Thursday, May 8th, 2014 Posted by Jim Thacker

Autodesk shakes up effects and finishing tools line-up

Originally posted on 7 April 2014. Scroll down for updates.

Autodesk has unveiled Smoke 2015 and Flame 2015 as part of a rationalisation of its finishing tools that retires several old products, introduces a new one, and brings in a subscription-only payment model.

The announcements were made in the run up to this week’s NAB 2014 show.

Smoke 2015: new integrated 3D tracker, new hardware support, new subscription-only pricing
Smoke 2015 is the first major update to Smoke since the milestone 2013 release, which dropped the price of the Mac-based editing, effects and finishing tool from $14,995 to $3,495.

The 2015 release isn’t quite as disruptive – although it does bring in a new pricing model of its own.

New features include a 3D tracker integrated in the Action 3D compositor; and an overhaul of Timeline FX that enables editors to rearrange effects directly in the timeline, and makes Action a Timeline effect.

Other than that, it’s mainly about the way Smoke integrates with other hardware and software.

Autodesk has optimised Smoke for the new Mac Pro and OS X 10.9, although it doesn’t quantify the performance boost; and improved support for Blackmagic DeckLink cards and UltraStudio Thunderbolt devices.

Integration with Final Cut Pro X now “supports more timeline and effects metadata”; and Smoke sequences can be exported as XML with accompanying QuickTime files.

How much will you pay on subscription?
Equally significantly, Smoke 2015 brings in a subscription-only model in place of the old perpetual licences.

The recommended rates are $195/month, $545/quarter and $1,750/year, which includes updates and support – but even on the cheapest plan, you’ll still end up paying the cost of an old perpetual licence every two years.

In its press release, Autodesk notes that it “polled a sample across the professional video market and 68 percent responded that term-based software licensing is a great option” – although it doesn’t say whether the users were asked whether they wanted it to be the only option.

Rationalising the product line
The 2015 releases also mark the official end of the line for several older tools, including Smoke Advanced, Flint and Inferno, according to this blog post by Autodesk Expert Elite editor Brian Mulligan.

Anyone with a current subscription to those tools gets a free upgrade to Flame.

That refocuses the product line-up far more tightly around Flame 2015 and the attendant tools in Flame Premium, which now include Lustre, Flare and the new Flame Assist, also unveiled at NAB.

Flame 2015 is designed to offer “a complete 4K and Ultra HD workflow”. See more videos of its new features, including the new 3D Shape and Replica tools, on Autodesk’s YouTube channel.

Flame 2015: new 4K workflows, new tools, new second GPU
Flame 2015 introduces a number of features designed to enable artists to work interactively at 4K resolution.

In Autodesk’s summary, these include: “4K/UHD color management supporting ACES and REC-2020 color spaces; real-time monitoring and playback via SDI of 4K/UHD material at 50P and 60P; timeline effects and batch nodes performance optimization & 4K capable substance textures; and 16 Gb fiber channel controllers in high-performance storage.”

Flame 2015 also now supports the addition of a second GPU card in the Flame workstation.

Artists can send a job to the second GPU for rendering via Background Reactor while continuing to work interactively on “certain other tasks” in the foreground.

It requires two Quadro 6000 GPUs on HP Z800 or Z820 workstations; or two Quadro K6000s on the Z820.

The update also adds a 3D Shape tool for rapid modelling and projection mapping work, described as “as easy to use as GMask”; and Replica, a new tool in Action for creating cascading effects using a single cloned object.

Matchbox shaders can also now be added directly to shots and transitions in the timeline.

Flame 2015 also introduces a new Dual Library view; and artists can now perform editorial and effects work on Batch sources in the timeline and see the results in a new Batch context view in the Batch compositing tree.

As well as the Lustre colour-grading toolset, Flame Premium now includes licences of visual effects tool Flare and Flame Assist, a new “Mac-based timeline-centric assistant station”.

Flame Premium 2015: includes Lustre, Flare and Flame Assist
As before, Flame Premium 2015 comes with Lustre, Autodesk’s colour grading software – and now licences of Flare, its VFX software, and Flame Assist, a new “Mac-based, timeline-centric assistant station”.

We can’t find any more official information on Flame Assist, beyond the fact that it’s intended to enable users to “take on a variety of tasks related to starting and completing Flame Premium projects”.

However, in his blog post, Mulligan says that it “contain[s] the exact same feature set” as Smoke, and is meant to address post houses’ tendency to use Smoke as a “mini-Flame” unit for conforming and basic FX work.

Updated 8 April: Autodesk tells us that Flame Assist is designed to address the needs of two distinct groups of Smoke users: existing Flame customers, who need compatibility with Flame itself; and a new audience of non-Flame-using video editors, who don’t.

“Having to support those 25% of customers who used Flame was going to be a constraint to what we want to do with Smoke,” said Autodesk industry manager Maurice Patel. “[In future versions] we want to break compatibility and take [Smoke] in a new direction.”

Existing users of both Flame and Smoke will have the option to migrate for free from Smoke to Flame Assist; users of Smoke alone can remain on their current software, or move to the new rental version.

The new versions of Flame, Flame Premium and the related tools ship later this month.

Updated 8 April: The first version of this story incorrectly stated that the Flame product family would be available on a subscription-only basis. Flare and Flame Assist are available on quarterly or annual pay-as-you-go plans to Flame and Flame Premium users; purchasing for the other products remains unchanged.

Updated 8 May: Smoke 2015 is now shipping. Pay-as-you go rental prices are listed in the story above.

Read more about the new features in Smoke 2015 on Autodesk’s website

Read more about the new features in Flame 2015 and its attendant tools on Autodesk’s website