Smoke on Mac

Autodesk Smoke 2010 for Mac

Autodesk Smoke 2010 for Mac

Smoke on Mac: It’s Here

Big news: Autodesk has released Smoke on Mac. Smoke is Autodesk’s editorial finishing solution. It combines editing, color correction, and compositing into one application.

This is an important release for a couple reasons. Firstly, price: what used to be available only as a $150,000 turnkey Linux system is now available, software only, for just under $15,000 (around $50-60k with new hardware). Secondly, QuickTime: Smoke on Mac uses the QuickTime libraries, so it can understand QuickTime acquisition/intermediate codecs (ProRes!) natively, instead of forcing users to transcode to image sequences. Thirdly, workflow: Smoke can live on an Final Cut Pro edit system, import FCP timelines via XML, and reference the original FCP media with transcoding.

I went to a demo earlier this week in New York, and seeing Smoke in action was impressive. The demo emphasized the Final Cut workflow, basic keying, and motion tracking. The workflow is tight, the rendering is fast, and the output is beautiful.

The Business Case

Watching the demo, Smoke didn’t strike me as being more capable per se than my existing tools; there wasn’t anything there I couldn’t accomplish with my Final Cut Pro / Cinema 4D /After Effects / Color tool-chain. However, it is way faster, and way easier at many finishing tasks, especially pulling keys and motion tracking. It’s also all available in a single application, so baking effects, round-tripping, and managing edits is greatly simplified. While Smoke won’t automatically make your projects look better, it will simplify your workflow and reduce your finishing time.

For shops whose primary business is editing and compositing, or who frequently do client sessions, this is almost a no-brainer. For shops like mine whose work is more graphics-driven and unsupervised, I’m not sure Smoke would become a daily part of the workflow.

For freelancers, I’d suspect that this release will create incredible demand for talented Smoke artists, and there is no time like the present to get up to speed.

There are just a few things that give me pause about the system, and that are keeping my Amex in my wallet. There are currently no plugins (called “Sparks” in Autodesk nomenclature) available, limiting what Smoke can accomplish natively. I imagine this is temporary, and I’m eagerly watching GenArts and The Foundry to see how they react. Smoke’s built-in color corrector, with a primary and three secondaries, strikes me as a big step down from Color. Also, Smoke is qualified only on NVIDIA Quadro cards, and Apple Color prefers ATI Radeons, so it may be necessary to maintain multiple finishing workstations, defeating the point of the “all-on-one-box” approach.

This Is Not iSmoke

Smoke is the first product in a long time targeted at the middle tier of post-production. Its price, system requirements, and learning curve put it beyond the reach of many low-end shops and freelancers, but it is well within range of serious small shops as well as the larger houses.

It’s worth noting that Smoke on Mac is not a watered-down version of its turnkey Brother. It has the same feature set as Smoke HD; it’s only missing Batch from Smoke Advanced.

Where There’s Smoke…

I’m really curious to see what the ramifications of Smoke on Mac turn out to be. Is Autodesk dipping their toe in the software-only water, or would they like to exit the turnkey workstation market? Will we ever see a Mac version of Lustre? How will other high-end developers react?

Autodesk has released a 30-day demo of Smoke on Mac, so please: ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

Posted by Walter Soyka in News, 0 comments

RenderBreak Re-Launched

We’re in progress on an overhaul of, so it’s only fitting that the blog be reworked as well.

The new design is better harmonized with my firm’s site, and is a lot more flexible and easy to use. I’ll be tweaking both sites in the weeks to come, but the soft launch has officially begun.

Posted by Walter Soyka in Keen Live / RenderBreak, 0 comments

64-bit After Effects

Adobe has just announced that the next release of After Effects will be 64-bit only.


This means that the application can access more RAM, which will give us a huge productivity boost in our widescreen, ultra-high resolution work. Larger image buffers, longer RAM preview caches, better image caching during renders—while we’ll have to wait and see what performance boosts result, the workflow improvement will be big and immediate.

Posted by Walter Soyka in News, 0 comments

Time Management on a Mac

Open the Date & Time system preference pane on Mac OS X

Open the Date & Time system preference pane on Mac OS X


Activate Mac OS X setting for speaking the time aloud on the half-hour

Activate Mac OS X setting for speaking the time aloud on the half-hour


When you’re working on a project, it’s all too easy to get lost in the zone. You’re getting work done, but you’re unaware of the passage of time. While this state of flow has some huge benefits, it makes it hard to manage your time effectively, especially if you’ve got multiple deliverables and tight deadlines.


Mac OS X has a built-in system option that speaks the time aloud on the interval of your choice—every hour, half hour, or quarter hour. It’s pretty unobtrusive, and the new voice for Leopard is vastly improved over the speech synthesis from Mac OS 9.


I have this enabled on my workstation to help keep me on track through the day. It just takes a few clicks. Open System Preferences, and open the Date & Time preference pane. From there, choose the Clock tab, and tick the Announce the time box.

Posted by Walter Soyka in Tips, 0 comments

Watchout 4.1—New Features

Dataton will introduce Watchout 4.1 at InfoComm, and they’ve added a couple powerful features that will address some of its weaknesses as a compositor—blend modes and travel mattes. Along with the other new features in v4, Watchout is expanding beyond a display tool and quickly becoming a more powerful creative tool in its own right.

Posted by Walter Soyka in News, 0 comments

AJA Ki Pro – Records directly to ProRes



AJA Ki Pro

AJA Ki Pro


I am a big fan of Apple’s ProRes codec; their marketing line is “uncompressed HD quality at SD file sizes.” We’ve been using it in-house for video since its release with Final Cut Studio 2, and we’ve been really pleased with the compression.


I am also a fan of AJA’s Kona line of capture cards; the quality and level of service is unsurpassed.


Needless to say, when AJA announced the Ki Pro, a digital recorder that accepts component analog, SDI, and HDMI and records directly to ProRes files, I was intrigued. This device previewed very well at NAB, and should be available for sale by the end of the month. I can’t wait to see how much this will smooth out digital workflows from acquisition to post.

Posted by Walter Soyka in News, 0 comments

Mind Like Water

Water rippling

Water Ripples


I’ve found myself having the “mind like water” discussion over and over with colleagues and clients in the last couple weeks. It’s a notion I borrowed from David Allen, which he borrowed from his martial arts training.


Picture a still body of water. Throw a pebble into it, and you get little ripples. Drop a boulder in, and you get huge waves. Water always reacts appropriately; you never get huge waves cascading from a little pebble. Water never overreacts, and always returns to calm.


As we get stressed, we tend to overreact and fail to return to calm.  We give small details undue attention, and avoid larger issues we should be paying more attention to.  The “mind like water” challenge is keep our responses proportional to our inputs.

Posted by Walter Soyka in Articles, 0 comments

GridIron Flow Goes Beta

GridIron Software’s new product, Flow, has entered public beta today.


Flow is a revolutionary piece of software for designers—a visual workflow manager. It tracks files as you work on them, keeping tabs on the different versions and dependencies. It promises no more lost files, no more version hassles, and no more dependency nightmares when one project relies on changing media from another project.

Posted by Walter Soyka in News, 0 comments

25th Anniversary of the Macintosh





Happy anniversary, Mac.


25 years ago, Apple introduced the Macintosh and changed the way we thought about computers.  For anyone outside a research lab, a computer with a graphical user interface was a revolutionary change in the way we worked with computers.


The Mac was a huge innovation, and its influence is still felt today, but our interactions with computers since its introduction have been largely evolutionary.  Seeing multi-touch and speech recognition technologies taking hold in our daily lives today suggests we are on the cusp of revolutionary change.


It’s very exciting to think that we are starting to design our computers to interact with us, instead of forcing us to adapt ourselves to our computers.  The implications in communications are huge. Most of our presentations today are static, with viewers passively receiving messaging due to technological limitations. Now, we are developing the tools to convert our viewers into participants, letting them interact with our messaging dynamically—even physically—with sight, sound, and touch.


Here’s to the next 25 years.

Posted by Walter Soyka in Articles, 0 comments

The Yellow Line




Just a couple weeks before the Superbowl, here’s a video that breaks down the technology behind the yellow first-down line on TV broadcasts for American football.


It’s a live compositing system that reads live camera position data from each camera on the field and draws the line over the video feed through some color filtering which masks out the players.  I was struck by the simplicity of the engineering, using a spare audio channel from each camera to carry camera position data.

Posted by Walter Soyka in Articles, 0 comments