The Autodesk Smoke Crash Course for Beginners (Part Four): Importing

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 this part we’ll look at what formats can be imported, and how Smoke deals with them. We’ll also look at how projects from other applications can be brought into Smoke.

Name-calling

Smoke has names for everything. I find these names cool, and it forms part of the Smoke lingo. It’s also a stumbling block for a newcomer who is entering the Smoke world for the first time. The names make things appear more complicated than it really is.

I’ve covered a few already in earlier parts, but here are some important ones (Note: some of these are my interpretations of the names, and might not be accurate. When in doubt, ask Autodesk):

Library

Files are stored in folders on your hard drive. However, within a software, you can reorganize your files into different combinations based on how you’d like to work with them. This ‘virtual drive’ if you will, is the Smoke library. It’s a library!

You see your libraries within the Media Library panel. You can create and organize more than one library per project.

Folder

A folder in your library is not a physical folder on your drive, but just a virtual folder that helps you keep things organized. It is similar to a bin in FCP or Avid.

Storage Volume

This is where your footage is stored. It’s either a hard drive or a network storage. As explained in Part One, once you select this for a project you can’t change it.

Frame

This is a biggie. Smoke is most comfortable with DPX image sequences. Let’s say you have selected Prores as the intermediary choice for your Cache. When you archive your footage, Smoke archives them as uncompressed DPX frames. So, you can see where half the name (frame) comes from.

When you look at your settings, you’ll always see a ‘frame count’. E.g., you can go to Autodesk Smoke > Preferences > Storage tab > Space Calculation > Volume Statistics and see the number of frames written:

Smoke Frames

You might want to know how a frame is calculated. According to Autodesk:

The frame used in the calculations is the frame defined by the current project’s default resolution.

To make your own calculations, use this formula.

Remember, it’s the project settings, not your sequence settings that determine the frame count. When dealing with mixed media resolutions, it is always better to look at the space used in MB/GB.

Framestore

In simple terms, it’s where the frames are stored.

Your media is physically stored in the storage volume. But they are stored in files and folders that follow the operating system’s (OS X) architecture and rules. Smoke likes to access these files, but it would like a different kind of organization.

For this reason, all media, including managed media, clips, timelines (any changes to the footage), intermediaries, etc. are organized in a separate database for easy reference. If Smoke wants to find your footage or a clip or whatever, it wants to only reference its own database.

This database is called the Framestore. As you can imagine, anything related to your media – from importing to archiving – must be recorded in the framestore.

The way the framestore looks to us, is the library panel in Smoke. However, the library only shows the current project. The framestore builds databases for many projects, and is managed by Wire+Stone (another background process) for migrations from/to Flame or Lustre, etc.

Gateway 

This is a background process which connects Smoke to your drives and storage networks. It’s a middle-man. He’s the gofer. “Will you go fetch that video clip for me, please?”

The gateway brings back the file – “Here’s your file, sir.” The ‘sir’ is the Wire+Stone process managing framestore; who says:

“Wait a minute. Before I can show it to our eager Smoke artist (you) let me check if this is file is in our database. Is it a local copy? Is it a transcoded copy? Is it a proxy? Blah blah.”

When the framestore has ‘accounted’ for the media file, it is written into the database, and it appears in the library on your GUI in Smoke. All this happens in a flash, of course. You create a folder and name it after your favorite cat, and drag that clip into Meow.

Everybody waits for your next big move.

Spark

Ever heard of plug-ins? These are called Sparks in Smoke.

Backburner

As explained in Part Two, this process handles background processing and rendering.

Project

A project is a first step. Its settings tell Smoke the general direction in which you’re headed. You can always change direction (resolution, frame rate, whatever) within the project so you’re not completely committed to one setting.

However, the storage volume is locked once set. You can always open a new (or another project) by going to File > Project and User Settings… and selecting New. Once you’ve entered the new settings, click Load.

Sequence

A sequence is your editing timeline. It can have its own settings. You can create many sequences or versions, and can even nest sequences like any other NLE.

Container

A nested sequence is called a Container.

That’s enough vocabulary for now.

Determining a Smoke import strategy

Smoke can import three kinds of files:

  • Media or Footage
  • Third-party Projects
  • 3D Files or Models

 
If you are using Smoke as an NLE, then you start with the MediaHub, and import your clips (as shown below). You can log them and begin a sequence in your Timeline view.

Many prefer to use Smoke only has a VFX and finishing application. In such cases, edits are brought over from FCP 7, FCP-X, Avid or Premiere Pro among others.

Smoke is a powerful 3D compositing application, and can import 3D models that can be manipulated using Action.

Just because Smoke offers all this functionality doesn’t mean you will need all of them on every project. If you’re in a post facility, you tend to go with what your client wants. Smoke is built on years of satisfying clients, and it tries (successfully, I might add) to please them all. This is why it is so popular in large or medium-sized post facilities – it delivers through all that complexity and madness.

How to import media into Autodesk Smoke

Let’s look at what files can be imported into Autodesk Smoke.

Supported Codecs and Containers

Here is a brief list of codecs that Smoke can import. For a full overview, click here.

  • Arriraw – shown as clips – 12-bit
  • DPX – up to 16-bit
  • JPEG – 8-bit
  • OpenEXR – you can import up to 32-bit files
  • PNG – up to 16-bit
  • Targa – up to 16-bit
  • TIFF – up to 16-bit
  • Quicktime – most codecs, including Prores and DNxHD *.mov variants
  • MXF – most codecs, including AVC Intra, DNxHD, Sony F65 RAW, XDCAM, etc.
  • MPEG-4 – XDCAM *.mp4, etc.
  • MTS – AVCHD, etc.
  • R3D

 
Here is a list of some supported audio codecs:

  • AIFF
  • MP3
  • WAVE
  • Quicktime audio codecs

 
All audio files are sampled at 48 KHz.

How to import footage or media into Smoke

There are three ways to import into Smoke:

  • Via the MediaHub – Go to the MediaHub view. Browse and find the file, review (see next) and click Import.
  • Via the Finder – Hit Command+Tab to switch to Finder. Find the file and and drag it into the Media Library.
  • Right click on a library in Media Library, and select Import…. If you’re in another view, like Timeline, e.g., a popup browser will open, similar to what you see in MediaHub.

 
You can import multiple files by selecting them together by holding down Control. Before you import, you can check your Import Settings:

Smoke Import Options

When you import, you can direct Smoke to either link to your original file or create a Cache Source Media (transcoded intermediary). Check or uncheck the Cache Source Media button. If you’re working over a busy network, it might be a good idea to use Cached Media. This is called a Local copy.

You can also use apply a LUT on import.

Right click the thumbnail and select Preview <filename> to preview the clip and metadata information.

Whatever changes you make here are automatically saved and will apply for all imports, until you change it again.

When dealing with RAW codecs like Arriraw or R3D, etc., you might want to change the options available to you. After you import your clip into the library, double click it and select Format Options. Each format has its own unique choices. To learn more about the specific format you’re interested in, click here.

Importing projects from other NLEs

Smoke supports the following file types:

 
To import an existing project, Smoke recommends you place the file along with the media on your drive.

Before you import the file, you must ensure your Sequence Import Options are what you want it to be. E.g., if your project links to intermediaries or proxies, but you want Smoke to link to the originals, you must specify it prior to import. For AAF files, you have the option of choosing the Original Source or Offline Intermediaries directly.

Go to the Conform view. Right click and choose either Import New FCP XML/AAF… or Import New EDL…. Then hope for the best!

For a list of supported transitions, go to these links:

 

Importing 3D objects

Smoke can import certain 3D objects you’ve created with 3D applications and composite them with your existing footage. Once imported, they are treated like clips or images.

I’m not going into details here. Smoke supports the following 3D object files:

  • FBX
  • 3DS
  • OBJ
  • Alembic
  • Wavefront
  • Inventor
  • Paint geometry created via the Smoke Paint Tool

 
To import a model you’ll first need to add the Import Node. Double click on the Import node from the Node bin. You can choose to enable geometry and material options. Find the file and click Load.

For a more detailed instruction set for various formats and what is supported, click here.

In Part Five we’ll look at the various export options from Autodesk Smoke.