At the Inter BEE 2009 conference in Tokyo Autodesk showed a technology demo and announced Smoke on the Macintosh platform with a price of $14,995 (U.S. suggested retail price). We take an exclusive first look at Smoke on the Mac and talk with the product managers and developers to answer all the questions you may have.

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52 thoughts on “fxguidetv: Smoke on Mac”

  1. First of all, thanks for this episode, really interesting to see where Autodesk might be going with their system prodcuts.

    I hate to say though, it felt a bit like an Autodesk promotional video and not so much like an independent review. Lack of Sparks support is a big deal in my opinion. So is lack of realtime deliverables. Also, no mention of how Network and Library are supported. Will it have read/write access to framestores? What about realtime preview on an external broadcast monitor? On Linux it only works in SD resolution with the Aja card. Furthermore, and this is a big one, what about RED support? Is wiretapgateway available on OSX? How about support for RED Rocket? fxguide and fxphd deal with RED material all the time so I’m really surprised this wasn’t even touched on in this episode.

    I realize you’re under NDA, but if you know Flame or Smoke just a little bit, there isn’t much information you will get from watching this.

    Hoping for a more in depth coverage soon … and a release date would be nice, too.

  2. Just one quick precision…. A single 30-inch monitor is going to be supported so it is not limited to 1920×1200, which is the minimum requirement.

  3. Give me Smoke and Flare for 30K and I’m sold.

    Lack of real time deliverables it unfortunate. FCP has been able to do downconverts on the fly for years. I’m pretty sure I heard wiretap was going to be included as well as RED.

  4. Kevin, were wiretapgateway and RED mentioned in the video? Did I miss that part? Or did you here it somewhere else?

  5. I appreciate your comment about the video…thanks for taking the time. But in fairness it wasn’t intended to be a hard core review of the app — we generally don’t do that type of thing on fxguidetv. It was actually to provide facts and information about how the new product fits in the Autodesk product line and dispel some of the misinformation out there. Also, the product hasn’t been released so we couldn’t really do a full review even if we wanted to.

    I did additionally try to explain some of the “smoke” concepts but that was because we had a lot of people asking what smoke was. That was actually a tough ask. I didn’t want to spend the entire ep going over all features which are in smoke….I had to cut stuff out of the segment. So instead of listing every single feature of smoke that is in the product, it was easier to say this is the base level of smoke *without*…”. And Marc Hamaker also listed the main things that were missing such as Realtime Deliverables, Batch, etc.

    So to answer your questions….

    “Also, no mention of how Network and Library are supported. Will it have read/write access to framestores?”

    It’s smoke, so you have network, library, and collaboration between machines.

    “What about realtime preview on an external broadcast monitor? On Linux it only works in SD resolution with the Aja card.”

    Yes. But you’re incorrect that on linux it only works in SD resolution. Linux smoke supports HD resolution and so does smoke on mac.

    “Is wiretapgateway available on OSX?”

    Yep…along with wiretap central which enables R3D support and all the other features of wiretape central.

    “How about support for RED Rocket?”

    That’s not available on any of the linux products. I think I’m ok to say that also means it’s not available on OSX.

    “Release Date?”

    Not allowed to discuss due to NDA.

    Again — it was tough to go through the checklist of things…so I decided to summarize and say this is smoke without RTD, batch, etc. Speaking of RTD, we have real-time deliverables in house and actually don’t use the functionality (as do several others I know). I didn’t think it was a big deal that it wasn’t in the software, so I didn’t think it needed more mention.

    As far as being positive about the development, yeah I am. I don’t really have a lot bad to say about it. They just dropped the price of a very powerful app to about 35% of the original price. As an owner of smoke already, I can clearly say a business can make their money back on this investment. It’s not for everyone, but a serious business owner knows the financial hit is such a small one for the benefit you get.

    It’s a very good first step in dealing with the reality of the business climate….and we’ll see this evolve. Well, actually, Flare was the first step, but this is a better step.

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  7. You say it can do SDI preview – Can it also do SDI to and from tape with the AJA board?

    If it cant do that, a lot of facilities will have a hard time justifying it.

  8. Talking about price. It would seem that meeting the system requirements of Smoke on OSX, you’d be getting pretty close (but still less) to the cost of an entry level Smoke turnkey. (I’m assuming that the specs listed come in around $30k and up depending on storage -and if I’m correct, a base model Smoke is around $40k?): So the question is, is the big benefit of Smoke on OSX more about platform and workflow, or price? thoughts?

  9. As you said, John: platform and workflow and price… Nice.

    And I’m going to call this new product sMak, drawing inspiration from you!

    This elicits the vibe I have when I think about this news… slap palm to forehead (sMak!) and say “what took Autodesk so long???”

    The interview criticism…. meh. You have a wide audience to hit with this info, and had to strike a balance. I learned stuff about QTKit being partly 32bit, struggling with limited nVidia drivers, and about tackling paint, so hats off to you for revealing the challenges faced by a developer. Efforts by companies such as Autodesk push Apple to improve their platform, and the post community enjoys the rewards.

    Well done!

  10. Congratulations on this excellent report !

    Great move from Autodesk M&E !

    This is a game changer. I am buying, no doubt. Now bring Flame and Flare to the masse.

    Good Job FXGuide.

  11. You will get RT playback of the sMak (Smoke on Mac) library/deskarea on the confidence monitor hooked up to the Kona3’s output.

    However, you will not get RT playback if there is a dependency on the realtime deliverables (RDT) functionality from the library/deskarea, such as 3/2 pulldown insertion or other timing variable handling.

    Will sMak leverage the Kona3 for downconvert/crossconvert on output of the lib/desk instead of depending on RTDs? John, you’ve had the beta…

    My opinion… if you need downstream RTDs, and you really really want sMak, put a Harris X75 on the Kona3 outputs and that should get you 98% of RTDs.

    John… is the limitation of no RTDs in sMak due to the price positioning of this product, or a result of porting the X11 code to Mac?

  12. David.., RTD on linux is done by GPU. Linux use quadro with SDI output, and unfortunately there is no support for that cards on Mac, blame it on Apple, not on Autodesk.
    It could change in future 🙂
    I would like to know if it can open clips created on unix flames and smokes and render them.

  13. Anyone have any info on running the Quaddro 4800 or the 5600 on a mac? I’ve heard there are issues.

  14. In response to John and David, live preview on a broadcast monitor via the Aja card only works up to SD resolution on current linux systems. There’s also a slight delay involved because this goes via readback preview device. That’s why, I assume, your Smoke HD Linux system has an Nvidia SDI daughter board. Please correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think I am.
    So the question is, do we get live preview up to HD resolution in Smoke OSX, and don’t you consider this a critical feature? I think everyone would agree it is.

    As for RED Rocket, I know it’s not supported on Linux, but it’s supported by FCP and a bunch of other applications on OSX. And Smoke will have to compete with these, at least as far as editing functionality goes. RED import via Wiretapcentral is fine, but it’s far away from realtime.

    I’m a Flame artist myself and I love the workflow, the toolset and the whole philosophy behind the system products. I appreciate every move Autodesk makes to keep these systems alive and improve them. The move to OSX is a step in the right direction, and even the price point is almost alright.

    But I would have preferred to hear more from your experience with the new software John, and less from Autodesk. I don’t expect them to point out shortcomings in the software and it’s functionality. It’s simply a question of credibility.

  15. Nice video, John!

    Ares, you’re wrong about the current state of things. The live preview on my HP 8400 (almost 3 years old now I think) does HD just fine. There’s a slight delay, but you just set your audio offset in the preferences and everything syncs up fine for in-suite playback. Maybe the now-EOL’ed IBM workstations only do SD, but the HP’s do HD just fine. I have no clue about the OS X version, though.

  16. It’s my first time watching fxguideTV and the show looks great.

    I’d be curious to know what the inherent advantages are over existing tools on the Mac (AVID, FCP). I’m familiar with Flame, Maya and other Autodesk products, but I think it would be useful to explore some of the advantages Smoke has. It’s an exciting time, and I hope Autodesk continues to bring great products to the platform.

    One of the best parts of the show was the discussion w/ the developer. It’s rare you see such a low-level conversation about software porting. I’m involved in a couple of projects on the mac regarding QuickTime and could relate to the frustrations with 64-bit QTKit and limited support for functionality only available in 32bit.

    one pet peeve, however — it’s “OS 10”, not “OS EX” 😉

    Keep up the great work! You’ve definitely got a new fan of the podcast.

  17. I appreciate the overview of what Smoke really is but I still just don’t get it. I understand the realtime functionality, I understand the software is quite powerful and has features other systems do not. But I just don’t think something like this is really necessary for many people at all.

    There is a reason people have been moving into less expensive hardware and software. . . it is about the creativity! Half the fun is making the tools you have suit what you want to accomplish, and doing it creatively. Realtime and especially client attended workflow is just completely backwards I think, it is often the lack of realtime feedback that drives unique and innovative methods of working. This is just the absolute Brute Force method of doing things. Throwing all this functionality into one package just doesn’t make sense to me.

    The days of buying hardware to attract clients is just silly, if I ever had someone tell me they wanted to work with be because of my awesome gear I would probably punch them in the face. ^_^

    Now I am as big a geek as the best of them, but that is my own personal business, not a clients. Someone should hire you to do work because of what you can offer them creatively, not technically, unless you are an engineer, then by all means.

    I enjoyed the episode, I really did, and would love to get feedback on what I am saying to maybe get a clearer picture, as I don’t claim to be an expert on the post industry, but I think it is 100% systems like this that drive the ridiculous deadlines that are seen now a days and I just don’t understand their place anymore.

    Do people really need something like this to make interesting work in this field? I would not want a client telling me directly what to do ever, that is totally missing the point of hiring someone else to create things for you. Even if the intention is the ability to immediately collaborate, screw that, clients hire people to utilize their own expertise, and don’t really have any business telling a creative team they hire how to edit, composite, animate, etc.

    Sorry for being such a whiner, please put me in my place if necessary. Thanks for the information!

  18. I totally agree with Andrew. This product reminds me of how the post production business was done 7 or 10 years ago. I thought that the days the client was sitting next to the compositor in order to tell them what to do were over but from the discussion here i see that it is still happening!

    The client still wants fast results and that is understandable but nowadays it’s not so easy to impress with visual FX like it used to be. Shots are much more complex and need much more work and time. Certainly having a realtime machine helps but that’s only part of the equation. A very small part.

    FX work has become so complex that client input during the procedure had become minimal or even useless. That’s why i see them less and less during the post production time. Actually, the last couple of years i only see them at the end when they have to evaluate the results.

    So, what’s the excitement about the release for something like Smoke? Do post production houses really need and willing to pay so much money for something like that?

  19. It’s really all about time. There are some things that can take a long time in the likes of AE (and I’m a confirmed fan of that app’) that can be turned around in a fraction of that time on Smoke. It’s also about having your toolset integrated, there’s everything you need to finish a project right there in one application (apart from 3d tracking), again this saves a ton of time.

    My reality is that time is now the all important factor in turning round quality work in the schedules that currently exist. That may not be the case for others.

    I think this is a killer product, and a great move by Autodesk.


  20. I honestly haven’t looked at Smoke for some time, and I find the whole concept of SMac intriguing… Is there any limitation on supported resolutions? ie is the OSX software capped at HD and will not support 2K editorial? I heard from an Autodesk reseller that you need to go to Smoke Advanced to support 2K, but I can’t find anything on the Autodesk website that supports this claim.

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  22. Agree John, it is indeed a much better step than Flare when it comes to getting in touch with the current reality.

    Let’s see if how that pans out in the next months 😉

  23. Daryl – there’s no resolution restriction. You can mix 8K with SD in your timeline if you want. The linux products used to be called Smoke HD and Smoke 2K but now their just Smoke and Smoke Advanced with the difference being Smoke Advanced has Batch, a node based effects pipeline. Smoke for OS X is similar to Smoke (no Batch). The differences are basically due to things we couldn’t port easily. For instance the Linux Nvidia graphics cards support SDI output but the same cards on Mac don’t. We use the SDI out to support RTD and broadcast preview on Linux. On the Mac we were able to get broadcast preview working via the AJA Kona card but we couldn’t get RTD (Real time deliverables) working for version one. So no RTD on the Mac (for now!).

  24. Sheila,

    It was very informative hearing you speak of using OpenGL FBO to emulate the Hardware Overlay Planes and the possibility of future Autodesk applications being able to use cheaper GPUs. I have a few questions regarding this. The Quadro FX 4800 is listed as supporting Hardware Overlay Planes… so why was there a need to emulate this function? Was this emulation the reason for having realtime playback capability out to Kona 3 SDI also?

  25. Hey Sheila,
    is it possible to output on Smoke OSX 2k or 4k files ?
    Is there a restriction on output ?

  26. Hey Ares — I was moving the office the last couple days, so wasn’t able to respond. Let me respond to some of your comments and clear up some misinformation for you which might be helpful. Also, I suggest you contact your local Autodesk sales person or reseller — they might be able to give you more current information.


  27. I think the discussion from Andrew and Miltos is an interesting one and indeed, it’s a question I ask myself constantly – “What is it really about Smoke that makes it so special that we can warrant the higher hourly rate to our clients?”
    Most of what you can do on Smoke is achievable by mixing other systems – AE, Photoshop, FCP (with Colour etc.)and Avid. My editor and design colleagues constantly ask me “what’s so special about this piece of kit?”
    I think Smoke is sold on it’s “client attended” functionality and it’s true, it is fast and has brilliant “online” tools but to me, fundamentally, it’s that it’s speed, tactillity and above all, it’s responsiveness simply makes it an unbelievably creative tool – that’s the hard thing to explain to clients and colleagues – strangely. It’s the fact that you can try things out, throw ideas around and explore and investigate so quickly and easily. It doesn’t matter if you go down the wrong road with an idea visually or technically because you can realise your mistake early on, change your technique or rip up your idea and start again. You won’t have wasted much time and the client (if they’re with you – imparting their priceless helpful hints) won’t start to twitch too much. So many other systems have a “stickiness” to their UI which I feel places a barrier between me and what I want to achieve. In my experience even high end systems like Quantel eQ aren’t quite as responsive during the creative process (although they are more powerful in other ways). And as mentioned by others, having all your tools in one package is a wonderful freedom. I suppose the relevance to this dicussion would be the question of how well Smoke performs on Mac in its interactive responsiveness? I realise that it depends on your system but, if it performs in a sticky way, it will have lost a lot of its magic and appeal for me. John Mont – what’s your impression?

  28. What is it about smoke? Your post, Nial, really fits in with the way I think about it. And the question is certainly a valid one to ask.

    It is hard to quantify, but so much of it comes down to having integrated tools within a single application. From a creative standpoint, each tool standing on it’s own probably has some other tool in another application that is comparable or better. But it is so easy to quickly try things out…different versions…experiment, etc. While artists often speak of client interaction, I mostly work unsupervised so what it does is give me the opportunity to wander down several path and experiment. Sometimes those paths cause be to leave the app and do work in After Effects or track in SynthEyes/PFTrack, etc. But to have very solid vfx and compositing tools such as masking, tracking, grading, etc within the app is incredibly freeing. I find when working in Final Cut that the tools in the app just don’t measure up to the standards I expect. Simply compare the masking tools and you see what I mean.

    I would actually say that more recently I spend more of my time on a mac workstation with AE, FCP, Nuke, or other apps instead of being on flame or smoke. This just happens to be a financial consideration and how often the smoke room is use by the Hootenanny folks who I’m housed with. So i’m pretty versed in being able to compare moving between desktop apps and working within Smoke/Flame.

    One thing I hope about our possible class at fxphd is that over a course of 10 lessons, artists can be exposed to the app who otherwise haven’t had the opportunity to be at a facility and see what smoke is all about. I hope it’s eye-opening. It’s not perfect….there are bugs just like any other app….but it is pretty outstanding at what it does. And as I said in fxguidetv, I’m happy that Autodesk is making this move….I think it’s a strong one…but as they say, time will tell.

  29. Ares – as John pointed out, preview is in SD and HD. That was a big chunk of the porting work, getting enough performance for 2 streams HD (disolves) on the preview.

    Philip – like Andrae pointed out, there’s no restriction on file based output. Of course output to tape is limited to video resolutions.

    Andrae, good question about the hardware overlays. You’re right, all the Nvidia Quardro FX cards (5600, 4800, etc) support hardware overlay. The Linux and Windows drivers let you access this but the Mac drivers don’t. Hardware manufacturers like ATI and Nvidia write their low level graphics drivers and Apple puts their OpenGL, Core Graphics and Core Video layers on top of that. Apple is very stringent with their graphics interface – see their Human Interface Guidelines for details: High end features like overlays and SDI output are not supported by Apple because they want to give a consistent user experience regardless of your hardware.

  30. Sheila thanks for your answer to my questions, your responses greatly help to clarify things. Would I be correct in believing that without the emulation of hardware overlay planes… realtime preview out to KONA SDI would not be possible? A more direct question would be… how did your team cross the hurdle of getting enough performance for 2 streams HD (dissolves) on the preview? I would like to know if the hardware overlay emulation correlated to a significant improvement in speed for the SDI out. What are some of the benefits of this emulation method?

    Congratulations! Your team did a great job of overcoming obstacles on the Mac platform. Other high end post workflow companies have consistently used these excuses for explaining why they cannot bring their software to the Mac.

  31. Andrae – Having worked in Sheila’s team since the beginning the Mac project let me try to clarify a few points.

    As Sheila said, the emulation of hardware overlay was done to overcome the fact that the Mac OpenGL driver doesn’t support them. It wasn’t done for a performance reason and doesn’t really gives us any performance gain.

    Realtime preview out the the KONA SDI is possible for two main reasons. First, both the Quadro FX 5600 and 4600 are PCI-E second generation cards which give an improved transfer performance. Second, we spent a lot of time improving our code to make sure that we read and write from both the Quadro and KONA cards as efficiently as possible.

    I hope it clarify things.

  32. Etienne,

    Thanks for the further clarification. Both you and Sheila have stated that a big chunk of the porting work was getting SD and HD performance on the preview. Before your team accomplished this successfully, I thought it was an hardware issue and the only solution was Apple supporting the higher end Quadro cards. I’m glad to hear you guys have surmounted this with efficient coding.

  33. Serously, I’m already sold. Can we get an ETA on delivery? Or are we getting all hyped up so we can bring Autodesk stock up and we wait 6onths to get a working copy of SMOKE for MAC?

    Please say SMOKE for MAC is ready for delivery soon!!

  34. Jean-Francois Panisset

    Hardware overlay plans is a feature that allows you to draw simple “decorations” on top of your main graphics buffer without affecting that buffer. So for instance you can use it to draw a schematic camera icon on top of the scene, and then move that camera icon around without having to redraw the main scene. All high end graphics accelerators supported this feature, which was very useful for CAD applications where redrawing the entire scene would have been too slow for interactive performance. So a lot of software developed for platforms where this feature was available (i.e. SGI) made use of it, and it remains one of the differentiating factors between consumer-level GeForce and pro-level Quadro cards.

    The reality is that these days, redrawing the entire scene for each frame is no longer much of a big deal, and even if it is, you can probably stash a copy of the scene in another piece of framebuffer memory, draw your “overlay plane” decordations on top of the scene, and then copy the saved copy of the scene back before drawing updated decorations. So the need for hardware overlays is mainly due to “legacy” code that makes use of them (I believe that Maya still wants overlay planes, although I could be wrong) and doesn’t really correspond to something you would want to do if you were writing an application from scratch to take advantage of a modern piece of graphics hardware.

    So hardware overlays doesn’t really interact with real-time SDI preview. One thing I’ll be interested in seeing is how well the preview works in the Paint module: the peculiarities of this module means that on past platforms that didn’t have a hardware path from graphics to video out, the broadcast monitor would only get refreshed at the end of a paint stroke, which could be distracting. But there might be enough performance these days to do real-time readbacks from graphics without interfering with paintbrush performance.

    None of this takes away from the accomplishments of the team porting Smoke to the Mac: that’s a huge amount of code to traverse, deal with all the dependencies on third party code/libraries, adapt to the peculiarities of the platform…


  35. This could be great, thanks for creating this episode and giving us some information on Smoke on Mac.

    It’s a shame that sparks aren’t supported but at least the guys said in the video that they arent supported “yet” so hopefully thats coming. Is there any potential for supporting after effects plug ins as well as the sparks we are familiar with on current Flames / Smokes?

    Also I’m curious to know what Autodesk will be doing to try and prevent piracy with this product, will there be a dongle or something that you will need to run Smoke on mac?

    “I totally agree with Andrew. This product reminds me of how the post production business was done 7 or 10 years ago. I thought that the days the client was sitting next to the compositor in order to tell them what to do were over but from the discussion here i see that it is still happening!”

    In response to Miltos comment, of course that is still happening, sometimes it doesnt make sense for a client to NOT be sitting next to you, if things need to be comped approved and put on air in an hour then it makes more sense for the clients who need to approve the work to be there with you. Not all work in post is beautiful, complicated effects shots that need hours and hours of painstaking work putting into each shot, there is alot of versioning and retail work that needs to be turned around quickly and this is where smoke works very very well. But also it has all the tools to do very complicated work as well if this is whats needed.

  36. JFP – Just wanted to let you know that the paint module on the Mac interacts with the broadcast monitor the same way as on Linux. Meaning that it refreshes on-the-fly and *not* at the end of a paint stroke.


  37. fxguide now making free commercials for Autodesk – sorely disappointed – canceled rss subscription.
    Especially with Autodesk more then bad track record of releasing horrendous buggy code on the mac for the last years – toxic? a total joke on the mac – unusable – maya? riddled with so many platform specific bugs – some of them are so obvious (drawing bugs in the interface that have been there for four years!) – even charging a single penny is a rippoff and you promote a completely untested app that costs $15 grand without any kind of fact checking or back asking stingy questions (no dual monitor support? are you freaking kidding me? and they are even talking about a “mac look and feel”) or even having your own hands on the unit and just reiterate autodesks press releases and act as a multiplier for for their PR department – journalism this is not – rather pure fanboyism or some black suitcases changed hand – either way – not very ethical way to make a journalistic medium.

  38. like all software, autodesk’s is def not perfect. let alone without bugs. and sad to say the majority (if not all software) have bugs.

    but one thing is 1000% sure. autodesk has given the cgi industry some of the most powerful tools. decision to use it is free choice.

    giving artist freedom to choose from a wider tool set will not only benefit the artist, but the industry as a whole. smoke on mac will definitely benefit “people” as when/if premier/fcp/avid was ported to linux eg.

    at the end of the day. if you dont need the software, dont get it. but it doesnt mean that you alone dont need it.


  39. I thought the video was great and provided a glimpse of what smoke on OS X (TEN!) will be. It was not a *review* fALK, just an attempt at getting some info out there to people who were really hungry for it. I trust an actual review will be critical. I will say that Autodesk hasn’t necessarily *given* us the best graphics tools in the industry…but they’ve certainly *acquired* some of the best tools in the industry (they acquired discreet, Maya, XSI, Mudbox, Motion Builder….they even acquired MAX way back when…). Most of this has happened fairly recently and what they do with this wealth of tools remains to be seen.

    smoke on OS X was a good move..being able to use an existing system, storage and kona card was an even better move. Still not quite sure why an Quadro is needed given that overlay planes aren’t needed (Maya used to have this rather obsolete requirement, it should be dropped unless it’s a VRAM thing). smoke plus flare on OS X would be an even better move.

    I commend them taking on and developing for Snow Leopard, and it sounds like it is a 64-bit app (if it required 12 megs it is at least…). Now, what I want to know is it fully multi-threaded? If I render out a seq. with a lot of motion blur or time warping are all 8 cores being used? Or are 7 or 8 cores sitting there doing nothing? Because if it’s not fully multi-threaded then I will be very disappointed. Every 3D app out there has managed multi-threaded rendering, even AE does (to a degree). smoke really should be able to max out the processing power.


  40. The linux version is fairly multithreaded. It also uses the GPU for a good chunk of its rendering, though, which may be why they’re requiring a Quadro. If there are cores sitting idle, it’s usually because you’re disk or GPU-bound. It’s generally quite fast.

  41. I wonder if Smoke supports running under Snow Leopard? I tried installing it on a 3G MacPro and it keeps crashing.

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