Autodesk Smoke 2013 Review Part 1: The Migration



The first time we got a preview of Smoke 2013 at last year’s NAB show it was very impressive and we eagerly awaited the final release this year. Now, that we’ve had a chance to play with it we’re still excited about the potential of Smoke 2013 but our initial attempt to get up to speed on the software has us a little less enthused. Smoke just isn’t as intuitive as we had hoped and the transition from a traditional NLE and effects package may take some time.  So while some experienced Smoke users may find this latest iteration easier to master we were having a harder time.

For this review we worked with two active bay area pros who are experienced using Final Cut, Premiere, Vegas, After Effects, Edius..etc and regularly do broadcast and corporate work.  The iniital conclusion from two independent pros is; “Smoke is hard”. This isn’t really a review of the software in action but rather a review of the initial migration form say Final Cut/CS6 + After Effects  to simply using Smoke 2013.  Everyone's excited by the possibility of working entirely in smoke but getting there will take some time.

Pro 1 writes:
As I try to find ways to break into the "Autodesk Way of Thinking", I keep running into roadblocks. My initial perception is that AutoDesk has created a basic screen layout for Smoke 2013 that is similar to the standard NLEs. But beneath the surface is a way of thinking that is very different from Final Cut or Premiere.

For example, last night I just spent about 20-minutes trying to use the resize filter on a clip. In Final Cut I can resize and move a video clip in just a few clicks. In Smoke...well...I'm still not sure exactly how to do it and the help menu didn't really help, which brings me to another point: I'm finding it hard to find tutorials online that are specifically helpful to what I want to learn.

There is an abundance of material out there, but I just haven't had time to wade through it to find the good stuff yet. And many of the tutorials "assume knowledge" that I don't yet have. On the other hand, I find it really easy to find helpful tutorials for Final Cut, Premiere, Photoshop, etc. The user-community must simply be larger and more robust for these other programs.

On the flip side, I'm excited about what may be Smoke's biggest strength for editors like me. If I can get past these initial hurdles, I think Smoke offers a way of editing that is not only very powerful, but requires a lot less "round tripping". Instead of using multiple programs like Final Cut, Photoshop, After Effects, etc to complete a project, I may be able to do it all in Smoke. And so, if I can learn Smoke, then it's possible that I won't have to spend as much time mastering all those other programs.

Here's the catch. When I first started editing with Final Cut Pro, I fell in love. I had been trying to learn Avid and found it very frustrating. But the "Apple Way of Thinking" in Final Cut just immediately made sense to me. Once I learned something, I could put it in my tool bag and use it any time I wanted. It wasn't hard to remember stuff. And so I'm concerned that, in the end, I will be unhappy with Smoke if it is just too complicated. On the other hand, I'm hopeful that Smoke will soon begin to feel more like Photoshop: very complicated, lots of depth...but so useful that it's worth the effort.

Pro 2 Writes:
Autodesk says Smoke is designed for video editors who need to do more than just edit.  That's pretty much all of us these days. I’m one of those people that will take the time to figure out a program if I think the payoff will be worth it. I’m excited about Smoke 2013 because of the potential of having such a powerful all in one program. And I’m a long term Autodesk fan. I still use Combustion and actually prefer it to After Effects although these days I’m forced to use After Effects much more to stay current.

I was expecting Smoke 2013 to be more intuitive than it is. I moved off the Mac platform after Apple decided it was no longer making Mac towers, at least not as frequently as they used to. I’ve been working on PC workstations for several years and had fully committed to the Windows platform.

Along comes Smoke 2013 and I now have a reason to by a new Mac tower, which Apple finally decided to release in the fall. That’s how excited I am about Smoke. I literally will invest in a new tower just to run it.

To be fair I’ve been running Smoke on an underpowered MacBook Pro. I'm not trying to evaluate the performance and speed but rather just get familiar with the work flow to see if I really could move from CS6 and Vegas to Smoke 2013.

Combustion and even Cleaner Xl back in the day were always a little quirky and never intuitive as other software to me. However, with some work I was able to get comfortable and master the software. My initial foray into Smoke 2013 is a different story. Even after watching the tutorials, I still find myself stumbling through the interface to the point of frustration and simply closing the program down. I normally love playing with new software and I want to love Smoke 2013 but the learning curve is getting in the way.

So that’s where we are right now.  We're about 60 days in with two pros who are actively working on video projects and would love to learn Smoke 2013 but are struggling to get up to speed. To be fair, we’ll give these pros more time to see what the reaction is once they actually figure out how to do real work with Smoke 2013.  The release of the new Mac Pros will help as well.  

Visit Autodesk for more information on Smoke 2013.

NVIDIA Quadro K4000 Review



The NVIDIA Quadro K4000 Kepler based cards are a nice step up from the previous generation Quadro 4000 Fermi based cards. This card is in the sweet spot of workstation performance and is a solid choice for users considering a single slot design in the $800 price range.

The Quadro K4000 has upped the CUDA cores by 3x to 768 and 1GB of memory for a total of 3GB of GDDR5 memory. Most impressively perhaps is the reduction in power consumption. This single slot design now has a maximum power rating of 80W. This made a huge difference in our workstation with quieter and better overall system performance.

The K4000 can drive multiple displays but in most cases we find ourselves driving 1 large display, such as a 30inch at 2560x1600, versus multiple displays. This gives us lots of real estate and detail without shifting our eyes back and forth. Most of the creative houses we work with have artists in front of 1 large display with the occasional video reference monitor, of course. However, we mostly used just 1 display with the K4000. For advanced high-end visual computing needs or video walls you can drive multiple displays using DP 1.2 resolution of 3840x2160.

In our working environment, noise and sound are an important consideration. We don't have the luxury of an isolated workstation we access remotely in the edit suite. Our test Supermicro workstation does not have the interior space or optimized workflow that a Dell or HP workstation benefits from. It’s tighter inside the Supermicro case and requires more active cooling from the mid-plane fans. Our test system was fully populated with 1 SSD and 7 HDDs. We also used every available slot for sound, DSP, SATA III and either eSata or legacy firewire cards, all generating some heat.

This system is primarily used to run the Adobe CS6 suite, the Sony Creative suite, Grass Valley Edius, Combustion and myriad utilities, effects plug-ins and compression apps. We’re still waiting for Apple to unleash its new Mac towers so we can test the Quadro K5000 Mac version with Smoke 2013. However, for now we’re very pleased with the performance of the K4000 in our Windows 7 workstation. We like that NVIDIA is active in the pro video community and actively working with companies such as AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox to further utilize its designs and improve performance and workflows.

We ran this system continuously from the time we got the Quadro K4000. It's been about three months and it’s been rock solid. All of our creative suites run butter smooth and benefit from fast render times when using codecs that exploit the extra CUDA cores. Premiere CS6 and its Mercury engine love the K4000. We like the instant previews, real time editing and general performance that feels more like pure hardware. The H.264 renders in Vegas under specific settings were very fast but the software doesn't always take advantage of the GPU for rendering.

The previous Quadro 4000 was hot to the touch after extended use and occasionally our system fans would cycle up and down as needed to keep the system running cool. The Quadro K4000 runs warm to the touch and our system fans do not cycle up and down. Because the Quadro K4000 consumes less power and produces less heat it’s less taxing on the system overall.

With better performance and less power consumption in the same single slot footprint the K4000 is a worthy upgrade over the previous generation Quadro 4000.

Visit NVIDIA for more information and all the specs on the Kepler line of Quadro workstation cards.

HitFilm 2 Ultimate Review



HitFilm 2 Ultimate is an easy to use effects and compositing tool that offers outstanding value under $400. With the latest release just yesterday of Vegas Pro 12 being more stable we’re looking forward to integrating HitFilm 2 Ultimate into the work flow.

We’ve been primarily testing HitFilm 2 Ultimate in standalone mode and it takes a little getting used to the XML GUI. We’ve certainly grown accustomed to more traditional Windows programs. However, once you start to play with the software a bit and understand the flow it quickly becomes addictive.

HitFilm 2 Ultimate has a lot of useful presets and offers infinite ways to tweak and create new ones from scratch. Be prepared to spend hours and hours experimenting and playing. It’s fun.

HitFilm 2 Ultimate offers a decent NLE workflow making it possible to complete an entire project without round-tripping to other apps. However, this is better suited toward tweaking an edit versus building it from scratch. Hang on to your preferred NLE of choice.

We were hoping that HitFilm 2 Ultimate would allow us to export a codec optimized for editing such as AVID DNxHD but the software currently has limited export options. In spite of that, HitFilm 2 Ultimate offers a very good value compare to other popular effects software and is certainly worth a download to test for you.

Visit HitFilm for all the specs and to download a trial version.

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