NEWS: Toxik in depth + new screen shots !

This week we spoke exclusively to Maurice Patel, product manager of the Toxik product line, officially now called the Discreet Media Architecture. We checked out their plans, and reviewed the NAB technology showing.

Thanks to everyone who emailed us and asked for more screengrabs.. well, we managed to snap more exclusive screen grabs – showing 2 of the most interesting new user Interface features, the transparent menus and the new editing tim

Discreet’s new Discreet Media Architecture (aka Toxik) was unveiled at this year’s NAB in Las Vegas, with a mixed reception. Discreet realized the message was complex and that more time spent explaining it was necessary. At the Discreet Users Group, the message was harder for attendees to digest, and current users had to try hard to understand just what this new product line represented, while those who got private demos came away excited by what they had seen. FXGuide has taken a look under the hood and, directly with Maurice Patel, Product Marketing Manager for Effects at Discreet, explored some of the issues that were left unresolved at NAB. We also expose a few wild assumptions and guesses that have already started to surface regarding the product line.

While Inferno Flame and Fire have had a major rewrite, especially the core code for data management, allowing for multi-mixed resolution and renderfarm batch processing, a separate team has been working for several years on a whole new generation of effects and editing product. Rather than just offer Flame and Fire on other hardware platforms, the DMA team aimed to build a new and different product line, thus helping diversify Discreet’s products in terms of capabilities and platform support. Since flame’s inception 10 years ago both the software development and post-production industries have significantly evolved and Discreet wanted to capture some of the new opportunities they offer with a new generation of software solutions.

The Discreet Media Architecture (DMA) is developed as a POSIX compliant application. POSIX is a standardized set of APIs that offer cross-platform compatibility and ease of porting applications. This allows cross-platform compiles and potentially allows DMA products to run on IRIX and Linux as well as Windows 2000. Already various parts of the core technology have been compiled for Linux, but for launch the DMA technology will be built on Windows 2000/Intel based computers, such as the IBM dual processor machines used at NAB. Linux has been suggested as a potential second platform release for background rendering, and a complete secondary strategy is already in place for post 1.0 release.

What makes the Discreet Media Architecture so appealing is the ability to release new subsets of code for any product without having to recompile the entire application. An example of this DLL technology was seen at NAB. Once Discreet started testing in Vegas they found that they were getting performance hits from the keyer module. A new module was compiled in Canada and then sent to the team in Vegas, who just deleted that keyer sub-module DLL, added the new one and continued working.

From version 1.0, the Discreet Media Architecture will ship with Flame & Smoke integration. This is possible as one advanced aspect of the DMA technology is the underlying system support code that allows media and data to be exchanged directly between DMA applications and the current effects and editing products: this means that DMA products can browse the stone file system and library.

As Windows 2000 systems, DMA products will operate well with combustion 2 and 3ds max installations, particularly since both of these other Discreet applications will use the same Windows-based render farm technology. Unfortunately, the remote batch renderer for Flame & Smoke will be Linux-based and thus, in this one area not compatible with the DMA at v1.0. Discreet understand the need for a unified render farm solution, but no details have yet been disclosed.

So just what will be released? The first Discreet Media Architecture product will be a visual effects product – currently code-named Strata. This will run on an asset database and server application code-named Mezzo. Discreet insists that these code-names will change. We discussed with Discreet just what these products will do and how they are positioned in relationship to Flame and Inferno. As we mentioned above, Discreet has decided to not just copy the flame’s rich tool set, – a difficult task given the size and completeness of the Flame tool set. Instead, it is aiming for a workable tool set with some new tricks and techniques that will expand what can currently be achieved with the effects and editing products. This makes sense since most initial customers will be existing Flame & Smoke users and they will want new exciting complementary tools and not just what they have now. Discreet realizes it can not hope to pull off the maturity of a 10 year old product on release v1.0 – so they are hoping

new tools and 3D techniques will attract customers and keep their suites busy while later releases complete the tool set.

The timesmear allows a visual edit to be seen, with fast access around the timeline
(click image to see larger)

The breakthrough new tools and techniques are based on advanced 2D/3D capabilities such as Image Based Rendering (IBR). These technologies have only been researched in the last 3 years and described at conferences such as Siggraph. Discreet have incorporated these technologies at a system level, allowing for commercialization of these powerful new approaches. Sampled radiosity, HDR and IBR are now openly discussed as being core to Discreet’s effects products differentiation and vital to the product lines initial success. Strata also features a high-quality, high-performance floating-point 3D software renderer with advanced 2D capabilities to further leverage these new techniques.

At NAB, Discreet got 3 main positive reactions to the DMA roadmap technology showings. First, a stronger than expected level of support for 3D and IBR technologies, not, – just to quote Discreet, ” from our super users – who loved it, but also from more traditional effects customers”. A great response was also received for the Mezzo system structure; potential clients welcomed and embraced the facility wide data management and rock solid database design. Finally, a stronger than expected reaction to, what Discreet is calling, their non-linear digital production workflow. This is the concept of allowing the same operator to jump between non-modal editing, finishing, audio editing and 3D capabilities, rather than just having dedicated editorial vs effects vs audio approaches.

Also reinforced for Discreet was that its user interface and graphical work flow are high priorities for users. Following several key strategy meetings back in Canada involving early user feedback, Discreet is accelerating its effort to roll out an impressive array of user interface tools for solving current workflow issues suffered daily by users. Discreet is committed to providing a robust “high value added Discreet UI to these products”.

Discreet is specifically targeting v1.0 of the product codenamed Strata at the video and HD markets, not because the application cannot handle film resolution, but rather because they feel the hardware performance currently available – particularly 8-bit OpenGL PC cards make for a more compelling online solution in these formats. The software itself is resolution independent and renders everything at floating-point accuracy – you read right… floating point accuracy !

The menus in Toxik can be over the image for a heads up display.
(click image to see larger)

One area of particular interest is the aggressive technology partnerships that Discreet seeks from third parties. Sparks in Flame have a rather high level API structure suited more to filter-style plugins and image processing tools. With the DMA not only are “the usual suspects” all very involved with the new Spark discussions, but many companies are particularly interested in the new API developed for DMA and its access to the underlying core technology. Discreet is actively building a new developer community with DMA, expect to hear more on this when they launch the product.

At the show, there was some concern that the introduction of new technology, even months off release, may disrupt sales of FFIS and other products, but mostly sales have remained strong, and Discreet’s Smoke sales strengthened significantly at NAB, as multi-master editing, OMF support and other new enhancements, combined with Smokes proven ability to deliver both Standard Definition and High Definition solutions, really kicked in. And there is no doubt that Flame and Inferno’s next release (versions 8.0 and 5.0 respectively) will be one of the strongest and most exciting we’ve seen in years.

Discreet Media Architecture products will be sold through existing sales and reseller channels, but Discreet will probably be looking to extend its dealer network as Strata and Mezzo gain acceptance. Discreet is exploring a subscription based support model, Discreet just wants to make sure that the releases schedule delivers value in a way that works for users and subscription style support has been more successful in the past for allowing companies to plan cashflow and upgrades.

Finally, as for price, the current rumors are just that, pure speculation, no pricing has been set and everything in that regard is completely undisclosed, and will be until there is a lock off on just what will ship in release 1.0.