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Toxik 1.1.5 Review: “The Master Keyer Extension”

Janet Hetherington looks at how advancements in technology are providing new ways for architects to design, plan and build the places where we live, work and play. Includes a QuickTime clip!

The powerful Blend and Comp UI are very flexible and easy to use. All images courtesy of Sébastien Jacob.

Autodesks Media & Entertainment division recently shipped the second extension for Toxik, 1.1.5, dubbed The Master Keyer Extension. Theyre also soon going public with plans for the next major release for the application named Toxik 2007 (2.0), which will focus on one of the most requested features: Paint!

If youve been keeping track, Toxik has been moving along at an increasing pace lately. For years, it seemed, the project was shrouded in mystery, only a screen shot here and there and a lot of speculation. To some extent, it still is. Sadly, outside the beta/dev circles, you dont really hear much about it.

Thats why, before diving into any specific details, I thought I would first provide some insight into what Toxik is, and recap how the software has advanced since its 1.0 release last year.

What is Toxik?

So, what is Toxik? By now, associating Toxik with collaboration should be entering the industrys collective unconscious. However, because of the products immense scope, Toxik can mean different things to different people in the world of visual effects.

Built upon an Oracle database, tds, managers, supervisors and others will be very interested in the open door it symbolizes for their pipelines. Traditionally, this was mostly accomplished through in-house development and custom tailoring from the ground up. In Toxik, some simple development can permit bridging the 3D and compositing departments relatively quickly. For instance, it might be set up so that each pass could become a composition inside Toxik and therefore be internally versioned and tracked. Toxik can be viewed as another tool that can be used in the post-houses inevitable drive for cross-departmental integration. Thus, the possibilities are wide open.

Without a doubt, compositors are the main focus of Toxik. The application has evolved around their specific needs. Its a hybrid product that promises a tailored experience for the creative artist willing to spend more time being creative, and less time dealing with the tediousness of house keeping and communication errors. No more saving, no more browsing the file server and setting render paths. Since the versioning of compositions is the underlying force of Toxik, seamlessly presenting multiple ideas to the client or team becomes less of a technical burden.

The infamous master keyer in action. You can see the Keyer node in the top left quadrant, and the insides of the node below it. The MKs overlay controls can be seen in the player.

In terms of what you can expect from taking on a Toxik seat as a compositor, here are some examples of what happens once you are fully versed in the collaborative backdrop, and are knee deep in compositing.

Users that are comfortable with a full node-based compositing approach should have no problems whatsoever compositing in Toxik. If youre familiar with classic Discreet tools, then youll have a head start. Basically, Toxik feels like a cross between Shake and Flame.

What will certainly strike compositors will be the performance of a Toxik system. Since the playback is disk-based and not RAM-based, gone are the days of caching previews of your work to RAM. Another very effective aspect of Toxik is its ability to dynamically proxy the images due to its tiling architecture. For example, if you are zoomed into a 2K plate, Toxik will only process the tiles that are visible in the view port. Conversely, if you are zoomed out, it will process a lower proxy level of the image. This happens automatically, and drastically enhances the interactivity of the compositing experience.

A view of the Master Keyers Spill suppression that can be used as a separate node in Toxik.

Toxik History

When Toxik 1.0 came out last year, solely on the Windows platform, it was the first public glimpse at the Toxik world. It had a limited toolset; nevertheless, getting the collaboration nailed seemed to be the main concern. To my dismay, it had what is known as pixel selections for masking similar to a feature in Combustion.

This was changed when 1.1 came out shortly after the initial release. Pixel selections were replaced with a true masking input, which can select any channel (RGBA) from a source, invert it and control its opacity. Aside from this important user-driven change, this version was also much more stable. Focus eventually started to shift onto the toolset itself.

A very important point to remember about Toxik, though, is that it boasts a modular architecture based on a plug-in model. For that reason, it is possible to release enhancements on a timely basis without affecting the core of the application. These enhancements are called extensions, and add extra functionality to the program.

The main focus of the first Toxik extension was a powerful new tool named Blend and Comp. With this extension, the mechanics of compositing in Toxik were further solidified. All the blend modes were introduced in this extension in a unified manner.

What followed was, in my opinion, one of the defining and inevitable moments in Toxik: the release of a Linux version. Everyone has their preferences and imperatives, as far as operating systems go, so version 1.1.5 was indeed a step in the right direction. Toxik can now graft itself to any pipeline. Although officially unsupported, this version could also be run on AMD processors, contrary to previous incarnations, which were Intel bound.

The following extension was recently released on both platforms simultaneously. For this review, Ill focus on the major new tools and features.

Cleanup alpha (left) is good for doing just that; this cleans up a range of values and is a very handy tool. The Control edge in action is seen on the right. It has controls for both inner and outer edge.

Master Keyer Extension

Prior to this extension, keying was mostly done with combinations of the Diamond Keyer and the Luma Keyer. In a surprising and welcome move, Toxik is now being graced with the infamous Master Keyer from Autodesks Advanced systems.

The Master Keyer is a very intuitive keyer that delivers excellent results. Depending on where you click on the matte, the Master Keyer presents you with contextual sliders to further tweak your key. Thus, if you click on what seems to be the background, you will be presented with different controls than if you would, for example, click on the talents nose, something that MK considers a foreground element.

Those already well versed in the subtleties of the MK on Advanced systems will be treated to several surprises in the Toxik world. Unlimited patches come to mind, but the most significant difference is that the Keyer Node, as it is called, is in effect a group node consisting of several tools. This means you can literally dive inside the node and reorder the internals as you wish. Furthermore, the modularity implies you can add or remove any tool to the graph for maximum flexibility.

Conversely, if a compositor simply needs MKs spill suppress functionality, it can be used as a simple tool; you dont have to invoke a Keyer Node for it.

The Keyer Node further expands upon what was introduced in the Reaction tool (Toxiks 3D compositing tool) as far as internals, but with a twist: it has multiple outputs! It contains three outputs; namely, ALPHA, RGBA and COMP. Far from being hard coded outputs, a compositor wanting to have access to something inside the node could easily substitute one of the three outputs and have that source accessible in the main schematic.

This screenshot shows the paint node in the top left quadrant. Below is the insides of the node.

This pretty much means that data can flow unhindered in the process tree: a mindset I would gladly welcome in other more complex tools, but, also, in Reaction itself.

It is to be noted that this extension also includes a color space conversion tool that can come in handy in pulling when high quality keys.

The Master Keyer extension also includes a lot of alpha channel processing tools for matte manipulation. The ones I used the most were the very curious Control Edge and Cleanup Alpha. Control Edge resembles macro type tools weve seen in other packages before, but with very good performance and quality. With this tool you can affect the inside or outside of the mattes edge independently. Cleanup Alpha does pretty much as the name implies. It can remove unwanted pixels in a matte quite well, with more flexibility than a simple histogram.

Looking Forward

So whats next? Apparently Autodesk is going to call the next installment: Toxik 2007. Since a major core change will happen every year, followed by extensions, I guess its for claritys sake. Ive been tinkering around with alpha versions of this for a while now, so here are a few things to definitely look for.

Paint! As I mentioned at the outset, this is probably the next big improvement for Toxik. Touching up mattes, rig removal, dust busting, cloning, revealing, etc. All those ever so important touch up jobs are going to be accessible in the schematic, inside a sleek paint node. More important, it works collaboratively, so everyone stays in the loop.

Here is an example of a composition in Toxik. Toxiks schematic view is from left to right at this time.

Building upon the concept of a tree within the node, paint layers can be composited in a node-based fashion, and not necessarily as a simple stack. As in the Master Keyer previously discussed, you can add any of Toxiks tools to paint layers.

More crucial, though, is the feel of the paint itself. I must admit it is very lifelike and pleasant. Note that paint strokes are raster and not vector objects so performance is great, even on an alpha build of the software. If ever so inclined, one can track a layer by adding a panner node linked to tracking data, so groups of strokes can be tracked.

Other new features to look forward to are: full AMD support and optimizations, not to mention wiretap compatibility with the Advanced Systems products. (Wiretap is what permits a desktop system such as Toxik or Combustion to read clips located on an IFFFS framestore.) Indeed, a time and space saver.

Conclusion

A lot of effort is being put into the Toxik project, and its starting to pay off. Toxik is, without a doubt, soon poised to become a force to be reckoned with. Weve barely scratched the surface here, but I do encourage anyone interested to try it out. No one can really be told what Toxik is you have to see it for yourself.

Sébastien Jacob is a Montreal-based compositor specializing in Toxik, Shake and Flame. He has been using Toxik since it was released, and is presently compositing full-time on a Toxik system at Fake Studio in Montreal.

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