Choosing your next editing and finishing system

Posted by MarcAndreFerguson 
Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
January 28, 2012 03:48PM
I'll add a few more points here.

1) Training and labour. Price is very important here. For editors to work on Smoke, dropping the price and making a software-only "lite" version lets prospective users pick up the software. Why is this important? The transition from FCP to Smoke is not like the transition from FCP to Avid, or if the user is coming from After Effects or Nuke. It is a whole new interface with its own workflow, and its own terminology. Finishing is also a skill set by itself. If a post house was to decide on getting in a Smoke machine, it needs to figure out who is going to run the suite, who to train and who to hire. There are far more FCP and Avid editors out there than Smoke artists. There are also far more After Effects users than Smoke artists. Why? These softwares are significantly more affordable and it is easier for a user to own a copy and practice on their own outside of seat time at the post facility. So when a post facility decides they need 4 FCP suites to cut a multicam reality show, they buy 4 FCP seats, and they know they can hire the manpower relatively easily. Same goes for After Effects. For Smoke, it is a biggger decision in time, effort and money with regards to hiring and training staff, on top of software and hardware costs. So a low cost training version (or a lite version) would be good. A $15K software version is not something you can target at graduates who are trying to learn a skill set.

2) Targeting specific markets with different versions of Smoke at different price points. Jon Chappell mentioned this, and this is a good point. However, the issue is the rate of obsolescence in hardware and processors and GPUs are getting faster (or cheaper) as time goes by. Most format support and workflows rely on hardware. And pricing in this area is more dependent on hardware than software. Here is the question of whether you need more GPUs, or if you need a render farm, or if you need a high speed SAN storage for online work between the online machines, or if you need a stereoscopic monitor? A render farm built 8 years ago is almost obsolete (and more often than not, incompatible) today in our age of multi-core processors and GPU accelerated processes. However, having certain functions available as add-on upgrades, such as stereoscopic 3D support, OMF/AAF export, can help lower the cost of the software and better target the broadcast market.

On another note, Walter mentioned about the cost of implementing a finishing machine and what that finishing machine does when it is not finishing anything. True, there is an additional cost involved, as I see Smoke more of a workflow tool, and where I work, it comes up as separate billing, and not all projects end up going to Smoke. This depends on the client's budget.

As far as setup is concerned, let's say you are working on a reality show, and your client has budget, and he wants a bit of roto work, cosmetic touch ups, color correction, and he wants it fast and he wants to sit in on the session and make changes, and he needs 2 day sessions instead of a week in After Effects, Smoke is a pretty good option.

Let's say you are working on a multicam reality show with budget, you will have maybe 4-8 offline editing machines working on a SAN, one machine for color correction or Smoke, an After Effects suite for titles and graphics, and an audio mixing setup. You can also choose to do the titles and graphics in Smoke if the client can afford it. So basically Smoke can be used after offline lock on each episode, and you can color correct and do touch ups (sky replacements, background replacements, green screen, wire removal, etc).

What does Smoke add to the workflow? Let's say you are trying to create a look and feel for a scene (color correction is getting more intertwined with effects these days). And let's say the client is sitting in on the color correction session and you have 2 days for finishing including color correction, and he decides that he wants to do a sky replacement in a scene, or if he wants to get rid of that unsightly construction site in the background, the Smoke artist can do it right there and then, without having to export shot by shot to After Effects/Nuke, call up the compositor, and then sending those shots back into FCP to reassemble the scenes.

On another level, I am looking at Smoke as a value added replacement for the traditional color correction machine. Why? It can do the same thing, but it gives you a lot more options on the spot.

The part I disagree with, is that Smoke is an NLE. NLEs to me are like Avid, FCP, and to some degree, Premiere Pro. On top of being able to work fast and reliably with camera formats, good story telling tools and media management are crucial components within an NLE. A multicam reality editor works with thousands of hours of footage, and he needs to find a 20 second shot within those thousands of hours of footage, he needs to do it and do it fast so he can focus on telling the story.

Smoke is not a traditional editing machine, and not many Smoke artists have edited a feature film in Smoke. Finishing is a completely different skill set from creative story telling. When you work to tell a story, you don't care about whether the sky is blown out or if your lead character needs a bit more face light in the scene or if you should darken the background to help create the mood in a horror scene. In creative offline editing, you focus on the story, and on the performance. Usually your timeline is one or two layers for the base edit, and you don't work with 50 layer comps. Sometimes you need some effects to help create the mood in the scene, but usually, you don't bother with tracking your power windows. You just want the effects done up rough and quick so you can focus on telling a good story. So effects done up in the offline edits can be quite different from the effects done up during finishing because the focus on each area is different.

So Smoke can be seen as an add-on, just like color correction, motion graphics or sound designing. We can debate on how important mograph, color correction and sound designing is to a film, and why we need a professional and a proper setup to deal with these areas, Smoke holds its own when you need a conducive environment to work on finishing. It just depends on the kind of work that you are doing. In some cases, it is a luxury, in some cases, it is a crucial to the pipeline, in many other cases, a good Smoke artist can add a lot to the project.
Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
January 30, 2012 07:05AM
Here is a link to Autodesk's Smoke Learning Channel, on YouTube:

Here you'll find not only Getting Started videos, but also more in-depth videos about certain workflows or tools, from our Master Trainer Grant Kay.

Grant also wrote an excellent "Getting Started with Smoke" article on ProVideoCoalition, with all the links you need to rock'n'roll with Smoke:

Remember, when you download and use the 30-day trial, it's fully supported, meaning you can call tech support for free with your setup and basic usage questions.
Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
January 30, 2012 07:30AM
Awesome Marc, thanks.

Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
January 30, 2012 12:17PM
I am a bit late to this thread but here is my 2 cents. I have been using Smoke on Linux for years. I don't work in traditional Post, my arena is local broadcast. I use Smoke as an editor and as a finish/effects tool. I cut spots as well as short and long form programming. We shoot on P2 and Canon 5D. Editing on Smoke allows me to be creative and cut the editorial as well as color grade and add effects as needed. It's even possible to do a bit of Motion Graphics. I won't try and compare it to the limitless possibilities of After Effects, but Smoke can do some very nice and very fast graphics. The great thing about it is that it's all in one piece of software. It allows me to make changes almost instantly when a producers or manager asks.

Yes, Smoke is a bit pricey if you compare it to other NLE's or even full suites like Adobe. and I agree that it could be a bit more competitive in today's market. Smoke for mac was released in 2009 and frankly the world's economy hasn't really improved. I don't think that there should be a 'lite' version of Smoke that it Timeline only or SD only. Who even work sin SD still? I know it's not dead, but it does need to be put down. When an iPhone can shoot 1080p.. SD needs to go. A lite version of just the timeline is silly. Smoke is more than just an NLE. Smoke is a workflow.

Smoke strength is in the design of the UI. It was written for pen/tablet, and is very fast in working because everything is right in front of you. I can edit a polished :30 spot with full color grade and effects and graphics in about 6 hours. Here is an example.

All of the graphics (except 13 logo) and design were done inside Smoke, as well as the editing. The beauty of the workflow is that I can rough out an edit, plan for graphics, and execute and tweak the timing and pacing of everything because it's all right there. Should the text animate 10 frames sooner? Just slide some keyframes. Should the transition be slower? That might affect the timing of the animation on the next shot? Doesn't matter, it's all just a few pen swipes to change.

For editors that are becoming more than just cutters, and now need to grade and do some graphic design... Smoke is great. Is it the best thing ever? No, it does have some quirks. But it's strengths far outweigh it's weaknesses. I know broadcast stations have also been hit hard by the economy and that they also want to buy the cheapest gear possible, but adding one or 2 Smokes in the Promotions and Commercial departments of the station will instantly raise the quality, and speed at which they can output spots.

Do you have to learn it? And is there a bit of a learning curve? Sure, Smoke is a deep deep program. I still learn things about it. And I think now that Smoke is on the Mac, and that it is accessible to people, that they just need to try it out, and see what it can do. 30 days is a bit short of time for a trial, so be sure to watch all of the videos that are out there.

I am a fan of Smoke. Before Smoke I edited on Lightworks. So I have always worked with more unique editing solutions. Smoke offers a lot to the user, so I am always happy to give back and support the product.
If you want to know more about me... see here. []

Brian Mulligan - WTHR-TV
Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
January 30, 2012 04:35PM
Nice work, Brian.

>I cut spots as well as short and long form programming

Cutting long form in Smoke is new where I am. How does that work out? How are the media management tools in Smoke? The only advantage I can think of is that it prevents tweak loops when you have to go between the offline and the online departments, which can happen with sticky clients.

I can see where Smoke can speed up the workflow. For the kind of spot that you mentioned, where I'll still put Smoke in finishing- have 2 NLEs (eg. FCP or Avid) do the offlines, send them to Smoke for finishing. 2 FCPs or Avids as opposed to having 2 Smokes, and that would work out cheaper and just as efficient. Why? When you buy a Smoke you prefer to have it do what the other machines struggle to work with.

But good example in showing that Smoke doesn't just "sit" there when there is no finishing work to be done.

My suggestion about having a Smoke Lite is not so much to have it sell the software, but to open up the market and have more people practice with it as opposed to having it actually work on paying projects. Having more people skilled in Smoke indirectly helps out prospective markets where trained Smoke artists are hard to find. A timeline only version beats a 30 day trial, especially because it's a deep software. In practice, the 30 day trial is still software only, unless you already have the necessary graphics cards, capture card and storage array.

If I do invest in a Smoke, it needs to start earning money from day 1, whereas, I have Adobe Production Premium sitting around in my laptop and I'll occasionally dabble in AE or in PS.
Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
January 30, 2012 06:46PM
I've been watching the tutorials and there's a few things I want to ask about.

Firstly, it doesn't look that much faster than FCP7 or Avid or Premiere for standard cutting and compositing. Specifically, you still have to 'process for playback' to see a simple logo and text on the second layer, which is like having to render. Rendering is fast becoming a thing of the past, so seeing that was kind of disappointing.

Also, is there a way to manipulate the position of items more manually in the 'record' monitor? What about more than one item at a time? From the tutorials I've seen so far it seems to be all click and drag on number fields, or open number fields and type numbers, which I guess you have to experiment with as you go.

I'm up to lesson 14, so obviously I'm no expert, and this is not intended as a jab at the program, just genuine questions about workflow. I would be adding supers and making frame adjustments on a much more regular basis than high level grading or VFX. In Premiere, no render needed for playback, and none in FCP7 although the alpha channel applied in the example would probably require it. Not sure how or if Smoke would behave differently if the imported image already had transparency.

Also, why does she keep saying 'alt' when its being demoed on a Mac? It's option on the Mac smiling smiley

EDIT : Just found out about 'parenting' in the Action Setup part of the program, so that's one question about moving multiple layers answered. Can you also do something like this in the 'edit' mode, or do you have to switch modes?

Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
January 31, 2012 07:34PM
okay, Ive been thinking about this for a while....and until now had no one to talk to about THIS SUBJECT!

I am a Freelancer in Chicago, 3D / motion graphics / Edit / post. I love AE, but push it so hard that i endup with 128 layers (not including pre-comps), and kick myself for demanding AE to be a NLE.

I have been a part of FXPHD and i took a couple of smoke classes with the VPN software. I have worked along side Smoke artist before, and one day hope to get access to a Flame, So i knew the capabilities. I know the interface quirks, and as a Mac user I can deal with it. I know Smoke is powerful and can do what i need it to do. Price is not even that much of an issue because i thought the Saphire plugins for AE where expensive 3 years ago and they have payed them selfs back 10 times over. My question is in 5 years will it be the System/platform I am happy I INVESTED INTO?

Here is my view of the Design / post/ finsih/ editing landscape:
- AE/premiere = $2500(motion graphics, 90% of everything you need, 2.5D at best, you pay in render time.)
- FCP/motion/FCPX = NO. I love Apple, but they are not respecting me as a PRO
- NUKE/HEIRO = $10kish (great 3D compositor, limited 'design tools', New to market... remember Storm?, hardware suport?)
- Smoke = $15,000 (great editing, very strong 3D compositing, very expensive Sparks (plugins) and additional hardware)

Combustion would be a GREAT bridge app right about now. Use this to learn Autodesk, then move up. I would pay $3000 for an App that takes AE on head to head. Dont ask me about Maya composite/toxic that should just be a TAB inside Combustion!

In the end for Hardware, Raids, and software I know im probably looking at about $40,000 for a turnkey system. That much money has a longer lifecycle then a $300 app that shocks you when it turns out to be iMovie on steroids.

What I am afraid of is that I will use Smoke like I use Premiere now, as nothing but playback for my AE comps.

I am sorry for the FCPX bashing but I bought and was leaning Shake waiting on "Phenomenon" and got my teeth kicked in by apple. I'm moving on, and the vender I deal with again, i want to know is taking my work seriously.

Sorry for the rant,
Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
February 01, 2012 04:25AM
Not a rant, Duff, many of us feel the same and have said so.

I'm further into the tutorials now and have to say the keyer is lovely. Just like how I'd like it to work.

Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
February 01, 2012 09:49AM
MarcAndreFerguson said:
"Walter, and the rest : where does finishing fit in your pipeline?"


Finishing IS my pipeline - there is no specialization in this teeny market of mine (Florida). I do EVERYTHING. I take all projects from raw to finished in one app (FCP7) going back and forth to Cinema 4d / After Effects / Photoshop / Illustrator / Mocha / etc. I have been asking Adobe for YEARS to integrate Premiere / AE and (purchase & integrate) a 3D app into one all-star Compositing / Editing / MoGraph finishing app. Don't see it coming from them though. Some guys I know went to Avid DS...they went the way of the Dinosaur in my market - we replaced our ridiculously-expensive-to-upkeep DS systems (2 of them) and 2 Adrenaline HD systems with 5 fully loaded FCP / Adobe systems for a fraction of the cost. We practically gave them all away.

I am in a small market so $$$ is tight. I personally freelance a lot and work full time as a Staff Senior Editor / Compositor as well. Yes...price reduction justification...make a "below 2K" version that includes all the bells & whistles for us in TV / Video Game / Internat Advertising land for a competitively affordable price (Production Premium CS 5.5 / MC6 range)...that might sway me (and my facility - I can make suggestions) to make that move over...if it was an all-inclusive system that was fast and affordable.

This is a good time to talk about this too because who knows how long FCP7 will remain useful and all signs point to us NOT going anywhere near FCPX.

When life gives you dilemmas...make dilemmanade.

Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
February 01, 2012 10:27AM
Joey, I know how you feel.
I started a boutique in the mid nineties, and I was the guy, the offline/online editor-motion graphics artist/assistant/button pusher.
My facility had the first AE 3 production bundle license in Montreal; our reseller had to be Adobe-approved before we could order it.
So I did a lot of After Effects work, since my Avid couldn't do a third of what I accomplished in AE.
When FCP 1 came around, I knew Apple was on to something, and I loved it, since it understood guys like me, editors that need to do compositing, effects and colour correcting at the offline stage.
Online, all the time. That was my motto, and it still is.

I agree with the comments on Smoke being able to show your work in progress, in context, without having to render the whole segment.
In answer to Jude's comment about rendering, remember that Smoke works in the most pristine resolution, and it's optimized for 10-bit 444 quality. Where the software stands out is the responsiveness, even when you're piling on layers in Action, with 3D models and lights. Smoke was designed to work with a client at your side. Besides, rendering is also pretty fast.
Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
February 01, 2012 10:35AM
strypes Wrote:
> Nice work, Brian.
> >I cut spots as well as short and long form
> programming
> Cutting long form in Smoke is new where I am. How
> does that work out? How are the media management
> tools in Smoke? The only advantage I can think of
> is that it prevents tweak loops when you have to
> go between the offline and the online departments,
> which can happen with sticky clients.

Media Management is fine. There is some organizational efforts by the editor that's needed. But that's what the editor is for. I will often create different projects for segments of a show, or features that will go into a show, then copy those final sequences in to the final SHOW POST project. That way the edit is all still live and I can trim here and there for time.
Our media is all P2 based on USB hard drives. Maybe some older stuff from tape. The file based stuff is linked to the usbs and proxys are made on the framestore. Any other material is usually stored locally. I edit, color, add graphics... export to file or tape. (HDCAM)
Re: Choosing your next editing and finishing system
March 07, 2012 05:49PM
I know smoke from the early 2000 years on octane. UI was great and coming from editbox i entered a whole new world in finishing. So I really liked it! Today - forgive me - I would feel like stepping back a decade. As mentioned smoke is a strong client tool, so it fits in best for advertising. But even in advertising 10 years ago we got a large budget project to make changes, that was after effects. The client insisted the job was done in smoke. I called and asked what was going on and that fancy London soho Postproduction told me they charged smoke and had two guys in the back doing the project in AE. So what they did was using it as a playback tool and very expensive ad client petting zoo!
We did it the same way, some magic tricks in smoke and the workload in AE. Worked nice.
If you have the clients paying that extra money, buy it it's a great tool and I loved it! I think you have to compare it to quantels eQ not AE.
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