Which Compositing Package

15 replies [Last post]
Christian Lett
Offline
Joined: Apr 26 1999

Morning all,

I've recently been concentrating on post-production, which all began when I started experimenting with Adobe After Effects 6.5 on my PC, for my friend's disaster movie "Impact Day". This has led to something of an obsession for me and I've decided to pursue this interest as more than just a hobby. I'm happy to say that it's also re-ignited my interest in 3D and my 3D modeller of choice has been an easy decision.

But which compositor to use?

So far, I've been using the trial version of After Effects Pro 6.5, and hadn't even considered anything else. I've done some pretty cool stuff with it thus far, and invested in a couple of Trish and Chris Meyer's superb books. But it seems that if I ever get good enough to make the leap into this full time, should I look elsewhere than AE?

At the moment I'm discounting Shake, as I don't have a Mac and the investment would be too much for me to afford. The other option in the same price range as AE is Discreet Combustion. From my limited research, exposure to Combustion would stand me in good stead to move onto Inferno and Flame (which I believe are scaled up versions, and Flame only runs on SGI hardware!). It also looks like most pro effects houses use these products rather than After Effects.

To clarify, I'm going for the compositing of CGI into video, more than motion graphics, like titles, etc. After Effects handles these things brilliantly (plus there's the obvious Photoshop integration) but I'm wondering whether the Discreet stuff does it better.

Does anyone have any experience of Combustion, Inferno, Flame or After Effects, who could lend me their opinions?

Many thanks,

Christian

Christian Lett After Effects and Maya Artist www.quarterlightpictures.com

RichardB
Offline
Joined: Aug 27 1999

Christian

My info is about a year old, but for what it's worth...

After Effects is used mainly as a pre-viz compositor, there will be a Mac sitting in the corner so people can do rough and ready compositing to make sure things are going in the right direction. After Effects did have a moment of glory when the guys doing 'Band of Brothers' realised they could do simple effects like smoke and tracer fire on the AE/Mac combo, and about 1/3 of the effects on the series ended up being done on the platform.

As far as I know, this was not a major breakthrough, and AE still is mostly used for pre-viz or graphics.

Combustion doesn't fare any better, again it's a pre-viz program, BUT, as you say, it is a cut-down version of Flame: the interface is unusual but it is the same between both programs. I personally do prefer Combustion, and when I have to sit in on Flame sessions, I feel right at home.

Flame is the industry standard. Most effects houses run Flame. At the very least, you would be expected to know your way around it, and Combustion will help.

Shake is a different story, it's a very high level program used mainly in features and more popular in the US than here. There are still old versions of shake floating around that are PC based (up to Shake 2.5, I think) and you vcould find one to learn on, but really, it's a very specialised program.

One thing you can help yourself with is to get to grips with the 'node and branch' system of working - it's the default method for Shake, and the preferred method for Flame. AE can do it, but it was added as an afterthought, it's too different from the Adobe house style of layers.

It's the ability to think in Node and Branch which separates the amateurs from the professionals, and it's well worth learning.

But to answer your question directly, I would go for Combustion simply because of the relationship with Flame.

Hth
Rb

Christian Lett
Offline
Joined: Apr 26 1999

Richard, thank you.

So where does Inferno fit in to the picture? One thing I can't quite figure out from Discreet's website is the exact role that Inferno, Flint and Flame play, and whether they're just cut-down versions of each other.

"Node and branch" is something I'm familiar with from recently working with Maya, especially when building shaders, so I'll bear that in mind.

Thanks for your help.

C

Christian Lett After Effects and Maya Artist www.quarterlightpictures.com

RichardB
Offline
Joined: Aug 27 1999

Flint, Flame and Inferno (or FFI ) are all hardware/software combinations, running on SGI systems with proprietary disk technology from discreet. Flint is the entry level system, using a 1 processor machine, and it lacks some of the high end tools. The difference between flame and inferno is speed and output resolution - flame can "only" go up to 2k (at least in the last version I saw) while inferno can go much higher - at least 4k, maybe more. Flame is a dual-processor system running on Octane SGI, while inferno is multi-processor(I think four as standard) running on Onyx SGI.

FFI cache and playback directly to disk, and at flame and inferno level you're pretty much working in realtime. Whereas Combustion, and AE, are JUST software, and they both cache and playback to RAM, so your playback is limited to what you can squeeze in there.

So yes, they're cutdown versions of each other, or more correctly, they're the 'chain' that a complex project goes through - you don't want someone doing garbage mattes on inferno, that's a flint job, BUT you do want those files to seamlessly transfer all the way up the production.

Is combustion taking the place of flint - I have no idea, I'm out of the loop on that one, but I wouldn't be surprised. I could image a lot of small houses with a single combustion/ flame seat for comp'ing on.

Rookie
Offline
Joined: Sep 27 1999
Shake...

...as far as I can see from the american Apple-site, Shake 3.5 is also available for Linux. Although the Linux version costs USD 1000 more than the mac-version. (Probably a good insentive to buy a mac)...

PaulD
Offline
Joined: Aug 31 2002

Here's the final post to this thread added on:
Posted by
Christian Lett
Thank you Richard. Now I am much the wiser! Not sure I'll be purchasing Flint, Flame or Inferno in the near future, so Combustion seems like the logical choice.

Cheers,

Christian

michael.cawood
Offline
Joined: Oct 8 2001

Does anyone have any opinion on Digital Fusion? I've had to use it and it seems similar to Combustion. My use of it so far though would suggest that it's quite indepth but doesn't have as full a range of effects as Combustion.

I tried demos of AE and Combustion, but would you believe I still use Premeire for most of my effects and compositing (in combination with Maya). I may have an option to switch to Shake instead of DFX soon, do you think it would be worth it?

Mad_mardy
Offline
Joined: Oct 19 2000
RichardB wrote:
Christian

My info is about a year old, but for what it's worth...

After Effects is used mainly as a pre-viz compositor, there will be a Mac sitting in the corner so people can do rough and ready compositing to make sure things are going in the right direction. After Effects did have a moment of glory when the guys doing 'Band of Brothers' realised they could do simple effects like smoke and tracer fire on the AE/Mac combo, and about 1/3 of the effects on the series ended up being done on the platform.

As far as I know, this was not a major breakthrough, and AE still is mostly used for pre-viz or graphics.

Combustion doesn't fare any better, again it's a pre-viz program, BUT, as you say, it is a cut-down version of Flame: the interface is unusual but it is the same between both programs. I personally do prefer Combustion, and when I have to sit in on Flame sessions, I feel right at home.

Flame is the industry standard. Most effects houses run Flame. At the very least, you would be expected to know your way around it, and Combustion will help.

Shake is a different story, it's a very high level program used mainly in features and more popular in the US than here. There are still old versions of shake floating around that are PC based (up to Shake 2.5, I think) and you vcould find one to learn on, but really, it's a very specialised program.

One thing you can help yourself with is to get to grips with the 'node and branch' system of working - it's the default method for Shake, and the preferred method for Flame. AE can do it, but it was added as an afterthought, it's too different from the Adobe house style of layers.

It's the ability to think in Node and Branch which separates the amateurs from the professionals, and it's well worth learning.

But to answer your question directly, I would go for Combustion simply because of the relationship with Flame.

Hth
Rb

you wanna read a bit more,
After effects is used a damm sight more than just pre viz
if you want the list of films and programs that have used it i'll be more than willing to give you the list. :)

i'll give you one for free
"The Talented Mr Ripley"

System 1: AMD X6 2.8, M4A79 Deluxe, 4GB DDR2, ATI HD4870 1GB DDR 3, 2TB total drive space, Matrox RTX 2, Premiere Pro CS4

System 2: AMD X2 5600, M2NPV-VM, 2GB DDR2, Geforce 8600GT 256 DDR 3, 450GB Total drive space, RTX100 with Premiere Pro 2

Camera's: JVC HD200, JVC HD101, 2X Sony HC62

RichardB
Offline
Joined: Aug 27 1999

I think the thing to take away from this is the division between cache-to-RAM and cache-to-disk. Cache-to-disk will always be the preferred platform simply because cache-to-RAM is, by design, limited. No-one charging hundreds of pounds per hour is going to use a RAM cache to do much more than testing, garbage matting, graphics or previz.

NB: Anyone working with RAM-cache programs interested in how to increase the cache limit by a gig should see my post here:

http://forums.dvdoctor.net/showthread.php?t=33551

I'm never convinced by 'as used in XYZ' movie credits, because the marketing folk never tell you what the use was--- '3DMax was used in the new Star Wars movie' well, yes it was, but blink - or have less than 20/20 eyesight- and you'll miss it. 'Avid Xpress/ FCP was used to edit the new Whatever film' - yes: used by an assistant to log rushes.

As I said, I've been away from post-prod for over a year now, from what I hear from editors, FCP is now regarded as a final platform and not just an intermediate, and if you tell me AFX has undergone a similar sort of renaissance, fine, I'm just reporting the situation as I experienced it in my day-to-day working life. To be honest though, I don't expect to go back into Soho and be sat in front of an AFX machine.

Mad_mardy
Offline
Joined: Oct 19 2000

no i'm not talking about adverts where exclamations are given as to what there program was used for, i'm talking of real compositers working on real movies and tv
the example i gave as in "the talented mr ripley" AFX was used to create the opening tilte section, in gladiator photoshop was used to create the hundreds of non existant audience members in the colloseum and AFX was used to animate/composite them.
i have never heard of 3ds max used in much tv or film although there was something big the other day which claimed they used it but i can't remeber what it was. most of the time they seem to use maya,lightwave (nearly all cgi in star trek enterprise for this one) and softimage.

one thing about AFX which sets it above others in ways is the way it almost natively handles PSD files

System 1: AMD X6 2.8, M4A79 Deluxe, 4GB DDR2, ATI HD4870 1GB DDR 3, 2TB total drive space, Matrox RTX 2, Premiere Pro CS4

System 2: AMD X2 5600, M2NPV-VM, 2GB DDR2, Geforce 8600GT 256 DDR 3, 450GB Total drive space, RTX100 with Premiere Pro 2

Camera's: JVC HD200, JVC HD101, 2X Sony HC62

RichardB
Offline
Joined: Aug 27 1999

Crowd scenes are one of the really exciting areas of CGI, the three ways to get a good crowd scene that I'm aware of are

a) repeatedly move a small 'live' crowd and shoot on motion control, to seamlessly comp them into one large crowd

b) create individual shots of a variety of people and mount them onto 'flat cards' in a 3D program, ensuring that the cards always face the virtual camera. This is the '2 1/2D' effect

c) create a 3d mass crowd, comrised of individuals, with each individual character having limited AI - this is a very exciting new option, and was used from Lord of the Rings to the Beeb's historical battle re-creations.

Now I imagine Gladiator used all three of these techniques, probably sometimes all in the same shot. The only place I could see for something like an AFX/Photoshop combo is option b- being presented with hundreds of individual extras shot against greenscreen and asked to create matte files, and then alter the colours of the robes, etc, before these were then sent on to the 3D program, that sounds very much like a job for a simple compositing tool.
Other than that I can't see how it would be used - the idea that AFX (or Combustion, or Flame) can somehow 'animate' a character is not correct - granted it could morph or distort an image, but the overall effect would be very weird.

Most comp programs handle psd files very well, and I'm sure AFX is no exception (I mean, there would be something very wrong at Adobe otherwise!) but have you found that png and targa tend to be the native formats for graphics when comping. Certainly all the graphics material I've dealt with has been one or the other.

Adobe base everything around the idea of layers, which works until you get to a node-and-branch system, and then it dosen't work so well.

Anyway, it sounds as if you're very happy with AFX and that's fine, I'd love to see some work if you have a website!

Cheers
Rb

Mad_mardy
Offline
Joined: Oct 19 2000

i think they did use option B i remeber reading that they only had a few real people and they were then duplicated.

as far as working in layers, i wouldn't have it any other way
yes i have got a website but there is nothing in the way of graphics/compositing work in there as primarily i'm a storyteller, story first, FX later although here is one shot
WIP

System 1: AMD X6 2.8, M4A79 Deluxe, 4GB DDR2, ATI HD4870 1GB DDR 3, 2TB total drive space, Matrox RTX 2, Premiere Pro CS4

System 2: AMD X2 5600, M2NPV-VM, 2GB DDR2, Geforce 8600GT 256 DDR 3, 450GB Total drive space, RTX100 with Premiere Pro 2

Camera's: JVC HD200, JVC HD101, 2X Sony HC62

rkgibbons
Offline
Joined: Apr 30 2003

After Effects has been a widely used application in the television and movie industry for MANY years (especially among small to mid-sized tv shops and independent film-studios). You won't be disappointed by its feature set -- as its more than robust enough to handle 99% of your compositing requirements. Plus, there's about a million plugins available -- each of which compliments the program and brings you new features.

Discreet Combustion is also an excellent choice. I feel that the initial learning curve is a bit steeper for Combustion, but once you understand the vastly different paradigm, it's a true pleasure to work with. Again, you'll find almost everything you need in this package -- and it supports most of the available After Effects plugins.

When you start talking about Flame and Inferno, you're really jumping up the ladder -- at least in terms of price. I won't argue that these are superior systems, but will they provide you with a satisfying price to feature increase ratio? I doubt it.

My advice: grab hold of either AE or Combustion, learn your trade, and worry about Flame and Inferno when you start applying for jobs in the industry. The trick to getting work (if that's your goal) is to have a firm understanding of the techniques -- not a firm understanding of any particular product.

AMD 4400+ Dual Core (2.2Ghz x 2), 2GB Ram, MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum MB, Nvidia 7800GTX video card, Pinnacle DC2000 component capture card, Dell Ultrasharp 2405FPW 24" flat panel display, Sony SR1 AVCHD HD Camcorder, Pinnacle Liquid 6 Pro

RichardB
Offline
Joined: Aug 27 1999

rk

I don't think anyone is suggesting that the average board member is going to buy either an inferno or a flame system - with inferno retailing at about £500,000 a unit, and flame about half that, it's not a try-it-and-see-if-you-like-it purchase.

I think the conversation was more about which interface is best to learn on if you hope to make it into a paid profession, and what place the smaller RAM based programs actually have in the post-production houses.

In an addition to my earlier post where I mentioned Shake may be too specialised a program to learn, I was chatting to a compositor yesterday who mentioned it's being used more and more in the UK and there may be more room for freelancers, so maybe I was wrong to disparage it. As I said, my info is a little out of date. :)

Christian Lett
Offline
Joined: Apr 26 1999

All,

A very interesting thread has emerged here, thanks for all your replies. I certainly never considered AfterEffects to be an amateur's compositor, as from what I've read in the books I've got, it's used extensively in the industry for titling, advertising and some visual effects compositing. I believe it is also one of the best apps for motion graphics.

Interestingly, talking about Photoshop documents, I've recently bought Maya 6.5 for my 3D work and there's some good support in there for PSD files, even so much as to create PSDs from baked textures. I know that Photoshop is used a lot by the big FX houses for texture and matte work.

At the moment my work is strictly non-professional, just producing some nice VFX for a friend's movie. But it's all good practise as my dream job is to work in visual effects production (dispite leaving it a little late in life to get into it - I'm 31!). I'll link to some stills when they're finished!

C

Christian Lett After Effects and Maya Artist www.quarterlightpictures.com

harlequin
harlequin's picture
Offline
Joined: Aug 16 2000
Mad_mardy wrote:
i have never heard of 3ds max used in much tv or film although there was something big the other day which claimed they used it but i can't remeber what it was. most of the time they seem to use maya,lightwave (nearly all cgi in star trek enterprise for this one) and softimage.

I was watching some footage recently being demoed by Discreet.

the scene from ' the day after tomorrow ' where characters are trudging through snow towards a large building ...... 3ds max

'elf'

etc

http://www4.discreet.com/3dsmax/3dsmax.php?id=976 has a scroll listing the ones it's been used on.

http://www4.discreet.com/3dsmax/3dsmax.php?id=968 has links to clips etc.

Gary MacKenzie

sepulce@hotmail.com ( an account only used for forum messages )

Thinkserver TS140 , 750ti Graphics card  & LG 27" uws led backlight , Edius 8

Humax Foxsat HD Pvr / Humax Fox T2 dvbt