We take a look at Discreet's 2D/3D paint and compositing solution - combustion. Can it live up to the hype? We find out...
Discreet have long been leaders in providing visual effects companies and post-production facilities with high-end 2D compositing solutions. When the industry cried out for a low-end paint and compositing package the company hit back with Illuminaire Studio. After a fairly short life Illuminaire was broken up into two separate packages - Discreet paint* and effect* (which were originally developed by Denim Software and acquired by Discreet Logic in 1997 to replace Illuniniare). And now, Discreet have merged paint* and effect* to create an affordable yet feature rich 2D/3D paint and compositing solution - combustion.
combustion represents a leap forward in what we've previously considered "low-cost" compositing solutions (such as Adobe After Effects). It's features and interface are comparable with those of high-end systems like inferno*, flint*, flame*, fire* and smoke*, yet it's price positions it right in the middle of a highly competitive low-end market dominated almost entirely by Adobe After Effects and Eyeon's Digital Fusion. However as we discovered, that could all be about to change
Getting Acquainted With combustion
The combustion interface is rather different from anything After Effects or Digital Fusion users will have encountered. The streamlined user interface is actually very intuitive, although the learning curve is steeper than that of most other non-Discreet packages on the market. However, once the award-winning Discreet user interface has been mastered - there's no going back! The tools are organised a non-hazardous manner - the days of windows upon windows of toolboxes cluttering up the screen are gone. Tools are presented automatically, when they are needed, and they don't clutter the main viewport, allowing the artist to focus on creating their image. The beauty of the combustion interface is that junior compositors and students can learn the product and move on to use high-end systems such as inferno* with the greatest of ease.
3D Compositing in a 2D World
Picking up from effect*, combustion presents users with a 3D compositing solution that can be found in few products in this area of the market. In fact, combustion is the only desktop compositing system that features true perspective and 3D compositing with lighting. Unlike After Effects which has a layer system, combustion elements aren't just simply placed one on top of the other. Elements - including lights cameras and footage imported into combustion - can be controlled and positioned in 3D space, and then animated to create multi-plane animation and effects in Z-space. Field of view and focal length attributes can be defined and animated to give compositors a feel of the original set and enables effects using real world footage. This let's artists create more realistic lighting and shadows, surface shadings and reflections with camera perspective using the internal ray-trace lighting engine that provides interactive lighting and shadows.
combustion is, like most other Discreet compositing solutions, a vector-based system. This means that every graphic elements is managed as an individual "object" which allows for artistic changes without re-rendering. And unlike bitmap or program-based systems, object based paint and animation does not require the reconstruction of effects after modifications have been made. Taking into account that every graphic, stroke and effect can be keyframed and animated, combustion's vector-based object management system provides a very powerful platform a wide range of effects to be created in an efficient and cost-effective way.
Also featured in combustion is Discreet's Real-time Roto - a fast, interactive rotoscoping tool featured in their high-end systems. Real-time Roto lets users create realistic animations, scenes and text in real-time using multiple viewports. Live action footage and be rotoscoped in one viewport while the full resolution clip playback can be seen in another. Real-time Roto can also be used to create and touch-up mattes with spline-based parameters, and users can use alpha channel painting tools to create superior mattes for cleaner composites.
Users can make use of Discreet's award-winning, industry standard keying, colour correction and tracking & stabilisation tools to create visual effects and/or correct live action footage. Plus, any keying, colour correction, or tracking set-ups created in combustion can be transferred to inferno*, flame*, flint*, fire* or smoke* with the greatest of ease - integration with other Discreet and industry standard products is one of combustion's greatest assets in a production environment.
Integration, Integration, Integration
As well as combustion's integration with other Discreet compositing systems (across PC, Macintosh, and SGI platforms), Discreet have also built in impressive integration with edit*. In fact, combustion launches within the edit timeline or bin to extend the editing environment to include rotoscoping and effects. And clips already in an edit bin can be accessed by combustion and worked on keeping their timing information intact. Like effect*, combustion can be used hand in hand with 3d studio max. Timelines are synchronised, and the animator can then paint in a max viewport, accessing combustion's paint tools. This means combustion can be used to paint UV texture maps and animated texture maps for use with 3d studio max models and scenes. Compositing 3D elements created in max couldn't be easier either as fast post-processed effects in combustion using the max RPF file format exchange provides 3D data for 3D compositing within combustion. Adobe Illustrator and Adobe PhotoShop files can also be imported into combustion for inclusion in composites. What's more, combustion retains the vector data of Illustrator files, and the layer data of PhotoShop files, which mean that they can be animated and edited within combustion. And last, but by no means least, the dozens of After Effects and PhotoShop plug-ins on the market can also be used with Discreet combustion in their totality.
The Final Verdict
combustion is a superior tool at a reasonable price. Although referred to in this review as a low-end system, in fact, Discreet has blurred the line between high-end and low-end with this package. combustion provides a high-end system at a low-end price. 3D compositing tools and the integration of Discreet's award-winning tracking, colour correction and keying tools give combustion a distinct advantage over After Effects and Digital Fusion, however, at $3,495 (US Dollars), those features come at a price. The fact that combusting is more than twice the price of After Effects, and a great deal more expensive than Digital Fusion may have some artists scratching their heads and wondering if it's really worth it? We think so