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Issue: January 1, 2010

SMOKE COMES TO THE MAC

By: Marc Loftus
In mid-December, Autodesk released Smoke on the Mac, a software-only application that offers tools for editorial finishing, conforming, tracking, stabilizing, 2D/3D text, 3D compositing, color correction and VFX. Autodesk industry manager Bruno Sargeant says the Mac version of Smoke ($14,995) makes the company’s tools more accessible to the market.
Smoke debuted in 1997, and the latest 64-bit version is capable of managing media from start to finish. Running on the Snow Leopard OS, Smoke can serve as a companion to studios already working with Final Cut Pro, adding tools for grading and compositing.
“I see this as an end to an era of high-end gear,” says Fred Ruckel of NYC’s Stitch Motion Graphics, pointing to price tags that normally cost between $100K for Smoke, and up to $300K-plus for Inferno. He anticipates a software version of Flame coming somewhere down the road too. “It is going to change the overall industry [and] really hurt current owners badly as new buyers do not need to charge the same prices, as the gear costs so much less.”
Alex Olegnowicz, owner of Toronto’s Imarion Inc., is a long-time Autodesk user, starting with an SGI Octane-based Smoke system and more recently with a Linux system. His studio also has Lustre and Inferno, and when he talks about the money he’s spent on Autodesk gear over the years, he doesn’t stutter. “We’ve spent close to $1 million dollars, and I can’t complain,” says Olegnowicz. “It is a very solid platform. They’re definitely the best at what they do. There is still no compositing system like Inferno — nowhere!”
The new Smoke release appeals to him “because of the variety of software that runs on the Mac: Final Cut, Avid and now you can have Smoke, all on the same machine.”
He does see some limitations — HD only, and no plug-ins (*see clarification below) — but when used in conjunction with Imarion’s other system and the Wired solution, it shouldn’t present a problem. That said, he doesn’t see Smoke becoming as popular as other Mac apps. “You really need fantastic artists to use them,” he explains. “This will never be a Final Cut replacement, where you have 30,000 people who suddenly became editors.”

* Marc Hamaker, Autodesk product marketing manager for Smoke on Mac, clarifies the releases capabilities: “Smoke 2010 for Mac OS X doesn’t limit input, output or intermediate resolutions. Projects can be created at resolutions up to 8K. Within Smoke are presets for SD, HD and standard film sized projects, and users are able to create custom resolutions up to 8192x8192 pixels.  Previously Autodesk offered two versions of Smoke — Smoke HD and Smoke 2K — but these names were based on the optimum performance of specific turnkey hardware configurations and not a coded resolution limitation.  This naming scheme is no longer used for Smoke, but it may be where some confusion comes from.

“As a software offering, customers choosing Smoke for Mac OS X should configure their hardware (workstation, RAM, graphics card and media storage) to meet the demands of their workflow and resolution requirements (http://area.autodesk.com/smokeonmac/sys_reqs).”