The Rise of Toxik

The answer to my Combustion 2008 woes… may come from the release of Toxik 2008 (which shipped in October 2007). Few people have any real experience of the Toxik product line, and with good reason: it has always been pushed as a collaborative visual effects tool, rather than a standalone one, and requires its own database server to be installed. With that in mind, it requires a conscious decision by the facility to invest in the infrastructure: great for start-ups, but not really that useful to anyone else.

Until now. The great news for 2008 is that Toxik can now be run as a standalone application. It runs on both Windows (32-bit with 64-bit support expected soon) and Linux (32-bit and 64-bit), although currently only NVIDIA Quadro graphics cards are supported (ATI support is in the works). The former Oracle database has been replaced by an XML file, so you lose all of the collaboration options, but keep everything else, like the gorgeous “Touch” user interface.

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The result of this is that as well as the node-based schematic view synonymous with applications such as Shake, you get a lot of workflow and production management tools that you’d only expect to see in editing systems, such as customisable “pick lists”, render and archive scripts, user-generated metadata (which can actually be used to generate slates), and the often overlooked lynchpin of visual effects creation: version control. There’s even a desktop mode, mimicking Flame’s approach to clip management. Of course these are things that many Shake users would scoff at, mainly because it’s someone else’s job to worry about mundane things like that, but then these are also the same Shake artists that run into problems when they have to work on someone else’s shot.

It uses a whole slew of tricks to optimise performance: large images are tiled to fit the current display, and RAM and disk caching are combined to get decent playback. Everything is open: the interface can be scripted, plug-ins can be created (there is support for openFX), and shots can be processed from a command-line. As you’d expect, it ships with lots and lots of nodes to play with (I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow account of those here though). In short, it seems that it will at least do everything Shake will do.

It also does something that nothing else does: integrates completely with Maya. In addition to loading the standard layered Maya renders, it can also read the Maya scene file, and automatically hook to things like the cameras, lights, groups and locators, using them in the Toxik composition. It will also create the initial composite of the layers based upon this information, which is just the way it should be (although not everyone is in the privileged position of designing the structure of the Maya files in addition to creating the compositing software to deal with it).

There are a couple of areas that still need work: there is no vector-based paint tool in the current version, just a raster-based one (they apparently decided to err on the side of speed rather than flexibility). The tracker is nothing to write home about, particularly after having born witness to the toolset of the latest version of Lustre, but it’s certainly no worse than most of the other trackers out there. There’s no timeline editor, but the provided track view is probably more than adequate for most purposes. It’s also a little lacking in tools specific to video-based material, which will hopefully be addressed in a future release. Similarly, let’s hope we get to see a release for Mac users.

There’s also something of a learning curve to Toxik. While the Touch UI provides a very fast way to work once you’re used to it, it is different from conventional systems and doesn’t seem as intuitive to new users to begin with. Even trying to load footage into a composition can require a lot of leafing through the help system or user guide before you have the “Ah-ha” moment. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but it the UI just doesn’t feel as “solid” as Combustion’s. It reminds me a lot of when I first started using Maya after years of using 3D Studio; when I was overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of differences in the interface, from the hotbox, to the tool shelves, and the overall scriptability of it all.

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Toxik 2008 is 2,500GBP per license and all render nodes are free. A subscription to receive updates and new nodes is an extra 470GBP per year.

It seems that Combustion is having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment. And given that Toxik is approaching its price-point whilst boasting superior capabilities, it’s not really that surprising. What I foresee happening is that either there will never be another Combustion release, or that it will undergo a bit of a facelift to make it targeted to 3ds Max Design users, and that meanwhile Toxik starts to get the recognition it deserves.

Posted: March 6th, 2008
Categories: Tools
Tags: , , ,
Comment from lwclasses - 8/4/2009 at 9:57 pm

That’s nice but did you know it can’t even handle audio! Am I missing something but every single piece of compositing I do, REQUIRES audio. This makes Toxik a complete waste of time for me.

Toxik seems to be a re-hash of combustion but nodal. That’s fine, but no audio is simply nuts.

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