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Combustion 3

CreativeCOW presents Combustion 3 -- Autodesk Combustion Review


Alan E. Bell at IMDb.com
Los Angeles California USA
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Alan Edward Bell takes a thorough look at Discreet Combustion 3 and concludes with, "...Many feature film and television effects houses use Combustion on a daily basis for doing everything from matte generation, color correction to full blown compositing, I cannot recommend this software enough, and this review only scratches the surface of what is possible."

Combustion 3.0 Review by Alan Edward Bell

BACKGROUND
If you’re a frequent visitor to the Creative Cow then you may have noticed I am a forum leader on the Discreet Combustion and Film FX Pros forums. In terms of time spent using Combustion I’m a relatively new user compared with many of the people who frequent these forums. I have been using combustion since its 2.1 release in Jan 2003, at which time I added it to my toolset when I was unable to get good tracking results using after effects. Coming from a background in after effects I found it took me a couple of days to get comfortable with the interface and workflow. I did find however, that much of what you learn in any compositing program is going to make sense in another. From the time of my initial combustion purchase, I have used it almost exclusively as a compositor and paint program on many studio produced feature films.

3.0 HAS SOME NEW FEATURES
In version 3.0 Discreet has pushed the feature envelope further with the addition of the “EDIT” operator, Expressions, a Morphing and Warping plug in, flash output, custom brushes, markers and stained glass effects. All of these new features have been added to an extremely robust program to begin with. Rather than go down a list of differences between the old and new version of combustion I’ve decided to talk about the features I like best, and as I do this I’ll try to point out how I plan to integrate some of the new features into my workflow.

THE INTERFACE
One of Combustion 3.0’s best features is its interface. Virtually every piece of image editing software I have used could learn a thing or two from the folks at Discreet when it comes to interface design. There is no dragging this window here, and that window there. Nothing’s ever in the way of the primary focus, which is after all, the images you are working on. As you select different layers and operators, Combustion’s interface changes to make available the current tools necessary for the elements you have selected. When working in Combustion it’s amazing how much time you save without realizing it. Only when you go back into other, less elegant programs, do you realize just how much time is wasted futzing around with windows and objects that have little to do with the creative process. Combustion also manages dual monitor setups with incredible flexibility. I find it interesting that the interface which makes combustion one of the most enjoyable applications I use was also the hardest thing for me to understand at first. It might be that coming from a cluttered, window littered environment like after effects I couldn’t get past the simplicity and neatness of combustion’s interface. What ever the reason if you’re coming from another compositing application this may take a bit of time to understand, I promise you won’t be sorry you invested your time.

LOOPED PLAYBACK ENGINE
Combustion’s real-time Ram based looped playback engine is incredible. You can loop your composite in one view port while changing the values of an operator in another. As anyone who’s ever done roto-scope work can tell you it’s a tedious job, but the real-time playback is a great time saver and actually makes some roto-scoping tasks fun. Not to mention the world class tracker and stabilizer and color correction operators, inherited from Combustions older siblings the Inferno, flame, and flint systems. Another feature inherited from the IFF products are spline based edge gradients which allow you to animate and key frame the amount of edge gradient present for inside and outside mask edges. Since these edges can be manipulated between control points and are fully key-frameable you have complete control over the way your masks edges feather. You are not restricted to one feather setting along the entire mask. Though if a simple edge feather is all your mask requires use the feather setting to generate a feather along all edges. You can even combine the feather setting with edge gradients.

FILM SUPPORT
Combustion 3’s support for film resolution cineon files is fantastic. You can use a view LUT to view the logarithmic files without conversion to linear color space or use a bit depth conversion operator. In both cases you have complete control over the Look up table and built in support for common print stocks. Combustion’s support of the Cineon and DPX file formats not only set it apart from the competition, but when you add the discreet color correction operator you have a powerhouse! I use the discreet color correction operator in nearly every film job I do. My customers have come to expect my film outs to match provided clips of their 35mm motion picture work print. Combustion’s film support makes the complex set of hurdles each job entails simple fast and intuitive, for instance, generating wedges for each shot is as simple as parking on my chosen frame and selecting save image from the file menu. You can easily save a single cineon file without going into the render tool. Next drop a layer marker at the same spot you saved your image file and when you get your wedge back you can jump straight to the frame for comparison. This is just one of the many ways that I use combustion to make my life easier when it comes to film.

FLASH MEDIA OUTPUT
With Combustions new flash output capabilities you can now use this application to generate effects for almost any resolution requirement, from internet web graphics all the way up to 4K film visual effects.

EDIT OPERATOR
The new EDIT Operator is fantastic! I found it very simple to learn and use. It’s great for making quick changes to backgrounds and works well when you need to time effects to transitions and such. If you have ever exported a sequence from a non linear editing system only to find that you need to make a slight adjustment after working on a composite you’ll appreciate this new operator.

EXPRESSIONS
The Expressions Browser is a new tool which gives you the power of a JavaScript-based programming language. As you would expect from Discreet it’s a visual tool so as you make changes to the pre-created expressions you can see the visual representations of them change. Unfortunately you can not use expressions and Key frames at the same time on a single element but don’t let that worry you, as you can convert your expressions into key frames for fine tuning. The great thing about this tool is you don’t have to be a programmer to get results from it, but if you are so inclined you can use the JavaScript-based language to do so. The Quick Pick control allows you to dictate one channels value from another. This is going to make some wild and interesting effects with very few mouse clicks.

MORPHING AND WARPING
The Re:Vision Effects spline based morphing and warping operators fill a hole in Combustion that needing filling. At first glance this tool looked a bit difficult to use but within a short amount of time I was morphing my son into his mother and doing all sorts of crazy stuff. All the work you do is spline based using combustion’s paint tools. The plug-in provides multiple view options as you make your morph. You can watch the splines change over time, I’ve found this very handy for complicated jobs where it’s often hard to see why things end up looking one way or another. As with most operators in combustion you can use the Combustion tracker to position your splines, the same way you would in the paint tool. The real power of having a morphing and warping tool inside Combustion goes far beyond changing people’s faces from still photographs. This tool can be used to help automate all sorts of jobs, such as generating transitions.

I can imagine using this tool to generate in between frames for areas in an image where an unwanted hand or a piece of paper passes through the frame. Depending on the background this sort of job can be very difficult to do with paint tools alone. If you have ever had the pleasure of painting out an object with a very detailed background only to find that the painted area seems to sizzle or flutter when viewed at speed then imagine using the morphing tool to generate those painted frames, this won’t always work but when it does think of the time you could save.

CUSTOM PAINT BRUSHES
Combustion 3.0 allows you to create custom brush sets for use in paint. A brush can be made from a paint operator or a particle operator or an imported image, what that means is you can generate a brush from virtually any visual you have at your disposal. You can even share these custom brush sets with other users.

By the way all of the paint strokes in Combustion are resolution independent, vector based and completely non-destructive and editable, as well as
key-frameable.

With version three of Combustion you can now save and share many of the common operator settings. If you have a favorite Operator setup that you want to share simply select export and save it. You can reuse the setting later or give it to another user.

Motion tracking and stabilization
Combustion 3’s motion tracking technology is the one of the best there is. You can track scale, rotation, and position. You have unlimited trackers at your disposal and virtually anything with position data can be tracked. Imagine tracking a single control point on a mask spline to a background object, or tracking a paint object to the background object you are painting. This is one of the tools you will begin to take for granted after using Combustion for any length of time. It saves me tons of time when I’m painting and roto-scoping.

3d Studio Max Support
Combustion 3 Paint and compositing environment works well with 3d Studio Max or any application that supports RPF file format output. If you own 3d studio Max you can even paint textures interactively, import files with 3D meta data and generate C3 workspaces right from inside 3ds Max.

Particles
Combustion 3 comes with a very robust particle engine. These are 2d particles which can be used in a 2d or 3d composite space. The particle engine in combustion is very powerful, and as most operators in Combustion it is fully key-framable. You can even generate your own particles as well as down load emitter library’s from others. With particles you can add anything from fire, water, explosions, to obscure psychedelic backgrounds to your composites. Using the particle engine doesn’t come without it’s resources costs though, if you are planning to do film resolution work with particles you will need a very fast system.

Schematic View
The schematic view in Combustion 3 makes building complex effects a snap. If you are new to using schematics then this feature may be a bit foreign to you. I know when I first started using the program I seldom ventured to look at it. Now that I use combustion in my everyday work I find the schematic view invaluable. By looking at the schematic you can quickly make since of what’s going on inside of a workspace, which can be handy if you are inheriting the workspace from a co-worker. Within this view you can reconnect flow wires from one object to another. Operators can be inserted anywhere along the schematic. I often use it to take items from one composite branch and move them into another branch. You can scrub video and image sequences within the flow chart icons. It’s also great for adding multiple output items in your composites. This means you don’t need to open the render window to add an output, do it in Schematic View and then later when you decide to do a batch render, your outputs are ready to go. You could go a year without ever using the Schematic View but once you use it you’ll never look back.

Cross platform
By the time you read this Combustion 3 should be close to shipping for the Mac. Initial reports from the Macworld Expo Jan 2004 suggest that Combustion 3 on a dual G5 works extremely well and is very fast. I have tested it on a Dual G4 and I am happy to report that the Mac version is going to take a leading role in my shop as soon as it is released. All the projects are cross platform, a project created on the PC can be moved over to the Mac and vice a versa.

In Conclusion
Combustion 3 is a very robust paint and compositing program. I urge anyone who is serious about desktop motion graphics, compositing, vector paint etc to consider adding Combustion 3 to their toolbox. If you are an after effects user, you will not be disappointed once you take the time to familiarize yourself with Combustion’s interface. Many feature film and television effects houses use Combustion on a daily basis for doing everything from matte generation, color correction to full blown compositing, I cannot recommend this software enough, and this review only scratches the surface of what is possible.

I give it 4 1/2 COWs.





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