The Autodesk Smoke Crash Course for Beginners (Part Three): Workspace and Workflow

In Part One and Part Two we looked at how to set up Autodesk Smoke, and how to manage preferences and processes. We also learnt that you need to select your project settings and a user prior to beginning any project.

In this part we’ll finally get to see what Autodesk Smoke looks like, and how the workspace is organized. We’ll also look at a typical Smoke workflow, and see how the workspace fits in with this paradigm.

The Autodesk Smoke workspace

Autodesk Smoke has four views, somewhat similar to DaVinci Resolve:

  • MediaHub
  • Conform
  • Timeline
  • Tools

 
Let’s look at them one by one.

MediaHub

The MediaHub is where you import your footage. This is what the MediaHub looks like (click to enlarge):

Smoke MediaHub Workspace

The sections/panels are as follows:

  • A – The main tabs for each page or view.
  • B – The Library. This shows all the assets in any project, and is common between all views*.
  • C – The browser. This shows your clips in each folder.
  • D – The import options, which we’ll deal with in Part Four.

 
*You can dock the library to another position by clicking ‘Tall’ at the bottom left:

 Smoke Dock Library

You can choose to dock it as tall or short, left or right, detailed or hidden. Similarly, other panels can be configured as well, based on how you want to rearrange your workspace.

Conform

The Conform view is where you import projects from other NLEs for finishing. This is what the Conform view looks like (click to enlarge):

Smoke Conform Workspace

The sections/panels are as follows:

  • E – This displays all the linked media to each XML, EDL or AAF project imported into Smoke.
  • F – This is the timeline, the bread and butter of any NLE.
  • G – This is the view or playback panel. It can go to full screen mode.

 
Timeline

This is the editor panel. This is what the Timeline view looks like (click to enlarge):

Smoke Timeline Workspace

The sections/panels are as follows:

  • H – Clip Views**

 
**You have different choices when it comes to views:

Smoke Timeline Views

If you want the ‘classic’ NLE view, select Source-Sequence as shown above.

The first option in the timeline is the source clip (green bar on top), whichever is selected in the library. You can have multiple tabs, each a new sequence, just like any other NLE. Sequences have red tabs on top.

To open a new sequence, go to File > New > Sequence or Command+N. You’ll get this:

Smoke New Sequence

The settings are self-explanatory. Each sequence can be different. By default it takes on the settings of your project. When you’re done, click Create.

Tools

This is what the Tools view looks like (click to enlarge):

Smoke Tools Workspace

The sections/panels are as follows:

  • I – Effects and filters panel

 
It is easy to understand the first three views, but how does Tools fit in with the rest? Tools are effects that are specific to when you’re ready to finish and export your work. Examples include deinterlacing, text, paint, and so on.

How do all of these contribute towards making your workflow easier? Let’s see.

A typical Autodesk Smoke workflow

For those who enter Smoke after having worked with pure NLEs like FCP-X or Premiere Pro, it will seem a bit (actually a lot) overwhelming. There are so many buttons! What do you do?

Actually, the Smoke workflow is pretty linear. Smoke tries to hide what you might not want, until you need it. In Part One we learnt that Smoke has three major functions:

  • NLE
  • Connect FX
  • Action

 
First, let’s look at how Smoke functions as an NLE. Here’s an excellent primer on how to edit with Smoke:

So far so good, right? We haven’t done anything radical. Let’s say you locked your edit, and there are multiple areas in your sequence where you need to apply visual effects. Some common examples are chroma keying, titles, color correction and so on.

Other NLEs also allow you to add effects on the timeline, so this is nothing new. Where Smoke differs from them, though, is that Smoke offers node-based compositing, which is a powerful way of organizing your clips and effects. This is called Connect FX (Smoke has a cool name for everything. More on this later).

Well, where is it? Select the clips you want to work on, and hit FX (button on the timeline) and ConnectFX (button). You’ll arrive at the ConnectFX workspace (click to enlarge):

 Smoke ConnectFX Workspace

Here are the divisions:

  • J – the compositing space.
  • K – the nodes and effects available.
  • L – the clips in each compositing (ConnectFX) tree.

 
The node-based compositor works like any other, but is far more simpler for the lay-person to understand. Double click on a node to get the options for each effect (click to enlarge):

Smoke Effects Detail

  • M – Options for each effect.

 
Don’t let this scare you. Here’s a quick overview of the Connect FX workflow:

As you can see, you can Render an effect immediately so your timeline playback is smooth, or come back to it later to make changes. This basic but brilliant functionality is what gives Smoke its prime advantage – the ability to remain in one application to finish your entire project. From editing to VFX to color correction.

This is assuming the VFX features are on par with the world’s best. Is it? As long as Flame exists, it’s a tough call. But, at its price point, there aren’t many who can claim to be better. What else does Smoke have to offer?

There is one more level to Smoke, if you want to call it that. This is Action. Action gives you powerful features for 3D compositing, and this is what announces to the world that Smoke is not like any other NLE with some ‘effects thrown in’. It really is a whole lot more.

Here’a quick overview of the Action workflow in Autodesk Smoke:

Let’s recap the typical Smoke workflow:

  • Edit in Smoke.
  • Add effects to clips via ConnectFX and/or Action.
  • Either render them or leave them for rendering later.
  • When your entire timeline is ready and done, you can color correct, if you haven’t done it already.
  • Use Tools to add titles and graphics, and/or make corrections to your video and get it ready for rendering.
  • Export your master.

 
In Part Four we’ll look at how you import and conform footage in Autodesk Smoke.