In Part One and Part Two we looked at how to set up Autodesk Smoke for best results.

In Part Three we looked at the Smoke workspace and a typical workflow. In Part Four we looked at the various import options in Smoke.

In this final part we’ll cover the export options in Autodesk Smoke, as well as archiving.

Supported file formats for export in Autodesk Smoke

Here is a list of important supported codecs for export (for a full list click here):

  • DPX – up to 16-bit
  • JPEG – 8-bit
  • OpenEXR – up to 16-bit
  • PNG – up to 16-bit
  • Targa – 8-bit
  • TIFF – up to 16-bit
  • Quicktime – H.264, MPEG-4, Prores (12-bit 444), DNxHD (10-bit), uncompressed, etc.
  • MXF – AVC Intra, DNxHD, only XDCAM HD 4:2:2 (Smoke exports OP1A MXF which will require the AMA MXF plug-in to get them to work in Avid)
  • Audio – same as import except for WAVE (Broadcast wave instead)
  • Selected Quicktime audio
  • Apple iDevices
  • Blackberry devices

 
Notable omissions are AVI (of course!), AVCHD and MPEG-2.

How to export in Smoke

Everything in the library is a clip. This could be just a bit of footage or an entire sequence with Connect FX and Action nodes piled on.

You have four options to export:

  • Sequence Publish
  • Movie
  • File Sequence
  • Audio File

 
File Sequence is an image sequence, while Movie is a single video file. We’ll deal with Sequence Publish in the next section.

To render out your work right click a clip (sequence) and select Export…. You’ll get this screen (I clicked on Show Advanced Options for a better view, click to enlarge):

You choose what you want to export under Export. Then you choose your preferred Format Preset.

In the advanced options you can tweak the standard presets by selecting compression options, LUTs, and so on. These can be saved for future use (click SAVE):

When you’re satisfied with the settings, the location and the file name, click Export. The actual export happens in the background, so you can continue working.

You can export multiple clips at the same time by using Control+Click to select them.

Exporting a Smoke project to Resolve or Lustre

Sometimes, you’re not completely happy with Smoke’s color correction ability. You might want to take the project to DaVinci Resolve or Lustre, and this is a common workflow.

Smoke supports the following file types for export:

  • AAF for Pro Tools
  • EDL (CMX 3600)

 
Note: No XML or video AAF export option exists. This makes it tough to export Smoke projects back into NLEs like FCP-X (why would you want to do that anyway?).

To export an EDL with flattened tracks (an EDL can only contain one track – multiple tracks will require one EDL per track), right click the clip (sequence) and select Export….

In the Export drop down choose Sequence Publish:

Under the Format drop down, choose EDL.

You can choose to export video at the same time. Click on Include Video, and the Video/Movie Options will no longer be greyed out. This way, you can export DPX sequences or whatever along with your EDL for easier conforming. It might be a good idea to have your media and the EDL in the same folder.

Hit Export.

You also have the option to export just the media, by selecting Media Only. This gives you various options to render DPX images along with WAVE audio. The difference between this option and exporting a DPX sequence as shown earlier is that this option also creates a new sequence in your Media Library linking to this output.

This could be used instead of rendering each clip one by one – in case you want to continue working in Smoke. It is far lighter on the system when you’re working with single files over many VFX nodes and effects.

Here are a bunch of videos that go deep into the Smoke to Lustre workflow. As for Resolve, I recommend you flatten and export EDLs along with rendered DPX sequences. Hardly any of Smoke’s VFX effects will reflect in Resolve anyway, so DPX is the way to go.

Don’t doubt! The Smoke settings make this very clear – choose what they are screaming at you to pick!

Archiving

Archiving is the way Smoke writes your completed projects and media files (from single clips to everything in the Media Library) on a drive somewhere, so you can clean up your working drive and computer, and get ready for the next project.

The goal of archival is to export whatever’s important, while keeping the files ready to be restored in the future if necessary.

Autodesk Smoke can only read and write to hard drives and network storage devices (SAN), what they call file systems. Smoke can read VTR, but cannot write to them. Smoke does not recommend archiving to VTR.

The following file systems are supported:

  • EXT2 and EXT3 for Linux
  • HFS+ for Mac

 
Note: NTFS is not supported. Smoke doesn’t work on Windows anyway, and this tells us Autodesk has no near-term plans for this to happen either!

To archive a project, go to the MediaHub view:

At the top left, select Archives. Choose a location on a hard drive where you want to archive your project. You have the following options:

Linked Archive Options can be set to ‘Convert to Local Path’ so that the drive need not be dependent on your system. You can enable Archive Verification (you can verify source, archived or both) though this will slow the process. If you want your source media to be archived, leave ‘Cache Source Media’ as is.

Click on New Archive:

You can choose to limit the file size, and select some presets for DVDs, Blu-ray and LTO. Hit Create.

Hit Archive Project. This will take some time, depending on your project. If you click anywhere on the screen the process is cancelled, so you cannot use Smoke while this is going on. Archival isn’t a background process.

When the process is complete, click Close Archive.

To read more about archiving, and how to restore an archive, click here.

Autodesk Smoke versus the competition

The real beauty of Smoke is its VFX abilities, and of course the excellent NLE. It takes years of practice to become any good at compositing, but this crash course should have given you a clear idea of the kinds of workflows Smoke can get into. In fact, there are very few workflows it can’t handle.

Its USP is simple: One software for everything – from ingest to logging to editing to VFX to color correction (support for ACES) to mastering and archival.

What about some important disadvantages? Here are a few:

  • It’s expensive for an NLE at almost $4,000 with the subscription. Even Avid has come down to $999.
  • It is Mac-only. To keep Flame alive (pun intended) they dropped Linux.
  • It needs an external I/O card from AJA or BMD for monitoring, and does not work in dual-monitor mode.
  • It has no 32-bit export option.
  • It works in a 16-bit float environment (standard for NLEs), while other VFX apps work in a 32-bit environment.
  • It does not support multi-cam editing.
  • It can only mix down audio to mono or stereo, or up to 16 channels as separate tracks. It cannot mix to 5.1 or 7.1.
  • It does not export XML or AAF (video). The best you can get is EDL+DPX, which is also as basic as it gets.
  • For such a powerful 3D compositing app, it doesn’t have a 3D Camera Tracker.

 
On the other hand, its USP is no longer that cool. In recent years, Adobe has been delivering one killer feature after another for a near-similar experience with:

  • Prelude for ingest
  • Premiere Pro for editing
  • After Effects for VFX, with 3D layer-based compositing
  • Speedgrade for color correction
  • Adobe Media Encoder for any deliverable.
  • Plus, Adobe supports export of 32-bit files, and After Effects and Speedgrade works in a 32-bit float environment.

 
An Adobe Creative Cloud subscription costs about $50 per month, or about $600 per year. At this rate, it will still be cheaper after 6 years as compared to Smoke, without the subscription. If you take into account the Autodesk Subscription rate ($675 per year), it is priced more than the entire Creative Cloud suite!

So, which to choose? For me, the choice ultimately boils down to:

  • Price, obviously. If you can’t afford Smoke, don’t go for it.
  • If you can afford Smoke, then ask yourself – do you prefer a layer-based or node-based compositing experience?
  • If you prefer node-based, then ask yourself whether you can afford Nuke (which is supreme, but expensive). If you can, then go for your choice of NLE+Nuke. If you can’t, go for Smoke. Don’t forget to take into account 32-bit float math.

 
That’s it for our furiously-paced crash course on Autodesk Smoke.

Make no mistake, it is a phenomenal piece of software that deserves every credit it can get. It’s not the software’s fault that the powers that be have priced it out of the small business owner, post house or freelance professional’s purchasing power. And I feel that’s a damn shame.