released new versions of inferno, flame and flint, updating its visual
effects systems to versions 5, 8 and 8 respectively. Digital Media
Net's Charlie White visited the company's Montreal headquarters, where
Discreet officials and demo artists offered a close-up look at the new
features in its flame 8 effects software.
Even though the emphasis of the demo was on flame, the new features are
also present in inferno and flint. Discreet spinmeisters say Beta
testers have called this the company's biggest release yet. Well,
that's certainly an exaggeration, but still, the new features are
worthy of positive comments. Here's our first hand, day-of-release
At Discreet's Montreal facility, we took a look at flame 8's Beta 11
build, which was running smoothly with no crashes at all during the
time it was presented. At the time, Discreet told us it was the last
Beta release before the software was sent to manufacturing on January
11th. It turned out, by the way, that the company went through three
more Beta builds before the final release.
flame 8's best new feature is its ability to handle mixed resolutions
for the first time. Along with that gut-level overhaul, Discreet also
delivers more editing capabilities in this app, which was previously
known as solely a serious compositing tool. According to Discreet's
Maurice Patel, "There are a few other areas that we'll continue to work
on, so it's not an ending process, but we've really bitten the bullet
on two major headaches: A lot of engineering effort went into making it
resolution independent and the integrating of Action and Batch into one
All along, flame's strength has been its ability to harness the raw
power and speed of its mighty SGI IRIX (UNIX)-based hardware lurking
underneath. Running on high-end SGI Octane workstations, its learning
curve has always been counter-intuitive. But Discreet has gone a long
way toward solving that problem with this new release. The overall
impression of this new version of flame is that its workflow has been
improved on a number of fronts. According to Discreet, the application
has been completely re-architected. In the massive project, Discreet
engineers took a close look at the code and decided that it was long
overdue for a cleanup. Let's dive in and see what's different.
The first thing you notice when you open the flame desktop is that it's
now supporting mixed resolutions. This new release is fully format- and
resolution-independent. You can now import any resolution into a
project and create compositions that include layers of 601, HD, 2K or
even 6K images. You're also able to convert files from one resolution
to another. Without having to manually create partitions for each
format, it's a great way to shave a lot of time off your production
Since all the material can possess different frame rates, aspect ratios
or bit depths, there is more information added to the clips' proxies,
showing their different frame rates, aspect ratios or bit depths.
Exactly which attributes you see in these visual representations of
your footage is a lot more controllable, too, using a conditional
routine developed by Discreet that lets you show only the information
you want. For example, you can tell flame to generate a proxy for
everything that's, say, bigger than 720 pixels. Another nice touch is
its new ability to let you slip to proxy mode for those huge frames,
giving you a significant speed increase when you're looking at higher
resolution footage. Now, this is integrated into the compositing, and
gives you a huge speed increase in Batch, especially if you're working
with high-rez files. This new version gives you lots more fine-tuned
choices for what your proxies can do, and saves disk space and time and
calculating proxies you might not need. The result? A more interactive
way of working.
The way the system can effortlessly mix and match these various files
is a big plus. It's no small accomplishment to handle, for instance, 12
bit component files, giving you high quality and a high degree if
interactivity at the same time. These two attributes, until now, have
seemed to be mutually exclusive. Hey, I could get used to this. It
works. It plays from one clip to the next, even when they are all mixed
bit rates and resolutions. I saw it, and it's for real. Nice.
Another unique feature is something you can do mainly because of
the system's awesome SGI-furnished bandwidth. Macs and PCs can't hold a
candle to this -- SGIs are the only computers that can synch full
resolution playback on the computer monitor while simultaneously
showing you the same footage on a broadcast HD monitor. The system
gives artists a more visual experience on the computer while seeing the
results on an HD monitor at the same time. So, yes, even though other
personal computers are catching up, there's still good reason to go
with the "big iron" of SGI when there's heavy lifting involved.
Another positive change is that Discreet has decided to prepare for new
formats, and new ways to share with other applications. As a result,
the software now supports FBX, a standardized format of exchanging 3D
data. FBX, the 3D file exchange protocol developed by Kaydara, is now
adhered to by almost every major 3D application. At the moment, Maya,
Softimage|XSI, Softimage|3D, and Lightwave are supporting the format.
The fact that FBX is from a neutral company and not from one of those
3D companies, means it's turned into what is so far a de facto standard. It looks to me like it's turning into the OMF of 3D.
There are four main attributes that you can transfer from a 3D
application to flame using FBX: Texture, light, animation and multiple
cameras. Beyond that, you can import multiple models, where you could
only bring in one before. And, via FBX it's possible to import a whole
scene, not just a single model. This is a definite plus, maybe even a
breakthrough for the 3D and compositing world.
How did such an epiphany happen? Well, it wasn't started by Discreet.
According to Discreet's product manager Maurice Patel, "Socratto was
the first to approach Kaydara," and it was that initiative that got the
ball rolling -- and now, even though the Socratto compositor was
scrapped soon thereafter by parent company Sony, the die was cast and
other companies took notice. These companies included Discreet. "We
already were thinking about how to expand our 3D," Patel explained.
"The challenge we were facing was we wanted to expand our 3DSMax
integration, while at the same time our customers wanted us to include
Maya and Softimage|XSI, which would have been a real pain to have to do
each one individually. In fact, we had to scrap work we did with our
own 3DSMax integration to some extent, to move to this, and we got more
functionality on the flip side, because it was a richer data format."
So, it looks like Discreet made a magnanimous move and decided to play
ball with all the 3D developers. Bravo.
graphic for enlargement -- New in inferno 5, flame 8 and flint 8 is the
addition of multiple cameras allowing artists to either import multiple
camera data from 3D applications or create multiple camera animations
and switch between different points of view.
to the FBX protocol allows animators and compositors unheard-of freedom
to exchange data and models, translating into enhanced functionality
for flame users. One new trick is the ability to bring multiple cameras
into flame. That's a big step, because before you could bring in a 3D
object, but it was a static one. Now you can bring in the texturing,
lighting information, and cameras, making for a more complete
translation of complex data from one application to another.
Even better, when you import FBX data, you get the option to filter out
information as well. So if the FBX is saved with all its information,
you can just use, say, the camera information or its lighting. Import
an FBX file and it will bring in one camera or multiple cameras as part
of the scene, along with all the geometry with their names from the 3D
app, the lights -- everything that relates to the 3D from the scene.
This is a new level of interoperability that will prove to be a
There's more to FBX than we see here, though. It's quite a rich format,
that can do much more than that which Discreet has implemented so far.
Said Patel, "We are hoping in future releases to continue to expand on
the functionality of FBX. For example, at the moment, FBX supports
nurbs and skeletal deformation, envelopes -- you can get a lot of 3D
information into the system but we don't support all that in this
version. But already, we have cameras, the animations -- it's a huge
step forward from where we were before."
graphic for enlargement -- flame 8 now offers the combination of Action
and Batch into a single in-context view of the composite.
big enhancement is the ability of two previously separate sections of
Discreet's software -- Batch and Action -- to now talk to each other.
Well, hallelujah. This reminds me of the days when Windows programs
finally got the ability to talk to each other by using a protocol then
known as OLE (object linking and embedding). Now, if you want to match
an object with something in a background, for example, you can change
its color in context. One side of the software can see the other, and
the result is an application that is faster and easier to use.
graphic for enlargement -- inferno 5, flame 8 and flint 8 now offer an
integrated timeline within the batch compositing tree, allowing artists
to interactively edit clips in the context of the composite.
new feature is the ability to play back a clip from Batch. Discreet has
added a timeline in Batch, giving you the ability to play back clips
and look at cuts from one camera to another. Navigation is similar to
Discreet's smoke, giving you some editing capabilities that weren't in
the software before. smoke users will know what to do with this, and
even though it doesn't have smoke's full-scale editing capabilities,
some of the same elements are in flame now. For instance, you can
create dissolves just like in smoke. For the first time, flame users
can do some editing in context without too much trouble.
There's also better audio support in this new version. If you're using
a clip that contains an audio tack, you can set it as "audio context"
so it can easily function as a scratch track. For example, say you're
working with an off-lined project with an audio track -- in flame you
can adjust the effects while just referencing the audio track, without
having it bound to the clips. But you wouldn't really be doing audio
editing with this app -- what it allows you to do is line up your
effects with audio, so you can match the audio cues with the video.
It's usually the other way around where the sound is added later, but
with music videos, oftentimes it's better to have the video follow
audio. In actual practice, production houses might do the editing in
Media Composer, Discreet smoke or Discreet fire, and then tweak effects
with the audio track as a reference in flame, which is better suited
for short-form music videos and commercials. Even so, there are enough
timeline-related features to make it lots easier to edit in flame,
especially if you're doing short-form projects.