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Autodesk Smoke 2013 is Coming to a Desktop Near You

It's a very powerful application that now has a much more approachable front end.

By Scott Simmons | June 05, 2012


The editing and post-production world is very close to what will be an exciting day for many who have dedicated their careers to all things post-production. Autodesk is going to release their public beta of Smoke 2013 for Mac out into the world (you can sign up for the free trial here). It has been delayed a bit but expect it sooner rather than later. Many editors have spent their entire careers hearing and reading about this mythical tool that could do unbelievable things, often above and beyond Adobe After Effects. Some may have even sat in an online suite and watched a Smoke artist wield their Wacom pen like a magic wand as they made broadcast ready effects happen in record time. But this Autodesk tool was always out of reach for many … until now.

Later this month Autodesk will be launching their very public public beta of Smoke 2013 for Mac. This will be a free install for anyone and it will remain live and usable until the final shipping version of Smoke in the fall of 2012. That may be four or five months of an incredibly powerful tool you’ve never had access to before sitting on your desktop. Upon release in the fall this previously five figure tool will cost $3,500. It’s a brilliant move by Autodesk because at that time many Smoke beta users will probably have become so used to editing and effects all in one application that they’ll gladly pay the cost to keep using it. Others won’t be able to justify that cost and will have to go back to creating effects and graphics their old way.

The key phrase here for editors like myself is editing and effects all in one application. Yes we can do some rather complex effects in our NLE of choice but we all know there are certain tasks best handled in a more vfx friendly application. Adobe After Effects and Apple Motion are great but you’re not going to offline an edit in them. And you’re often hard pressed to even make basic editorial changes without a headache. Smoke 2013 is trying to change just that.

The Smoke 2013 interface looks very much like a good ole NLE. I never dreamed I’d be editing together a little home movie in Autodesk Smoke. But then again I never dreamed I’d color a home movie in DaVinci Resolve but we’ve seen that happen within the last couple of years. Goes to show no one knows anything about post-production these days!

When Smoke for Mac was launched at some $12,000 a couple of years ago I was asked to take a look at it from an editor’s point of view since editors were a segment of the post-production community Autodesk was targeting. After install and licensing I began to muddle my way through the application albeit with a confused look on my face. I knew what this tool could do because I had sat in on many a Smoke session over the years but I was at a loss. I didn’t expect to sit down and be a pro at this complex tool that Smoke artists take a career to master but I didn’t expect to feel like bumbling idiot either as I have no problem picking up a software tool. I finally gave up and went on my merry Avid/FCP way.

This timeline has a lot of familiar things: tracks, markers and out of sync indicators. The little dots and lines at the tops of a clip indicates effects and renders. The little box on the yellow playhead is how you target a Source video patch for editing into the timeline. Audio waveforms are toggled off.

Enter Smoke 2013 for Mac. I was able to install a pre-release alpha thanks to Autodesk and boy what a difference a year makes (thought they have been working on this version for much longer than a year). There sits a timeline that editors can understand. The editing interface is dominated by big source and record monitors that most of us will relate to. The exact buttons may look a bit foreign but you’ll see red and yellow arrows that have come to pretty much universally represent overwrite and insert across the line of NLEs.

Editing operations like Insert and Overwrite (among others) are easy to do both in the interface and on the keyboard.

The top of the timeline looks like an NLE patch bay with video and audio track indicators as well as source patching.

The Smoke 2013 timeline patch bay isn’t exactly like Avid or Final Cut Pro but it looks very familiar and will be easy to understand.

And familiar terms abound: ripple, snap, slip, slide.

*Ripple and Snap are two very common terms amongst NLEs. Pin is a term for trimming animated effects. *

There’s also some new terms that we haven’t really seen in NLEs: Pin, Partial, Inclusive, Bounded. Thankfully there’s pop-up tools tips to help us through. There’s also an area dedicated to browsing and loading media, the MediaHub.

A look at the Smoke 2013 tools pop-up and you’ll see terms that any editor should be familiar with.

This is an interface the editor can understand.

Questions will be answered as we begin to use Smoke 2013

But can we really edit in this thing? Can I take 4 hours of raw media in many different formats and offline that corporate video? Can I import and make sense of an unorganized hard drive full of a client’s media? How fast can an editor (the human, not the app) be for the creative storytelling part of the edit where muscle memory and keyboard shortcuts can mean speed? Those are questions that have yet to be answered. Smoke’s conforming capabilities will be an important part of the application and place Smoke 2013 in an interesting position. As your edit moves closer to locked picture (but not there yet) there will come a point when you’ve got to start on those motion graphics and effects. I think Smoke 2013 is going to be really unique in that a nearly locked edit can move into the application and be placed in a very familiar, NLE like environment. Editorial changes will be able to continue while work begins on complex motion graphics and composting. All the while it will be much easier to make changes (be it with existing footage or something entirely new) than if you’ve had to move the entire edit into After Effects. Taking single shot after single shot to and from other effects applications will be much less of a necessity as well since so many effects operations will be available right in the timeline via Smoke’s new Connect FX.

Adding an effect yields common effects like Time Warp, Text and color correction. And then there’s the powerful Connect FX

One of the things that I look most forward to in Smoke 2013 is the ability to actually play back that full timeline in its entirety. Smoke 2013 will be capable of some very complex effects so everything won’t be realtime and rendering will be required but with Smoke’s more NLE-centric nature playback isn’t going to be dependent on RAM or cacheing small parts of the edit at a time. That’s always been one of my biggest roadblocks with Adobe After Effects as a finishing tool. You can’t really just render, sit back and watch that entire 5, 12 or 30 minute corporate video. Try explaining that to a client.

And once in the Connect FX Editor you have access to full nodal compositing. This is where Smoke’s fx background is going to shine. It’s also a place where editors might be doing a lot of learning.

I can hear the sound of a thousand Smoke artists yelling at the top of their lungs …. why have you let these people into our realm Autodesk? I might be asking the same thing but times change, prices drop and markets must grow. Autodesk is making a play into a new (for Autodesk) market that is thousands strong. They’re making a once out-of-reach tool well within reach for many facilitates and editors. It’s a complex tool that will have a familiar front end. Most people won’t be able to pick it up overnight, at least I know I can’t. But with the long public beta of Smoke 2013 for Mac at least we know that editors will have plenty of time to try it out and see if it’s for them.

I admit it ... I didn't have a clue what I was doing here. Gotta learn to use those nodes.

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Disclosure, to comply with the FTC’s rules 16 CFR Part 255 This article was either written by Autodesk employees or for Autodesk by an outside contractor. It is intended for the Autodesk Channel on ProVideo Coalition, which Autodesk sponsors.


Geoffrey Brown: | June, 06, 2012

Good article Scott, it seems to be all you described and more…except for one tiny gotcha.
You can only monitor through the AJA Io XT box costing around $1500.
Not a big deal!, well it is if you have different I/O hardware, like Black Magic Ultra Studio 3D, and don’t want to spend the $$$‘s
I still think it’s a shame that a lot of companies, not to single out Autodesk, seem to ‘own goal’ themselves when it comes to the little but important details that allow the end user to transition to a product without incurring additional costs. How hard is it to issue SDK’s to all the 3rd party suppliers? Locking into one supplier makes little business sense.

I for one won’t bother downloading the trial as I won’t be able to evaluate it in the professional environment that I work. It’s not like we’re not spoilt for choice in the NLE/VFX areas. There are plenty of competing products for sale and in these tight financial times consumers can’t afford to keep updating kit for every new product that comes along.

My .02 cents (less allowance fro inflation)

Geoffrey Brown
Producer, DP, Editor

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