Flame 2015 and Smoke 2015 were introduced at NAB this week and include some nice workflow improvements as well as new creative features
Flame 2015 and Smoke 2015 were introduced at NAB this week and include some nice workflow improvements as well as new creative features. It is a solid release that shows continued progress to bringing back some of the functionality lost with the 20th Anniversary edition, while still improving the new workflow. In addition, there are several major performance improvements (including a full 4K workflow) and creative additions. The release is scheduled to ship this month.
The new Desktop includes Batch & Batch Snapshots as well as Reels. Also note the Media Panel can filter showing only Desktop or only Library items via tabs.
From a workflow standpoint, the new Desktop/Batch/Timeline “trinity” has seen further refinement in this version. There has been a change in what “Desktop” means, as Desktop now encompasses Batch, Batch Sources & Batch Snapshots as well as Reels (what were formerly referred to as the Desktop). In other words, when you save a Desktop, it saves everything.
This does require a bit of modification in one’s workflow, but users on beta soon found the new system to be workable and closer to the original Flame workflow. Certainly not perfect, but a marked improvement over 2014.
When you start using it, a starting suggestion for organization is creating one Desktop per shot, understanding that Batch is now an integral part of that. Users can now determine the library in which to save the Desktop.
In addition, a new tiles viewing mode of the Media Panel allows viewing of larger thumbnails in the panel. It’s a very welcome return of larger images. The return of Dual view makes viewing and organizing clips much easier than it has been since the new workflow was introduced.
New tiles mode brings back sensible proxy sizes.
Dual view allows split screen viewing.
New Creative Features The new 3D Shape and Replica tools bring new functionality for 3D objects to Action. The 3D Shape node allows you to turn any shape into a 3D object by creating 3D polygons from the spline. You can then extrude the shape to add depth. In addition to the extrusion tools that have been part of the 3D Text node in the past, there are now additional profile controls for both scale of the object and rotation of the object with reference to depth.
Using the scale option for the 3D Shape profile
Using the rotate option for the 3D Shape profile
3D Shape provides ability to create rough simple models for relighting or retouching
However, this isn’t just about graphics design. With a camera track (or not), one can quickly draw quick shapes in an Action scene and use them for relighting or fixes. Obviously you are constrained to items that can fit within an extrusion model, but it can be quite useful in many instances.
It’s also not simply about singular GMask shapes. Complex shapes can be created by combining multiple GMasks into a single shape via boolean operations such as Add or Subtract. You can then take this combined spline and extrude it. Also, there is support for open splines as well, and their thickness is determined using Advanced Gradients on the mask. This can be used for a variety of purposes, including treatment of edges in a way similar to light wrap. Imagine drawing an open spline along the edge of a person, tracking it to the person, feathering the spline, and then lighting it in a way that can brighten or color the edge. This mask could even support Action’s IBL lighting techniques for further refinement.
SVG import of vector artwork.
While the word “finally” is often over used on the internet when describing new features that arrive in software after a long wait, we feel it’s appropriate to use that term for one aspect of the new 3D Shape tool. After a wait of almost two decades, artists can finally import vector-based artwork from Adobe Illustrator for use in Action. While it’s not EPS, it is SVG, which is just as easy to do from within many applications.
This imported artwork will inherit the color of the object in the SVG file, with each spline coming in as a separate 3D Shape - grouped with a parent axis. With extremely complex shapes, you can sometimes end up with a large number of objects, but the Action inherit link makes changes and adjustments fairly straightforward by chaining the objects together.
Working hand in hand with the new 3D Shape mode is the new Replica node, which allows one to “replicate” any 3D object in Action by entering a number of instances and then positional and rotational offset values. You can even parent a Replica node to another Replica node to create more complex groups of objects, as shown below. Another interesting use of this new node is to use it as a child under a 3D Shape node and above a GMask shape. For instance, one can take a circle mask and then punch out a bunch of holes in it using a replicated shape, creating a cog. This flat cog can then be extruded into a texturable 3D object.
Two replica nodes in use with a single sphere.
Matchbox Shader Improvements Matchbox tools are GLSL shaders, which run incredibly fast on the GPU. This gives users the ability to plug into Flame (and Smoke) and create creative tools. Jeroen Schulte, Julik Tarkhanov, and Ivar Beer have created an online repository of shaders where they may be downloaded as well as uploaded for sharing. There is also free training in how to program them. We’ll be digging into more details about Matchbox shaders in an upcoming article, but in the meantime there are some great improvements in the 2015 release.
First and foremost, the shaders are now available as Timeline FX, bringing faster than real time performance for many of them to the timeline. Autodesk has also included the ability to use Matchbox to create transitions between shots in the timeline. Over two dozen new shaders and transitions have been provided by Autodesk as part of the new release.
In addition, users can encrypt the code in shaders so that users can not actually see the programming techniques used to create them. This should be useful in creating a marketplace for shaders, as creators won’t have to share how they programmed the code.
For programmers, there are also other enhancements for Matchbox:
Integers can be shown as a popup button in the UI Custom colors can be used for the input sockets The number of input sockets may be limited to only the number used by the shader Temporal sampling of the previous and next frame is possible Icons/widgets such as a Light or Axis can be enabled in the code Ability to hide or show a button based upon the status of another button
Performance/4K Flame now has support for 4K workflows, including real-time monitoring and playback via SDI of 4K/UHD material at 50P and 60P. This requires fast storage, of course, and they have new support of 16 GB fiber channel controllers for playback of hires images. In addition, the Flame ACES workflow adds support for the Rec 2020 color space, though in reality few are using it at this point in time. Props for implementing it, though. All Substance effects (Noise and Splatter in Batch and Batch FX and Substance Texture and Materialize in Action) can also now generate elements up to 4K resolution.
“Background Reactor” is a new feature which means you can add a second graphics card (Quadro 6000 in a Z800/Quadro K6000 in a Z820) to the system and use it for background rendering. It is quite similar to Burn functionality, except it runs on the main artist workstation. In our tests, performance is quite on par with foreground rendering and there seems to be little impact on foreground operation. Of course, it does depend upon what you’re doing in the foreground, but it seems that for day to day tasks it has little impact on interactivity.
Last, but certainly not least, there have been significant speed improvements with something Autodesk is calling “single frame optimizations.” As an example, we’ll use Text in batch to describe the difference. In the 2014 version, if you were to add a text node that has no animation and piped it into another node, it would have to render the text for each and every frame. If you wanted to have nice anti-aliasing and cranked up samples to 32 or 64, this could have a significant impact. Now, the software is intelligent enough to know that if there is no animation, it doesn’t need to re-render the Text node each and every frame.
Artists had workarounds such as MUX nodes, which could be used to “trick” the software into rendering only one frame. But now it does so automatically. This has a big impact on the timeline, where a text overlay on the timeline will easily play in realtime. Not every node supports this, but many do. According to the dev team, close to two dozen nodes have been optimized for the initial release. It may seem like a small thing, but many beta users reported that was one of their favorite features in the software.
More New Features In addition to the new features, there have also been many incremental improvements. Here are just a few:
Action: The IBL node now offers an Ambient mode along with the existing Reflection mode. The Ambient mode more closely simulates a global illumination Action: The Alembic SDK has been updated to version 1.5 Action: the Reflection Map node menu now has a mapping type setting to help you create your reflection effect (options are spherical, angular, and cylindrical) Import: Support for Sony XAVC-S media from Sony Handycam camcorders such as the Sony FDR-AX1, in an MP4 wrapper and 4 tracks of 16-bit PCM audio Import: Support for 16-bit layers in Photoshop (.psd) files Timeline: A new preference allows you to set whether Out marks are inclusive or exclusive of the selected frame Timeline: The LUT Editor is now available as a Timeline FX Conform: RGBA media files in Conform can end up as a Matte Container in the conformed sequence Conform: Final Cut Pro X version 10.1 is now supported Conform: You can now conform Multi-Channel content, such as OpenEXR clips, using the Match Criteria combination of File Name and Name