Toxik was relaunched to the effects community today. Last seen at NAB 2002 and called Strata and Mezzo. So what happened ??? Where the heck did it go, and how does today's version compare with the one we saw in 2002?

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The pre NAB 2002 Toxik start up screen

At a recent Toxik press launch we asked Autodesk just how long Toxik has been in development and to their credit they were open and honest about the rocky road that let to Toxik's launch. "The company has been working on this project for approximately 7 years -it went through various forms - even interactive TV application at the height of the dot com boom" they admitted.

You might heard rumours of today's Toxik by one of its many other code names, Stigma, MASS or Strata & Mezzo - the name it had when it was first shown in a technology showing at NAB 2002. What happened after that semi-public technology showning was remarkable. Dave Jones former head of R&D at the then Discreet, and key managers and engineers from Discreet arranged a private demo and focus group with a group of renegade artists from around the world that nearly killed the product.


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The GUI from Toxik in 2002 launch

By the time that NAB had come around, Discreet had already spent 4 years on developing Toxik. The product had countless man hours invested. The idea of Toxik was to develop a platform independent compositing tool that addressed workflow. The core of this new technology would be a database that allowed collabrative workflow. Some of the best young minds from Flame and Fire had moved over to form a huge R&D push that became the Toxik of 2002. While Flame was the cash cow, Toxik was the great white hope of discreet. The problem is that just about the only thing the product did have was a database,.. almost nothing else worked. Even the basic menus on a high res monitor -such as there was - did not scale, so Strata's ultra high resolution monitors meant that the menus were impossible small to read.


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A heated discussion in private about the fate of Toxik in 2002

On the Monday night of NAB - about 20 artists from around the world were given a private demo and then they walked from the Stand at the Sands Convention to a private ball room at Caesar's Palace. This meeting would be come to be known inside discreet as the "Toxik intervention". In one massive 3 hour session the group of artists argued and complained that while the principle of Toxik was great, there just were no artists tools. The product could not be released as there was just so little that could be done with it.. other than manage frames and clips. Discreet was told that the product wasn't ready for anything and they needed to go back to the drawing board. This nearly finished the project.

3 months later Discreet decided that rather than dump Toxik it would set out to rebuild the project to make it a creative tool. This was a brave management decision - given the resources that had already been devoted to the product, - but there is little doubt that if the product had not been pulled - it would have been a major failure. There were management changes - reorganizations - finally discreet set up a new team and spent the next 6 months properly specing the product from the ground up. During this time no actual development work was done - only professional product specification and development planning. Over 70% of the product today has been completely changed from 2002, mainly in the areas of UI and user tools.


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timesmear in the original Toxik

Some of the technology from the 2002 version moved on to other products, the timesmear concept - from the original 2001 Toxik was moved into smoke, other research was claimed to have been used in other products.

The current 1.0 version will be released at NAB, with a quick fix pack schedules for July. The update will be available from the new web portal that discreet hopes will be the central point for all Toxik updates, user discussions and web site sharing of scripts and tips. Some of the engineers leaving the product team will go into a new Image Science team to provide core image processing technology to any and all product lines. This group will tackle getting Discreet back to being a force in new technology innovations.


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The original tailgate from Toxik in 2002

The system has a clever system for menus, the ones that were unreadable in 2002 when it was first shown, now are produced by new code which auto-adjusts the menus to the monitor size and resolution. the min config is a 1600x 1200 but the recommended configuration is 1920x1200. Toxik comes with no monitor calibration but it does inherit Lustres 2D and 3D LUT technology.The team have also been looking at new monitors that can display over 4K from companies such as IBM.

Of course nothing with the birth of a new product is easy, even up until a month ago - the product was to be called MASS, and Discreet - well Discreet is no longer even called Discreet. But it is a credit to the engineers that they had the sense to rebuild the product and attempt to do it properly, and with a sense of humour. Toxik has a full 3D compositing environment, "Reaction" and a special software renderer Suave - which can render out HDR output.

The Software renderer is called Suave - and the hardware render is called Stark - as they are Portuguese for soft and hard. There is also an Espresso Calculator (which is the expression calculator ) and many other in jokes.


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