Smoke on the Mac

As I've already said I mainly use Sony Vegas Pro for editing, but I use Smoke on Mac for finishing. So what's the difference between editing and finishing?

I see editing as the process of going through your material and making the decisions about how that material should be arranged to tell your story.

Nowadays that material can come from any number of different sources and you may need to deliver the result in a number of different ways, so you need a system that is fast, flexible and doesn't get in the way of the decision making process.

However, once you have made the decisions about the structure of the edit, you need to be able to "finish" the project. This can involve colour correction, grading, audio mixing, compositing, graphics, animation and anything else you need to get to your final result. Whilst Sony Vegas Pro is a great editing tool, and for a lot of my projects Vegas has everything I need to be able to finish my projects, Smoke allows me to go even further.

A little history. I first started using Smoke in 1999 when I joined Discreet Logic as a product specialist. At that time Smoke was a system running on esoteric computer hardware (SGI Octane 2) and the operating system was Irix, SGI's version of Unix. The price was about the same as a small apartment!
Why would anybody spend that much money on an editing system? Because of what it could do. Smoke worked with uncompressed RGB images, at resolutions far higher than other systems. It could be used to edit video but also to edit film that had been digitised using film scanners. It had fast and extremely high quality colour correction, keying and tracking and it was a sister machine to Flame, Discreet's ground breaking compositing system, able to share projects and media over a high speed network.

Today Smoke is available as software for the Apple Mac, at a considerably lower price point ;-)

The main thing that Smoke has that vegas does not is "action", which is the 3D compositing environment in Smoke. In action I can place images, graphics, text and even 3D models in a virtual 3D environment and then control the camera that views that environment. I can even place lights that will interact with the objects in the scene, casting shadows and rays and even causing lens flares in my virtual camera. I can track objects to the background or to each other and every setting can be animated using a powerful keyframing system.

Smokes action module
Smoke has had action for years now and all they had to do to give it the ability to work with stereoscopic 3D was add another camera :-)

What's the downside? Learning how to use it. Smokes user interface is unlike any other editing or compositing package and the learning curve is like Everest. However, once you master it Smoke can do things that no other system can do.

There is a downloadable trial version which gives you 30 days to play with it but that is not enough time to really get into it. If you want to get more of an idea of what Smoke can do check out Grant Kays excellent blog on the Autodesk Area. Some of the videos are out of date now but there is still plenty of good stuff.

If you are interested in Smoke training send me a mail, I'd love to hear from you.

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