A Creative COW Product Overview
The Street Productions, Chicago, Illinois USA
© 2005, Kenneth LaRue and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.
Creative Cow's Ken LaRue explores the just announced Discreet combustion 4. Packed with many new features that Ken enthusiastically describes as "Hot!" and which include quite a number that many users have had on their own personal wish lists, C4 is drawing a lot of attention and discussion here in the Creative Cow forums. In this article, Ken helps us explore many of the reasons why...
There is so much that Discreet has added to combustion 4 that I'd like to break this overview into a few sections where we will deal with these additions and features one-by-one. For the sake of those of you who are busy working professionsals who want the information fast, I have broken the new features of combustion 4 into the following sections that you can skim over or read about in more detail:
- Big New Features: HOT features -- I have been begging for these!
- Big New Features in Paint: One of the most requested features has been added (B-Splines)
- New Features: Great new features and very welcome additions
- New Workflow Features: If you look at each one of these by them selves they dont look like any great new feature but when you add them all up it because a very nice improvement.
- Then at the end I list some of the enhancements to the edit operator and expressions and some other features and workflow improvements.
So, with so much to look at and with so much ground to cover, let's begin with what most people are going to be wondering about right away: What are combustion 4's biggest new features?
Big New Features
Timewarp Operator: I cant tell you how much I like this new operator. It goes well beyond just being able to keyframe speed changes. Since it is an operator, it an be applied at any point in the work pipeline. So if you have animated any number of other operators, you can use the Timewarp to create fast motion, slow motion, reverse motion and freeze frame animation all with in a very intuitive control panel. There are 4 interpolation settings for your frames and you can also change the keyframe interpolations to create some amazing timing effects.
Capsules: When in the schematic view, you can now save capsules of one or any number of operators. You can then create custom control sliders for the parameters you want exposed on the control panel. You can always access all parameters by accessing the internals (original operators) of the capsule but if you want to have a capsule with a color correction, blur and a noise operator you can have just the parameters you know you will need to adjust all on one control panel. You can save and reload capsules, a big time saver in production heavy studios where time is at a premium -- and a big convenience and enhancement even for smaller studios.
Diamond Keyer: This is a big feature; many people have been asking for a new advanced keyer and Combustion 4 comes through with the Diamond Keyer. It is built on the color warper technology from Inferno, Flame and Flint. This adds a new level of advanced keying technology to the capabilities already available to combustion users via the Discreet Keyer.
GBuffer Builder operator: The RPF file format allows a user to embed extra G-Buffer channels such as Z-depth, material IDs, velocity and so on. This format has been around for quite a while. With the new GBuffer Builder the user can now build custom GBuffer effects with any footage. It also allows the end user to apply operators to the footage sources being used within the GBuffer builder.
New Features In Paint
B-Spline: This is one of the new program's most highly requested features and now that I have had the chance to use them in my own projects, I can see why. You still create a shape that allows for control point animation but now you have the added weight control using handles as to the shape and its distance from the control point. This is really going to help with roto work especially since B-Splines work with the edge gradients in combustion which allow you to have independent control over the softness and fall-off of any shape whether it is a shape, mask or selection. This can also be animated and keyframed.
Point Grouping: This is also great for roto work and any intense animation of an object, mask or selection. You can now group control points and access the group for easy repetitive tasks such as creating mask.
Merge Operator: This new operator will allow you to composite multiple footage sources and apply transfer modes without adding any extra weight from a layer. Normally, you import the different rendered elements and place each one on a layer and change the transfer mode. But the layers add computing time to rendering. So using the new merge operator, the footage will never be transformed but only used as compositing elements -- this will save a great deal of time. This can also be used for compositing visual effects.
Grids, guides and rulers + snap: This has been another highly requested feature. Using it, you can now create guides and use grids and rulers for precision positioning and alignment. There are lots of control over snapping options and other customized preferences. Those who use Photoshop, desktop publishing and other tools which offer these kinds of controls, know what a nice touch this adds to combustion 4.
Channel Filtering in the Timeline: This allows the user to filter which animation channels will be displayed in the timeline. You can create and build custom filter sets that can be saved and reused.
Compare tools in all viewers: Before C4, you could only access the compare tool in the color corrector and the grain management operators. Now, the compare tool is a stand-alone tool available for any viewport or operator. You can import another composite, an operator, an operator's store bins or footage to compare. You can have both compare sources playing and adjust the ratio of view port space for each source. You can also offset the compare source frames and lock them, if needed.
New Workflow Features
Expanded Workspace Window: Now, by simply holding down the shift key and hitting the F10 key you can dock your workspace panel along the upper left side of the UI. This allows easy access to the toolbar and the workspace panel while still never obstructing your view ports.
Increment On Save: You can now create automatic increment workspaces or manually create them. So, it is easy to create kens-01.cws, kens-02.cws and so on. An excellent feature when dealing with clients who like to look at many variants before deciding on what they want or for exploring new ideas that you wish to consider.
New 'Recently Used' button in the browser: Just a small improvement but I love it. From a flyout in the import/open dialog box you can access the most recently used folders. This just saves a lot of time.
Branch Re-Ordering: You can now change the order and hierarchy of the composites in your workspace by simple clicking and dragging them to any order you want.
Cycle Viewports hot-key: When using a multi-viewport layout, you can navigate through the different viewports with a hot key.
Command line renderer: This is a very big addition for those large post houses and facilities who can now launch rendering tasks outside of combustion. To the one man and other smaller shops, this will mean nothing but it is a biggie to companies using command line renderers.
New I/O and Rendering Features: You can now import Windows Media video files. OpenEXR Export is now supported. For 3ds max users you can now import ASE target camera from 3ds Max.
New Features in Expressions: Quick Pick relative Path And Channel Renaming
New Features in Edit Operator: Roll Edit, perform edits to adjacent segments. More information is now displayed on segment in the edit timeline and you can perform duplications to segments.
Other new features and workflow enhancements
- New Fast Gaussian Blur operator
- New Resize Filters
- Import Image in color mixer
- New pivot point functionality
- Import Image in color mixer
- Color picker hot-key (y)
- Cut/copy/paste brush
- Rounded corner rectangle tool
- Keyboard navigation in the Workspace panel
- Disable wireframe during playback
With so many new and improved features, as well as a vast array of workflow enhancements and niceties added that allow for even greater productivity -- which now place combustion 4 as a compositor with powerful editing, roto-scoping, keying and time control powers -- combustion 4 is proof positive that Discreet's Combustion team have been listening to user requests and have delivered a tool that is a major upgrade.
-- Ken LaRue