with mattes, but obviously, the action node as well as other powerful comp tools are absent.

Autodesk did state clearly that the configuration i am using is unsupported, and that all bugs are up to the user to solve. One primary concern is the software's visual interface which absolutely needs a 1920x1200 screen resolution only available on a 17" MacBookPro. Unless you are using an extra LED monitor via your mini-display port, you're stuck with this limitation. Be sure to use a static IP address rather than "automatic" since the stone media folder is located via a fixed address. The newest Wacom Intuos tablets seem to be the preferred models to match the 16x9 on-screen button mapping. Earlier models seem to point-and-click in the wrong places.

As for live client interaction, there is no Video/Audio IO, no external broadcast monitor out and realtime plackback at certain high-bandwith resolutions are not guaranteed. But I was still, nonetheless, able to use a 40$ mini-display to HDMI video-mirroring solution for live monitor display during comps. CORE Audio is supported since version 2011 and using FinalCutStudio for IO and full-resolution presentation using an AJAioHD module with apple ProRez works great. I wish exporting from Smoke to ProRez natively was supported, though. It would save several minutes of operation when switching back and forth between applications as no timeline renders in FinalCut would be needed. No doubt it will be offered soon. Switching between smoke and final cut for realtime HD playback is as easy as pressing CMD+TAB since the ioHD can choose to either display the active Quicktime-based application such as FinalCut or After Effects, or the live input playthrough. Just feed your full-screen smoke desktop video-mirror output through to the HDMI input on the AJA module - and voilà. Instant Smoke/FinalCut back-and-forth action on your HD screen ! Color, brightness and detail invariably loses out through this process, but your original, pristine, 444 RGB files in smoke are always accessible for non-compressed output to file.

After testing extensively with actual HD production footage in a real studio environment, I would nowhere have the intent of proposing this setup as a main production setup. The point here is not to replace a full-blown studio, but to possibly save a few dozen grand in large hardware infrastructure investments, and having a powerful, portable online finishing station in your lap capable of reasonable, albeit imperfect, live client interaction.

Being this adaptable in today’s changing post environment finally offers the flexibility that nuke/afterfx studios and artists have always had. Essentially, for precomps, rotos, keys, paint, dusting, stabilising, archiving, FinalCut RED XML conforming via wiretap and parallel session work, it is a fabulous idea, and has saved me from doing any overtime (!). It is a very functional, low-cost logistical solution to the classic hardwired chair-artist-client-monitor-sofa workflow combination.

For the independent artist who needs the unbeatable smoke toolset, needs to insert himself in an already established flame-smoke environment, or for live HD previz on set, this is a real, possible alternative to offload the main suite, and get more work done. If used in combination with a completely plausible (yet officially unplanned) flare on mac licence, we may be blessed with a breakthrough product line and corporate structure possibility for post houses and artists in the very near future. (To Autodesk : nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

Let's face it, the post industry isn't about the cleanest, most perfect road to glory anymore. It has to do more about the sheer thick-skulled stubbornness to not get your job stolen by an agency kid with a 300$ iphone. The hard reality for a while now is that flame/smoke artists are grudgingly having to convert to more financially accessible platforms such as Nuke in just about every market on the planet and the discussion still takes place concerning which direction to take for post houses, large and small.

I personally have been forced to choose between working like a dog to finance an increasingly unsustainable flame-smoke hourly rate methodology or seeing my kids grow up and learning Nuke. After nearly 8 years of driving a Ferrari and then being shoved into a Subaru, I have to admit to some rather vociferous grumbling when having to comp in nuke - at first. But alot of the tools in Nuke are as (if not more) powerful than flame at a completely ridiculous price. The centralized network media workflow with inexpensive Nuke/AE seats, is also smarter for many jobs from a financial perspective.

At one point though, live client requests and heavy-duty comping power will always be a job for a fullblown flame-smoke suite. There is still nothing as solid, as fast, as powerful or as expensive. But with Smoke on macOSX, at least Autodesk is now offering a way for some users and shops to beat the crunch. When investors realize that your valuable senior artist’s time is all wasted up by playback after playback, one wonders if its more efficient to welcome clients in a suite with a video card-to-HDMI-setup running quicktimepro or framecycler to get your senior artist back in the loop. (Some will debate whether it is essential to welcome them at all !)

Whether you are willing to shell out 15,000$+6,000$ for a personal smoke-mac licence depends on your career arc and market presence. Bang for buck, pulling mattes, trackers and roto for 5,000$ with nuke is still smarter than on a smoke. However, having a full-blown smoke with EVERYTHING running relatively smoothly, plus sparks, on a portable remote pre-finising HD mac station is definitely a long-awaited logistical problem-solver for certain studio setups. It may even save an operations manager’s and/or senior artist’s career. Autodesk knows this, and Smoke on Mac is definitely a move in the right direction. Have fun !

-MacBook Pro 17" Intel Core 2 Duo 2.93 GHz, 350G boot drive
-8 GB RAM
-NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT - 512 MB vRAM
-4x1TB eSATA ProAvio RAID 0 via sonnet xpresscard/34 (180-200 mb/s)
-AJA ioHD 10bit hd portable io module via FinalCutStudio3 using firewire800 port

Jean-Marc Laurin is a senior Smoke & Flame artist, FinalCut & Avid editor, Nuke and AfterFX compositor located and working in Montréal, Québec


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Phil Hoppes
Re: Smoke 2011 on a MacBookPro.... Updated Blog, Detailed Tests and Evaluation
on Sep 12, 2010 at 9:38:30 pm

Interesting. Just learning Smoke at the moment and have it running on my 17" MBP (MPB 5,2) 8Gb Ram, NVIDIA 9600M GT and found it works fine. Actually, IMHO, blows FCP away for editing HD footage. No more click and render every two seconds simply because I moved a track up or down. I've not looked at it to near your depth, heck I'm just figuring out the UI at the moment but I am impressed. I was wondering actually if AD could port Smoke to the Mac if they would port Flame and Flare too. Hard to believe that would be that difficult as Linux to FreeBSD is not near the stretch as going to any other OS.

Thanks on the tip on the fixed IP. Was wondering why it would start when I was hooked in hardline (static IP) vs wifi only. Pretty easy to set it up so that wifi is static when I need it. I'm using an older Wacom Graphire Bluetooth tablet and that seems to work just fine. No mapping issues that I notice. I found it definitely does not like dual displays which is a real bummer in my book. Learning a new app or using just about every other app I use I constantly have one display on a reference book, training video or simply other data while my main display is on my work. It's not like it does not work at all but it definitely goes pretty goofy at times.

At the moment I'm just using an external FW800 drive for content. Seems to work fine for my current needs.


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Jean-Marc Laurin
Re: Smoke 2011 on a MacBookPro.... Updated Blog, Detailed Tests and Evaluation
on Dec 20, 2010 at 9:49:57 pm

Hi.

In response to your question about flame or flare, Autodesk again confirmed on the inside loop that there are no plans to port to mac os in either the near or foreseeable future. Let's not forget that these tools are still the company's bread an butter and the decision to refrain form offering flame on mac has nothing to do with technical issues.

It hasn't been discussed openly, but the comparison to flame as a highly precise, finely tuned f1 car is quite accurate. You don't see many of them out on the highway for plenty of reasons.

Firstly, it is a matter of being absolutely, positively certain that every single machine with a flame license installed has the right hardware and technical setup to make the product sing to its full potential. When your software selling price invariably asks for a certain revenue tagged on to the brand (anywhere from 400$ to 800€ per hour depending on the market) you can't afford as a brand maker, to let unknown third party software and homespun technical setups invariably insert unbridled amounts of possible conflicts that may-or-may-not-have-come-in-contact-with-peanuts into the process. There is a profound refusal on behalf of clients to understand and sympathize with technical downtime past a certain hourly rate, and no company can afford that kind of technical uncertainty in the loop. Linux is a relatively hermetic environment, with little interference from the outside world once installed on the studio floor, and thus the brand remains protected as it should.

Secondly, it is a matter of piracy protection. The main flagship product will never be let loose upon the web, so that thousands of hackers with nothing better to do than leech away pirated copies of an extremely valuable software drain all revenue from the programmer's release budget. 'Nuff said.

Personally, the occasional webrant about hundreds of amateur users potentially tarnishing the flame culture and product is a non-issue. Anyone with 250K$ - 450K$ to spare on a high-end post facility hardly lacks the knowledge and mileage to get the job done right. When you have such a powerful machine, whether mac or linux, you want to make sure the guy or gal won't burn the choke midway through a project. Training takes time and knowing the software in and out isn't all you need to know to make a suite run smoothly.

That closes the flame-on-mac issue. Flare-on-mac, however, is another debate. In essence, flare could be a network-only, batch-and-paint-with-cache comp station, without local stone, io or playback, and we would still have a revolutionary product. All that remains is the comparative price-point with smoke and we've got an industry h-bomb.

Whether Autodesk is willing to make that gamble is up to the big boys on Duke St to decide.

JM


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Tom Masters
Re: Smoke 2011 on a MacBookPro.... Updated Blog, Detailed Tests and Evaluation
on Oct 11, 2010 at 4:02:22 am

great article, very useful.

Question:
Is it at all possible to run smoke Mac on a 15" MacBook Pro with the smaller display?
Would it somehow scale toless than 1920x1200, or would it simply just not work?

Thx.


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Grant Kay
Re: Smoke 2011 on a MacBookPro.... Updated Blog, Detailed Tests and Evaluation
on Oct 12, 2010 at 5:00:50 pm

The Smoke interface is unique in its design and is locked down to a resolution of 1920x1200.

I have run Smoke at 1920x1080 when using it with an HD projector and the interfaces gets cropped and buttons dont like it.

So unfortunately the 15inch Mac book pro will not cut the mustard....

Regards
Grant

Check out my Flame and Smoke blog at http://area.autodesk.com/blogs/discreetuk


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