Discreet Version 6/9 : Up-Close Part 1

Discreet announced new versions of their effects last week — inferno 6, flame 9, and flint 9. The technology demo at NAB this year gave a preview of some of the possible features and now the final ones have been locked in. The number one feature request for years — Clip History — is now a reality and forms the basis of a strong new offering from Discreet. Click below to get the full story….

We have been beta testing the software for several months now and digging the new features, but only after sitting down and preparing for this article did we realize how many changes and additions had been made to the software. This article will serve as an overview of the new features and over the next several weeks up to the release, we’ll be diving into what’s new in the software in more detail. So whats new?

  • Clip History
  • Segment FX in Batch
  • Distort Node
  • GMask Improvements
  • Soft Import/Publish
  • Photoshop Import
  • 3D LUTs
  • Player and Viewer Improvements
  • Divide Layer Mode in Action
  • Channel Editor Improvements
  • Custom Nodes and Improved Groups in Batch
  • 3D Camera Auto-Tracking (inferno/flame only)

The new versions of software are supported on the following platforms:

  • inferno6 is only supported on Onyx 2 and Onyx 3
  • flame9 is only supported on Tezro, Octane MXE and Octane 2
  • flint9 is only supported on Linux and Octane 2
Click for Larger Image

For other types of hardware, an upgrade will be needed in order to get the new software. Based upon our experiences in the past, it seems to pay to buy the latest-greatest hardware so that you have the longest software upgrade path possible. So get a new system (Onyx 3, Tezro, Linux) instead of trying to find a used one. This is speaking from experience, having purchased an OctaneSE right before software development was discontinued on the platform.

Now on to the software. The biggest change is obviously the new Clip History feature. An entire article could be written about this feature (and probably will) but suffice it to say, clip history can dramatically change the way artitsts work in the software. Every time you do an operation to a clip such as take it into the color corrector or create a frame of text, the software keeps track of the setups and clips used to create the effect. There is no need to save setups, since they travel along with the result clips and are also archived to the clip archive device (VTR, tape, file). Of course, you are still able to save setups in individual modules if you want to. Clips with a history associated with them have an “H” icon in the upper-right hand corner of the clip. Double-clicking on this icon will take you to the last module used, with the setup loaded as well as the source clips.

Suppose this clip had several processes applied to it….what then? You’re able to take a clip with history into batch and expand the history, creating a batch flowgraph of what was done to the clip. For modules or processes that aren’t supported by batch modules (such as a text module operation), a special “*” node (an homage, I suppose, to the past discreet* logo) is displayed in the schematic. Regrettably, and I suppose understandably, any changes upstream of this node will break the flowgraph because the text module can’t be processed in batch. To help protect you from acccidentally making changes and losing the processed information, you have to conciously remove the cache for this node (or remove the node itself) before the changes upstream will take effect.

Click for Larger Image

Taking this a step further is the cool new Segment Effects (SegmentFX) feature. Suppose you have a soft-edited clip on your desktop that is composed of several clips that have been processed in some way. If you take this edited clip into batch and view the editing timeline, you’ll see that each segment has an “EditFX” button. Tap this button and you’re taken into a batch schematic which shows the operations done to a clip. Instead of an output node, there is a segment output indicator….this tells you that the result of the batch tree is being used as a segment in an editing timeline. You can then make any changes to the clip and then exit out of the segment and back to your main edit timeline. Each edit in a soft-edited clip/timeline is essentially a batch setup. In fact, within each segment you can have nested batch setups within setups within setups. It is really a powerful feature.

Another nice feature of Segment FX is the fact that you can copy an effects setup from one segment in the batch timeline onto another segment by clicking and dragging the “FX” icon. You can also drag the FX icon from the batch timeline into the batch schematic and have the segment effect become part of the batch schematic.

Click for Larger Image

I found myself still saving setups when working, but also using the history feature as a quick means of making changes to clips. The first time that you realize you forgot to save a setup but still have the result clip — and therefore can recall your setup — you’ll be very happy with the new history feature. This just touches the surface of the new clip history feature. We’ll be provding a more detailed look at this in an upcoming story, because with the power of the feature there are also some caveats that come with it. For instance, intermediate clips are created when processing so when you have a clip with history this clip also contains the clips which were used to create the final result clip. Several new tools have been created which help deal with managing this footage. First of all, there is a preference in the user settings allowing you to decide whether you want to [Keep Sources / Keep Sources & Intermediates / Keep None] as part of the history. The delete function also has a new option which allows you to delete sources and/or intermediates from a clip with history if you need to recover framestore space.

Not only have workflow improvements been added to the software, but new technology developed by discreet has made it into the last couple of releases of sofware. As end users, we really like to see these developments make it into the software. There is a plethora of interesting graphics technology out there from HDR to optical flow image processing which could have a huge impact on the compositing scene. This has not gone unnoticed by Discreet. They are continuing to invest in advanced image science research as well as collaborating with universities on basic research. “The Master Keyer of 5.5/8.5 and the new spline based warper in 6/9 is fruit of that research and you can expect to continue to see new creative tools in the future,” according to Maurice Patel. Needless to say, we’d like to see more and more new technology make it into the software.

Click for Larger Image

The Distort node is the new spline-based warper and morpher Patel speaks of. While morphing and warping is certainly not a new concept, the development of the algorithms for the new module was done inside discreet. It is interesting that there has been a lack of new warper tools since the demise of Elastic Reality years ago…..flame-news seems to have a semi-annual post asking where to find a decent spline-based warper. RE:Vision Effects has had a stable After Effects plug-in and just recently introduced their new spark.

The discreet Distort module is integrated in batch as well as on the desktop. A lot of the workflow theory is the same as it is behind the old-school Warper module. You can create multiple splines, track the entire shape, track individual vertices, or add and track axes. There is a viewable schematic which helps you sort out the various manipulations. Splines are created using the new “lasso” drawing tool. This new way of creating a spline allows you to draw shapes on the image and have the software automatically add vertices and tangents as well as using a method similar to the old-fashioned tap-tap way of creating splines. The new node also allows you to view and adjust correspondence points — visual representation of how the source corresponds to the destination mesh.

The Gmask node also benefits from the new “lasso” drawing technology. You can choose between drawing your masks the old school way or using the new lasso method (by pressing shift as you draw). We found that for gmasks — as opposed to trying to trace an object for a morph — the tap-tap method was initially more predictable than using the lasso tool. Over time, however, you do learn how to make the lasso tool behave the way you want it to behave in most situations, with the comfort that the old method is still there if you need it. Another huge improvement to GMasks is support for Motion Blur within the masks.

There is a new automated 3D tracker in flame and inferno which greatly simplifies the creation of 3D tracks. I’ve often used the original camera tracker in action — it is really useful when doing fixes, sign replacements, etc. But admittedly it takes some getting used to and can be quite complicated if you don’t know how to use it. For the new tracker you select your clip (the auto tracker can use a clip from any layer in action), enter some resolution information about the clip, and enter the number of points (axes) you want to show up in the end action result. Then hit process. The tracking is done in the background and when completed an action setup is saved with the camera and axis node information.

It is interesting how often I’ve used inferno camera tracking to do things I might otherwise have approached in a 2D mindset. A lot of times, it ends up being easier and more effective to approach a scene solution this way, so I’m really glad to see the improvements in this feature. Regrettably, this feature is not available in flint. It is a shame, since this type of tracking can be incredibly useful for finishing in standard definition (which is how flint is positioned as a product) and not just HD and film. Another omission that would greatly help facility workflow would be to also include the Modular Keyer as a tool in flint. It very difficult for inferno and flame artists to share work with artists on flint workstations because of this lack of compatibility.

Deciding what goes in what software is not a simple decision for Discreet, but I’ll hold out hope for this to change in the future, since according to Maurice Patel the “products will continue to evolve relative to one another with time.” He continues that “generally speaking, our product line will continue to evolve as a function of our customers’ requirements and the characteristics of the various platforms we support to ensure our clients are current with the demands of their markets.”

Over the years, the “stone tax” has been a popular (or unpopular, I suppose, if you’re discreet) subject for discussion. The idea being that the price of discreet-approved stone storage was at a premium level and there was no good way to add disk space without spending a whole lot of money. While the price of discreet storage has dropped over the years, it was still a closed system. In the new version of the effects software, this is somewhat opened up with the concept of Soft Import and Soft Publish. Consider this release to be the first real step in opening up the clip library to 3rd party storage….at least the first step since disk array support was dropped years ago.

Click for Larger Image

Soft Import allows you to import clips from a “shared storage” system. This could be a local hard drive, an NFS-mounted drive from a Macintosh or PC, a NAS or a SAN. If you can access it from the unix shell, you can use is as a Soft Import source. Image sequences are supported by the software, but movie files such as QuickTime, MPEG, and sgi are not. When you soft import a clip, the software creates a link to this external clip but does not copy it to the stonefs. The clip appears in your library (with a little icon in the lower-right corner of the proxy) just like a regular clip but the frames are continually being accessed from this external file system. When playing back or jogging through the clip you are obviously limited by the bandwidth to this external device, but you can use any connection to the filesystem you want — we’ve used a local hard drives, a 100Base connection, and even a 100Base connection to a powerbook with an external firewire drive.

I used this for a recent project when I was doing some work from home in After Effects. I saved the renders on my powerbook and then at work mounted it on my inferno using NFS. Soft imported the clips into inferno and did my work using them. The next night I took the powerbook home and did the final render, saving the image files in the same place with the same name, overwriting the originals. The next day I mounted the drive and the revised clips were there for me when I started inferno. Since they are being accessed live from the external filesystem, as other users make changes to the clips the changes are automatically reflected in the inferno clip.

There are currently no locking or unlocking mechanisms for the “soft” features, so this management must be done by individuals. If you delete the clips from the external file system, the frames are no longer accessible from within the effects software. If you delete the soft imported clip from your library, only the link is removed — the original source clip remains on the shared storage file system.

Click for Larger Image

When you archive a library with soft-imported clips, the clips are archived to the archive device. However, when you restore the frames they are restored to the stonefs and not to the original external filesystem. So if you want to work with these frames from the shared storage system, you need to export them (not soft publish), delete them from the stonefs, and then soft import them again. Hopefully in the next version of the software, there will be restore options for restoring them to the original filesystem or allowing a user to define where soft-imported clips are restored.

Publishing a clip allows you to export a clip (regular or soft-edited) to the shared file system. When you publish a clip, it essentially exports the images used in the clip and then soft-imports the images as a new clip back into your discreet library. This new clip is saved with “_published” added to the end of the clip name. If someone modifies the image sequence which has been published on the shared file system, the changes are reflected in the “_published” clip in the library. If you make changes in IFF to the “_published” clip, they are not reflected in the external filesystem. Instead, you must re-publish the clip.

If you want the clip to become a regular discreet clip, you can “stonefize” the clip. The media is copied to the stonefs and no longer references the image sequence on the shared filesystem. This is useful if you want to “lock” the clip and no longer have it subject to potential changes from users on other platforms and applications.

We’ll be covering more features of the software in another story coming soon……things like channel editor, player, and viewer improvements, 3D LUTs, Photoshop import, and even more batch improvements.

The new release is planning to ship this fall, just in time for the holidays. As is standard with discreet, pricing information is not published publicly, so contact your local Discreet salesperson or call 1-800-869-3504 for information.