Posts Tagged ‘Software reviews’

The Many Problems with Prelude…

I was initially very excited by the promise of Adobe Prelude (replacing Adobe OnLocation as of version CS6). The idea that it can streamline (even automate) the Digital Image Technician’s workflow of copying and checking digitally-sourced footage on-set and making proxies, thus freeing up the DIT to focus on more useful tasks, such as logging information into the footage’s metadata.

I spent a couple of days using it on a multi-camera shoot, but the results were disappointing. Allow me to count the ways:

  1. It hangs a lot
  2. It’s impossible to batch-edit metadata (it seems to work in principle, but ultimately it will hang)
  3. If any errors are detected during an ingest, none of the footage ingested shows in the project window
  4. You can create bins, but cannot open these bins in separate windows
  5. There’s no way to create metadata templates (so that you only see/edit the metadata tags you’re interested in)
  6. Ingested footage doesn’t appear in the project window until the entire ingest has completed
  7. It’s not possible to transcode footage from the project window
  8. It’s not possible to duplicate footage from the project window
  9. There’s no way to apply metadata during ingest
  10. Despite it being plastered all over the product page on Adobe’s website, there’s no way to transcribe the audio from within Prelude
  11. There’s no way to do anything clever with the metadata. For example, I was hoping I’d be able to produce copies of the clips but renamed to the scene and take number. No such luck.
  12. There’s no thumbnail view
  13. You can’t sort clips by any metadata field (in fact, you can’t display the metadata fields in the spreadsheet-like project view)
  14. You can’t set any event (notification, action) to trigger on completion of ingest
  15. There’s no way to filter the event list
  16. The help system redirects to the Adobe website (because when you’re on-set you always have a reliable internet connection)
  17. Worst of all, it seems to be corrupting files whilst copying (although I can’t prove this conclusively, I did encounter 2 corrupt copied files although the originals were intact)

Although this isn’t a case of “Adobe dropped the ball” (it is only the first release, after all), it does seem like even basic functionality that is required by all DITs is missing. Part of the reason this is so disappointing is because they already have much of this working in Lightroom. They’ve even structured the UI with a 4-room (ingest, logging, list, rough cut) metaphor along the same lines of Lightroom, but have failed to properly utilise it.

It does seem that Adobe is using Prelude to push you into moving the footage into Premiere and then doing more there, but I don’t really want to start moving data between applications at this stage. There’s a “rough cut” feature that I didn’t even use, because well, that’s what Premiere is for.

Posted: May 12th, 2012
Categories: Opinion
Tags: , , , , , ,
Comments: 2 comments

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.


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.


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: , , ,
Comments: 1 comment

The Fall of Combustion…

I need to get something off my chest: I’ve always had a soft spot for Combustion, as if it’s the neglected step-child of the visual effects world. I guess it goes back to my days as a Smoke/Fire operator, but I’ve always preferred the design and interface to its contemporaries such as Shake and After Effects. So I was excited when Combustion 2008 was released at the end of 2007.

It’s been a few years since a major Combustion release (4.0), and I was worried the product line was starting to go stale, as it seemed that there were dozens of bugs and compatibility issues piled up. So I was really looking forward to the new version. I was relieved to discover two things: firstly, that there were lots of bug fixes announced in the latest version, and second, that another jewel in Autodesk’s high-end effects crown, the Colour Warper, was to be included.

However, when I started up the demo version, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. There was a new splash screen, a new licensing method, a shiny new Colour Warper operator in the Colour Correction category, and — actually, that’s about it. Combustion 2008 seemed exactly the same as its three-year-old predecessor (albeit with all the hot fixes and service packs installed). And it wasn’t fully compatible with Leopard upon its release.

I spoke to one of the product managers about it in January, who confirmed my suspicions: the major new things are the Colour Warper and roll-ups of bug fixes and hot fixes. Then there are the following UI improvements:

1.        Improvements to scene footage import (you can specify things like the imported frame-range, timing, and duration)
2.       Menus and windows can be expanded
3.       Operators can be dragged into viewports
4.       Synchronize playback of multiple viewports using shift+click
5.       Schematic enhancements inherited from the Toxik and Flame workflow

Combustion 2008 is approximately 850GBP (165GBP to upgrade from version 4.0). 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.


Although the Colour Warper is a notable addition to the suite, it doesn’t really seem to justify the upgrade fee. The Combustion development team, I’m told, is currently focusing on Leopard compatibility. So what’s going on here? Where is Combustion headed? Why do I get the feeling that this is the beginning of the end for this wonderful application?

Posted: March 6th, 2008
Categories: Tools
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Squared 5 MPEG Streamclip…

Squared 5’s MPEG Streamclip… allows you to play, convert and recover MPEG files, including everything corrupted files. We used it recently to recover some footage from damaged m2t files and it worked better than everything else we threw at it.
Best of all, it’s absolutely free, for Mac and Windows.

Posted: July 8th, 2007
Categories: Uncategorized
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Combustion 4.0…

Product: Combustion
Version: 4.0
Manufacturer: Autodesk
Price: $995

Performance & stability: 7/10
Expected return on investment: 10/10
Support: 9/10
Longevity: 8/10
Flexibility: 10/10

Pros: Seems as though it can do anything

Cons: No Linux version available, performance not really suitable for client-attended sessions

Bottom line:The most versatile motion picture software available

Combustion 4.0

Combustion has been around for a long while, now at version 4, released last year. Since this is the first version for review at digital intermediates .org, I’ll focus on the package as a whole, rather than just the new features, and examine how well it can fit into a typical digital intermediate pipeline.
Read more »

Posted: March 27th, 2006
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments: No comments