Flame 2015 and Smoke 2015 were introduced at NAB this week and include some nice workflow improvements as well as new creative features. It is a solid release that shows continued progress to bringing back some of the functionality lost with the 20th Anniversary edition, while still improving the new workflow. In addition, there are several major performance improvements (including a full 4K workflow) and creative additions. The release is scheduled to ship this month.

Autodesk also announced major changes to simplify their product line as well as make it affordable. While in the longer term it might be simple, explaining how the changes impact current customers is anything but easy. It also resulted in an outcry from a vocal contingent of users in the community, both on the flame-news mailing list as well as on the user-led Facebook group. We'll attempt to sort out some of the questions and explain it in detail, but it's admittedly not straightforward.

We begin with the easy part, a look at the new features in Flame 2015 and in brief for Smoke 2015.

Flame 2015 New Features

Improved Library/Workflow

The new Desktop includes Batch & Batch Snapshots as well as Reels.
The new Desktop includes Batch & Batch Snapshots as well as Reels. Also note the Media Panel can filter showing only Desktop or only Library items via tabs.

From a workflow standpoint, the new Desktop/Batch/Timeline "trinity" has seen further refinement in this version. There has been a change in what "Desktop" means, as Desktop now encompasses Batch, Batch Sources & Batch Snapshots as well as Reels (what were formerly referred to as the Desktop). In other words, when you save a Desktop, it saves everything.

This does require a bit of modification in one's workflow, but users on beta soon found the new system to be workable and closer to the original Flame workflow. Certainly not perfect, but a marked improvement over 2014.

When you start using it, a starting suggestion for organization is creating one Desktop per shot, understanding that Batch is now an integral part of that. Users can now determine the library in which to save the Desktop.


In addition, a new tiles viewing mode of the Media Panel allows viewing of larger thumbnails in the panel. It's a very welcome return of larger images. The return of Dual view makes viewing and organizing clips much easier than it has been since the new workflow was introduced.

New tiles mode brings back sensible proxy sizes.
New tiles mode brings back sensible proxy sizes.
Dual view allows split screen viewing
Dual view allows split screen viewing.

New Creative Features

The new 3D Shape and Replica tools bring new functionality for 3D objects to Action. The 3D Shape node allows you to turn any shape into a 3D object by creating 3D polygons from the spline. You can then extrude the shape to add depth. In addition to the extrusion tools that have been part of the 3D Text node in the past, there are now additional profile controls for both scale of the object and rotation of the object with reference to depth. 

3dshape-scale
Using the scale option for the 3D Shape profile
Using the rotate option for the 3D Shape profile
Using the rotate option for the 3D Shape profile

3D Shape provides ability to create rough simple models for relighting or retouching
3D Shape provides ability to create rough simple models for relighting or retouching

However, this isn't just about graphics design. With a camera track (or not), one can quickly draw quick shapes in an Action scene and use them for relighting or fixes. Obviously you are constrained to items that can fit within an extrusion model, but it can be quite useful in many instances.

It's also not simply about singular GMask shapes. Complex shapes can be created by combining multiple GMasks into a single shape via boolean operations such as Add or Subtract. You can then take this combined spline and extrude it. Also, there is support for open splines as well, and their thickness is determined using Advanced Gradients on the mask. This can be used for a variety of purposes, including treatment of edges in a way similar to light wrap. Imagine drawing an open spline along the edge of a person, tracking it to the person, feathering the spline, and then lighting it in a way that can brighten or color the edge. This mask could even support Action's IBL lighting techniques for further refinement.

SVG import of vector artwork
SVG import of vector artwork.

While the word "finally" is often over used on the internet when describing new features that arrive in software after a long wait, we feel it's appropriate to use that term for one aspect of the new 3D Shape tool. After a wait of almost two decades, artists can finally import vector-based artwork from Adobe Illustrator for use in Action. While it's not EPS, it is SVG, which is just as easy to do from within many applications.

This imported artwork will inherit the color of the object in the SVG file, with each spline coming in as a separate 3D Shape -- grouped with a parent axis. With extremely complex shapes, you can sometimes end up with a large number of objects, but the Action inherit link makes changes and adjustments fairly straightforward by chaining the objects together.

Working hand in hand with the new 3D Shape mode is the new Replica node, which allows one to "replicate" any 3D object in Action by entering a number of instances and then positional and rotational offset values. You can even parent a Replica node to another Replica node to create more complex groups of objects, as shown below. Another interesting use of this new node is to use it as a child under a 3D Shape node and above a GMask shape. For instance, one can take a circle mask and then punch out a bunch of holes in it using a replicated shape, creating a cog. This flat cog can then be extruded into a texturable 3D object.

The replica node in use with a single sphere.
Two replica nodes in use with a single sphere.

Matchbox Shader Improvements

Matchbox tools are GLSL shaders, which run incredibly fast on the GPU. This gives users the ability to plug into Flame (and Smoke) and create creative tools. Jeroen Schulte, Julik Tarkhanov, and Ivar Beer have created an online repository of shaders where they may be downloaded as well as uploaded for sharing. There is also free training in how to program them. We'll be digging into more details about Matchbox shaders in an upcoming article, but in the meantime there are some great improvements in the 2015 release.

First and foremost, the shaders are now available as Timeline FX, bringing faster than real time performance for many of them to the timeline. Autodesk has also included the ability to use Matchbox to create transitions between shots in the timeline. Over two dozen new shaders and transitions have been provided by Autodesk as part of the new release.

In addition, users can encrypt the code in shaders so that users can not actually see the programming techniques used to create them. This should be useful in creating a marketplace for shaders, as creators won't have to share how they programmed the code.

For programmers, there are also other enhancements for Matchbox:

  • Integers can be shown as a popup button in the UI
  • Custom colors can be used for the input sockets
  • The number of input sockets may be limited to only the number used by the shader
  • Temporal sampling of the previous and next frame is possible
  • Icons/widgets such as a Light or Axis can be enabled in the code
  • Ability to hide or show a button based upon the status of another button

Performance/4K

Flame now has support for 4K workflows, including real-time monitoring and playback via SDI of 4K/UHD material at 50P and 60P. This requires fast storage, of course, and they have new support of 16 GB fiber channel controllers for playback of hires images. In addition, the Flame ACES workflow adds support for the Rec 2020 color space, though in reality few are using it at this point in time. Props for implementing it, though. All Substance effects (Noise and Splatter in Batch and Batch FX and Substance Texture and Materialize in Action) can also now generate elements up to 4K resolution.

"Background Reactor" is a new feature which means you can add a second graphics card (Quadro 6000 in a Z800/Quadro K6000 in a Z820) to the system and use it for background rendering. It is quite similar to Burn functionality, except it runs on the main artist workstation. In our tests, performance is quite on par with foreground rendering and there seems to be little impact on foreground operation. Of course, it does depend upon what you're doing in the foreground, but it seems that for day to day tasks it has little impact on interactivity.

Last, but certainly not least, there have been significant speed improvements with something Autodesk is calling "single frame optimizations." As an example, we'll use Text in batch to describe the difference. In the 2014 version, if you were to add a text node that has no animation and piped it into another node, it would have to render the text for each and every frame. If you wanted to have nice anti-aliasing and cranked up samples to 32 or 64, this could have a significant impact. Now, the software is intelligent enough to know that if there is no animation, it doesn't need to re-render the Text node each and every frame.

Artists had workarounds such as MUX nodes, which could be used to "trick" the software into rendering only one frame. But now it does so automatically. This has a big impact on the timeline, where a text overlay on the timeline will easily play in realtime. Not every node supports this, but many do. According to the dev team, close to two dozen nodes have been optimized for the initial release. It may seem like a small thing, but many beta users reported that was one of their favorite features in the software.

More New Features

In addition to the new features, there have also been many incremental improvements. Here are just a few:

  • Action: The IBL node now offers an Ambient mode along with the existing Reflection mode. The Ambient mode more closely simulates a global illumination
  • Action: The Alembic SDK has been updated to version 1.5
  • Action: the Reflection Map node menu now has a mapping type setting to help you create your reflection effect (options are spherical, angular, and cylindrical)
  • Import: Support for Sony XAVC-S media from Sony Handycam camcorders such as the Sony FDR-AX1, in an MP4 wrapper and 4 tracks of 16-bit PCM audio
  • Import: Support for 16-bit layers in Photoshop (.psd) files
  • Timeline: A new preference allows you to set whether Out marks are inclusive or exclusive of the selected frame
  • Timeline: The LUT Editor is now available as a Timeline FX
  • Conform: RGBA media files in Conform can end up as a Matte Container in the conformed sequence
  • Conform: Final Cut Pro X version 10.1 is now supported
  • Conform: You can now conform Multi-Channel content, such as OpenEXR clips, using the Match Criteria combination of File Name and Name

Smoke 2015 New Features

In brief, Smoke 2015 has the following new features:

  • An entirely re-architected Timeline FX feature set
  • Significantly improved performance and interactivity when working with effects in the timeline
  • A new 3D tracker
  • Support for the new Apple®Mac Pro®
  • Enhanced XML interoperability with Apple® Final Cut Pro® X
  • Support for Blackmagic Design and AJA Video Systems hardware
  • Improved trimming tools for editing and timeline navigation
  • Easier navigation of large media folders in the MediaHub
  • Improved 3D compositing performance in Action

 

The Revamped Product Line

In addition to news about the 2015 releases, Autodesk also announced considerable changes to their product lineup, which have a variety of implications for users. Some happy, some not so much. The new "simplified" product line from Autodesk now includes:

      • Flame Premium
      • Flame (Linux)
      • Lustre (Linux)
      • Flare (Linux)
      • Flame Assist (OS X)
      • Smoke (OS X)

Before we get to explaining things more specifically, we've attempted to address some simple questions users and owners might have about the changes. The answers give a brief synopsis and you can get details about the changes below that.

A Quick Q&A

I own Flame Premium and am current on subscription. What's the deal for me?

Flame Premium owners will automatically receive a license of Flare and a license of the newly released Flame Assist at no additional charge.

I own Smoke Advanced (or Flint, Inferno, Smoke HD). What's the deal for me?

You will automatically get a cross grade to Flame at no additional charge. One day you have Smoke Advanced, the next day you're a Flame owner.

I own Flame. What's the deal for me?

Well...business as usual. No bonus for you. However, there are some considerable improvements in pricing...

I heard subscription prices are being reduced. Is it true and do you know how much?

It is true, but Autodesk won't discuss it on the record. However, we have friends who own systems and from everything we've heard, subscriptions are reduced between 30 to 40 percent.

How do I find out how much?

Talk to your sales person or reseller.

Can I buy Flame Assist or Flare?

If you are a Flame owner, you can buy one or both of these. They are available as perpetual licenses or as a rental license for quarterly and annual terms.

If you're not a Flame owner, you can't buy either.

Is it true that Smoke is going to a rental-only model?

Yes. Starting in May, Smoke will now be offered ONLY as a "Desktop Subscription" with monthly, quarterly, and annual options. The longer the term, the lower the cost per month. With this move to Desktop Subscription, Smoke will lose project compatibility with Flame and vice versa.

But I bought Smoke so I could exchange projects with Flame. Am I screwed moving forward?

Not if you own a Flame system. Flame owners who own Smoke (and are current on subscription) may trade in their license of Smoke for the new OS X Flame Assist, which as of today is effectively Smoke on Mac but with a Flame skin. This will have project compatibility and moving forward will specifically be geared towards supporting the Flame workflow.

I bought Smoke and have paid for subscription, but I don't own Flame. Am I screwed moving forward?

First, you'll be receiving the new Smoke 2015 as a "perpetual" license. This means that you own it and can run it forever without paying any more money. But to answer your question...

If you don't care about interop with Flame, probably not. According to Autodesk "you may be able to take advantage of special pricing offers" in May. Contact your reseller for details. The "may" part is worrying.

If your goal is to be compatible with Flame, then yes. But not for another year. Once new features begin to be released in the software, you will lose the interoperability as Smoke 2015 is the last compatible release.

Now the details and discussion...

Looking at the new product line, note that Flint, Inferno, and Smoke Advanced, and even Smoke HD are missing from the list of products. What happens for these owners? Well, it's actually good news for them as they will be receiving a no-cost cross grade to Flame 2015. Moving forward, they’ll have all the creative features that were previously only accessible to Flame owners.

Flame Premium owners also get some love from Autodesk. Flame Premium now includes the traditional Flame & Lustre (running on the same workstation), but now also includes Flare (node-based creative), and Flame Assist (timeline-based support). These four products are what Autodesk is referring to as the “Flame family of products”.

In other words, current Flame Premium owners will receive an new license of Flare and a new license of Flame Assist at no additional charge. This will certainly open up new workflow possibilities, and the owners of Flame Premium we have spoken with are excited about the changes. Both Flare and Flame Assist are licensed via flexlm, so they can be used with floating licenses.

Do current Flame owners receive any new benefits? In a word, no. They may, however, purchase licenses for both Flare and Flame Assist for an additional charge. They may also upgrade to Flame Premium.

In the realignment, Smoke exists only on OS X and, for feature set and operation, will target “Video Professionals”. Autodesk’s positioning of the product is that the market they are focusing on for Smoke is quite different from those using Flame. This transition has implications for interoperability, which we’ll cover later.

One detail we’ve learned that has gone unmentioned in the official Autodesk PR is that there have been significant reductions in pricing for new purchases of Flame and Flame Premium, as well as reductions in prices for subscription. It’s not easy to find a simple price, however. Autodesk has a complex (the polite word) pricing structure that varies from region to region around the world, includes resellers who are free to set their own prices, and also most likely varies based upon the number of seats installed. The official word from Autodesk is to talk to your sales person to find out the actual details and they’ll be happy to discuss the new pricing structure.

So we sought out several owners and many facilities have already had this discussion. While Autodesk will not confirm the details, we’ve heard of 30-40% reductions in the prices of subscription (we haven’t heard how much a new license has been reduced). This would be a significant change, and was welcomed by the owners we spoke to. The reduction is also important for previous Flint and Smoke Advanced owners, as their subscription prices were previously lower than that of Flame and the cross grade could have had a serious financial impact. Most of the facility owners we’ve spoken to are very positive about the change, with several talking about reactivating their subscriptions.

Flame Assist & Flare can be used under a rental license (quarterly or annual) or purchased as a perpetual license. If facilities want to use it for a short term job, they’ll need to rent for a minimum of 3 months, unlike Smoke owners who can rent Smoke for only for a month. But this is a big change for owners and another positive one at that. Of course, owners will need a system handy to be able to ramp up when needed, but the ability to add a system or two for a short term push on a big job is huge. With Flame Assist running on OS X, having an available system is more than likely. And in conversations with Autodesk, they have definitely not ruled out having Flare running on OSX.

What’s clear with this news is that Autodesk is squarely refocusing on its traditional Flame/Smoke Advanced market of commercials and broadcast finishing: tight turnarounds, oftentimes with client-supervised sessions. These are markets that rely on the strengths of the integrated toolset of Flame. By offering their Flame Premium customers additional licenses of Flare and Flame Assist, they are aiming to further enhance the Flame collaborative workflow in facilities. This is a very good thing for their customers, as Autodesk seems to have been pulled in too many directions over the last several years.

With an overview out of the way, let’s take a look at the developments regarding Flame Assist and Smoke.

Flame Assist

What is Flame Assist?

For the initial release of Flame Assist, it is operationally and functionally identical to Smoke 2015 but with the skin of the Linux-based Flame software. But that’s only at the first release. The plan is for Flame Assist to move forward on a separate path from Smoke after the 2015 release. It will remain 100% compatible with Flame, unlike Smoke. Flame Assist will add features targeted towards workflows which support the hero Flame workstation. General areas include media management, versioning, conform, archive and I/O. Within this realm, adding features such as the new expanded desktop in Flame 2015 or Gmasks in Action might be good examples of future development. Unlike Smoke, Flame Assist is licensed under flexlm, which makes facility license serving easier with floating licenses.

“Creative Finishing Customers” (as Autodesk refers to them) who own Smoke on Mac are able to do a one-time, free cross grade to Flame Assist. Who are these “Creative Finishing” customers? They are those that own Flame Premium, Flame, or Lustre under the new 2015 product line. This will help those facilities that purchased Smoke to use it as an assistant or prep workstation. The bottom line is if you are a Creative Finishing Customer who owns Smoke 2015, Flame Assist is the product for you. In other words, do the cross grade.

While it’s a positive development that Autodesk reduced subscription prices for Flame, it does appear that owners might be paying more for a perpetual license of Flare. We’ve heard from customers that the new price for is more than double the price of the 2014 version of Flare (annual rental licenses are considerably lower). Raising prices seems like an odd development and counter to the pressures of the industry with Autodesk working to make subscriptions more affordable for their Creative Finishing Customers.

As a frame of reference, The Foundry’s Production Collective seems to be priced similarly to a Flare license. The collective contains NUKE X, HIERO, MARI, and MODO and by the end of 2014, will include the recently announced NUKE STUDIO. But if you go with NUKE STUDIO, you’ll lose interoperability with Flame and that’s a huge loss considering the potential workflow benefits.

Smoke

This marks a crossroads for Flame and Smoke, as these two products will diverge and be targeted towards the different audiences which Autodesk feels are distinct. Flame will target their “Creative Finishing Customers” and Smoke will target “Video Professionals”. Over the past two years that Smoke on Mac has been available, 75% of sales have been to users new to Autodesk. In other words, a big majority of users don’t have any connection to the linux-based products. According to a post on the flame-news mailing list by Maurice Patel, “this was very similar to the strategy for MayaLT. They are both strategies to try and grow our markets to new users who would never otherwise consider Autodesk products. And both have been successful in that regard.” And this drives many of the decisions regarding future development of Smoke.

There are some big changes regarding Smoke 2015, which is the first major release of the software in two years. The product is now a rental model only moving forward, with options for annual, quarterly, or monthly desktop subscriptions. Smoke 2015 Desktop Subscription will be available starting in May for $195 SRP/month, $545 SRP/quarter and $1,750 SRP/year. This is for the United States only — prices will vary in other markets.

According to the press release, Autodesk polled a sample across the professional video market and 68 percent responded that term-based software licensing is a great option. The industry is certainly going this way, and it’s a sensible way to expense costs at a facility. The other side to that poll is that a fairly large 32 per cent are going to be upset that they are unable to purchase a permanent license.

There’s one exception to the “rental model only” mentioned above. For those users who have purchased Smoke 2013 and are current on subscription, they will gain access to a perpetual (permanent) license of Smoke 2015 as part of their subscription. In other words, they won’t have to pay to continue using Smoke 2015. However, this is the last major release of Smoke which will be perpetual. In the future, if they wish to use a newer version of Smoke, they will have to switch to the desktop subscription.

Coming with the new Desktop Subscription model is the news that some features have been removed from Smoke 2015 and future versions. It is important to note that these limitations do not apply to the Smoke 2015 perpetual license version. Also, no “creative” features have been removed from the software. The main limitations coming to the subscription version are:

      • No Flame project compatibility. Flame can’t read Smoke projects and Smoke can’t read Flame projects.
      • No Wire, Archive & remote connection workflow with Flame, Flame Assist, or Lustre. However, one can still work with other Smoke workstations
      • No Burn rendering
      • No network licensing
      • No Remote Gateway for media transcoding
      • No support for Sparks

Regarding the lack of project compatibility, we assume Autodesk has done a lot of research in the market and must have reached the following conclusions. First, Smoke customers (who don’t also own Flame) generally must not be interested in migrating their projects to finishing in Flame. These customers simply finish in Smoke or elsewhere themselves. Second, having Flame Assist available solves the in-house workflow reasons Creative Finishing Customers bought Smoke for. These customers are far less interested in having a product available that makes it easier for their clients to bring projects in for finishing than making their in-house workflow more streamlined. Our guess is that a few facilities have found this useful, although it seems like an edge use case. Looking back at the Smoke 2013 release, a big hope was that it would provide a boon to the high end systems, both from easy offline to finishing workflow as well as an expanding user base. But apparently not.

No Burn, network licensing, or remote gateway aren’t huge losses, especially with Gateway being as unreliable as it is. Lack of Sparks support was surprising at first glance but, upon further examination, not so much. Once again, Autodesk's research most likely shows that customers weren’t installing many plugins or weren’t interested in them. So they felt it wasn’t needed. However, rather than a lack of interest in clients wanting to install plugins — we surmise it is the lack of actual plugins available for the platform. If one examines desktop products such as After Effects, Final Cut, or Premiere — it’s generally the case that users have multiple creative plugins installed from developers such as Red Giant. Smoke owners would surely appreciate having the timeline Matchbox functionality that is in Flame 2015. While not necessarily a robust plug-in API, Matchbox certainly expands the creative possibilities for the product.

For the 75% of Smoke owners new to Autodesk, they likely won't be upset about the changes. There are  surely a few of these owners who take jobs to facilities for further finishing tweaks in Flame, but the number is likely minimal. The vast majority of the 75% are finishing in Smoke, so interop isn't an issue for them.

For Flame owners, the Smoke changes shouldn’t be a big deal either. They have the free cross grade to Flame Assist, which is designed with their workflow issues in mind moving forward. For Flame Premium owners, they effectively get a brand new license of Flame Assist bundled in at no extra charge.

However, if you are one those individual Flame artists or Smoke Advanced editors who bought Smoke on Mac when it came out, you’re the odd man (or woman) out. Maybe you’re a freelancer who wanted to do side gigs — or even work at a facility with your own software; Smoke was a great option for you. However, having made a $3500+ investment in a product, as well as paid subscription to keep current, you’re at the end of the line after spending the last two years in without a major update to the software. We’d be upset, too.

Autodesk maintains that Smoke is not the product for freelancers, and instead that Flame Assist is. However, we’d suggest that there simply isn’t a product available for freelancers. With Flame Assist, it is true that one can obtain a floating license with their current employer. But once the freelancer leaves the job, they lose access to the software. So instead of the freelancer controlling the situation, the temporary employer is. Autodesk has zero options for you as an independent freelancer; this is very unlike NUKE artists who have an affordable alternative to keep their skills rest and even do their own paying jobs, Flame freelancers don’t.

That being said, Patel does agree that "this is a small (but passionate) group that we absolutely want to keep in the Flame family. It is clear to us on reading this forum and Facebook that some of you work in ways we had not fully anticipated and so we need to do a bit more research there. I don't have an answer now but we are more aware of the problem. For now though Smoke 2015 is still compatible with Flame 2015.”

So there is hope that a solution will come to pass and the freelancers won’t be left out in the cold. This is a critical part of the market that needs to be supported moving forward.

The reaction

At NAB, the vibe was very positive overall about the new release, the changes to the product line, as well as the pricing. Facility owners who make the decisions were generally very supportive of the moves, knowing what it takes financially to run the companies. The turnout at the user event on Tuesday evening was huge, and the buzz was positive. Of course, it wasn't all positive. There were some who disagreed, including the freelancers we just spoke of who are rightfully upset about the changes to Smoke.

The NAB vibe stood in stark contrast to the one online, though maybe that's just the way of the internet. The biggest discussions online have come down to pricing. The subject is a long and complex one that can't be fully addressed in the scope of this article. Many artists have been hoping for an inexpensive ($5K - $10K) software version of Flame that runs on OS X in order to help grow the market. But it’s clear that’s not going to happen, at least in the short term. In fairness to Autodesk, pricing decisions are extremely difficult, as any significant decrease in price must be met by an even greater increase in the number of customers buying the product. There is a true danger in the rush to the bottom in software pricing, with the market drying up and not having any revenue to support development of the software.

And while the post market is significant in size, the market for products such as Flame is still limited when you compare it to mass market products. The argument is that by lowering pricing, you can vastly expand the customer base. This might happen, but it can also become problematic because as the user base grows there is a wider variety of users each demanding something different. And then the software begins to have a lack of focus or do things differently that frustrate artists that have used the software for years.

As a case in point, look no further than the Desktop. The 20th Anniversary Desktop, that is. It launched with a simplified timeline, contextual menus, and -- horror of horrors -- a new mark out behavior (which is now a user pref in 2015). These are all features that are perfectly acceptable and standard operating procedure to the mass market, but frustrated the existing user base. Each perspective had valid concerns. These are simple UI examples, but if one starts looking at features useful to the high end market such as a color managed workflow with ACES, would all these needed "pro" features have mass market appeal? Would they have to dumb down the interface too much to make the mass market happy?

Another factor regarding pricing is accessibility and how it can lead to new users and trained users. One hope was that Smoke 2013 would vastly expand the number of users who would be familiar with a Smoke or Flame workflow and tools. It was an opportunity to introduce the product to a new market and help grow the future talent pool. The jury is out as to what will happen regarding this, but the plan at this point isn't to make the Smoke workflow *completely* different from Flame. It will, of course, be different over time with new tools, but there will likely still be cross-pollination of tech and even features.

Regarding training for Flame freelancers, Autodesk definitely understands this is a problem that needs to be solved. We've offered dozens of hours of Flame training over the years at fxphd.com, and have had lots of discussions with Autodesk about the need for accessible software. Freelancers in the field have said the same thing. Pricing can help this by making it easy to get into the hands of the users, but perhaps there are also other alternatives that can be examined moving forward other than price.

There are certainly alternatives to Flame, as more products add more features and interop between them becomes more polished. The Foundry's NUKE STUDIO looks compelling as a future alternative to Flame or Smoke. The launch event at NAB showed some incredibly well thought out workflow details. The Foundry have the resources and skills to develop the software into something much more than what was shown at NAB 2014 and give Flame a run for its money. In the end, this also can be positive for Flame as it gets pushed to do more and do it better. It's good to have competition, as it's the users that end up benefiting.

In the end, pricing is what it is and this discussion is frankly kind of pointless. You can either afford it or you can't and you vote with your wallet. The fact is that for the commercials/post market in which it excels, there is still no equal to Flame. There are software combos nipping at the heels of Flame that do excel in areas that Flame doesn't. But they also don't have the full integrated package. And while that high-end market may be shrinking, one could argue the commercials market is much healthier than the feature film market. So it seems sensible to stick with the plan and focus on Flame's strengths.  

Autodesk has assuredly done a lot of research regarding their pricing. After all, the death of Flame has been predicted for well over a decade and it is still alive and kicking. With the 2015 release it, the "new" workflow is further refined and the release comes with new features, 4K capabilities, and a big decrease in subscription cost. Artists are still using it, facilities are still making money with it, and we're still writing about it.


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  • Christoph Zapletal

    Great Article, informative and very balanced. Thanks so much !

  • Thank you for the article!

  • Flame feels like it’s chasing two moving targets moving in opposite directions.
    Coming up with a response to creative tools in After Effects while trying to be a viable option within the world of Nuke.

  • Flame Assist has been referred to, in it’s current state, as Smoke on Mac with a Flame skin.
    This can’t exactly be the case, as smoke has more than just timeline tools.

    Based on the intended direction and how Flame assist and Flare offer the elements of Flame separately….I’d assume Flame assist doesn’t have the exact same feature set of smoke 2015?

    Thanks….

    • John Montgomery

      It’s not exactly the same, but a simple and mostly true explanation is that Flame Assist is pretty much Smoke on Mac with a Flame skin. It’s not exactly the same — but for most creative purposes and toolset it is. You can find out a bit more about the differences here:

      http://www.fxguide.com/featured/flame-2015-new-features-and-a-new-family/

      They mainly have to do with interop between Flame and Smoke, as well as some infrastructure features. Scroll down to the “The Revamped Product Line” section later in the article