PRODUCT: Smoke 2015
PRICE: Subscriptions: monthly $195, quarterly $545, annual $1,750. Free 30-day trial available too.
I’ve been working with Smoke for many years and have been impressed with the continuous improvements and new features that come with each release. Autodesk Smoke 2015 is yet another solid step forward in the continuing evolution of this application.
In this newest release, I’m amazed that I can take videos from my cell phone, transfer them to my MacBook Pro and cut together a compelling video — a race report for my cycling club, Velo Club La Grange. Previously, I would have had to convert footage, load tapes — essentially jumping through a lot of hoops just so I could start to work. Now, with the overhauled media I/O, I can drag and drop, do gestural edits, and then make a file delivery all in one product. What really sets Smoke apart from other NLEs is the depth and quality of its toolset.
For example, Smoke 2015 now includes the 3D camera tracker previously only available in Autodesk Flame. The tracker is available within the true 3D compositing environment inside of the Action compositor. Action now can be used as a drag-and-drop effect in the Smoke timeline or inside of the node-based composting world of ConnectFX, where complex effects can be created with speed and ease.
Also new in Smoke 2015 is the 16-bit processing pipeline on the timeline. You can also reorder effects to change the order of operation in a flash. I find this helpful for tracking log material so I can temporarily add color correction to increase the contrast and then change the effect order when I’m done. And through one of the many right-click short-cuts, you can save timeline effects as presets to use later in the sequence or inside the ConnectFX node graph.
Autodesk has increased the breadth of tools available in the timeline, including Blur, GMask, Flip, 2D Transform, Comp and Action. It’s great to have a mask that can be animated in the timeline. I use the GMask effect every week to wipe on graphics for a network TV show. I also use the 2D Transform effect all the time with its built-in stabilizer module. The tracker has been updated with a new offset tracking mode to ease difficult tracks where the tracking object goes off-screen or gets otherwise obscured.
Smoke now plays well with other applications via its new XML export support for round tripping into Final Cut Pro X and DaVinci Resolve. Another improvement for 2015 is expanded codec support for the seemingly never-ending flow of new cameras. New codecs supported include: Sony Raw, XAVC, ProRes 4444 XQ and 6K Red Dragon.
Brand new in Smoke 2015 Ext.1 is the addition of the Matchbox Timeline FX. Matchbox allows users to add third-party custom shaders and transitions (http://logik-matchbook.org).
I’ve always enjoyed doing motion graphics in Smoke and on this project, the highlight for me was the ability to add and relight 3D elements while doing the motion graphics inside of Smoke’s Action compositor. It’s fun to fly a virtual camera around in a 3D space with all the interactive lighting and 3D-aware lens flares to enhance my work.
As for getting to know Smoke better, Autodesk is offering a steady stream of tutorials covering Smoke fundamentals, as well as videos highlighting new features. You can find them on Apple iTunes and on the Smoke learning channel on YouTube.
I’m happy to see that Smoke lives on and continues to improve the user experience with UI updates and an expanded feature set. Autodesk’s commitment to quality of image processing and adding new features with each release keeps me coming back for more.