zspace: Smoke & Flame Premium

November 16, 2010


zspace studios recently upgraded to the Mac OS X version of the Smoke finishing system and installed Flame Premium for Linux. The new systems have transformed the way zspace produce their distinctive material for high-profile organisations like the Nine Network, ABC, Fox Sports and Tourism NSW. With Digistor's expertise to install and configure the systems, zspace now have the ideal set of post-production tools.

Autodesk's Smoke for Mac OS X is a relatively new product released in Australia in early 2010. Smoke is Autodesk's first foray onto the Mac platform for their Creative Finishing line that includes well-known high-end tools like Smoke, Flame and Lustre on Linux. Locally, organisations like zspace have been adopting the new product to slot into existing workflows.

Smoke for Mac OS X

Fox Sports News "We've used Smoke for about six years now," says General Manager Adam Duncombe, "but always on the Linux platform. Getting Digistor to bring it in on the Mac for us has really opened things up for us in a number of ways. "Firstly, the Mac OS is familiar to everyone, so our Smoke artists don't need experience in Linux programming to get moving on a project. They can concentrate more on the work and less on the tool.

"Second, the Macs can handle just about any file our clients bring in. The simple days of "it's a tape" are long gone—these days there are so many codecs, when a client brings in a USB or a DVD we've got no idea what might be on it. The Macs take in just about anything without an issue. This has saved us hours and hours of time that we used to have to spend identifying file formats and converting the files into something we could use."

Autodesk Smoke"Thirdly, Smoke on the Mac integrates beautifully with Final Cut," says Adam. "We can take a completed piece from Final Cut and do the grading and finishing in Smoke really easily. Digistor's implementation has helped here too, because the SAN they put in enables us to cut our selects in Final Cut in high definition, create an XML file and drag it into Smoke to link up the footage automatically.

"There's no need to re-import or conform anything. In short, it's streamlined our workflow immensely. This gives us a huge advantage when grading footage for large projects like the Industry & Investment NSW promotion of the Hunter Valley."

Smoke for Mac OS X runs on an Apple Mac Pro with 8GB+ of memory, an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800/5600 graphics card and an AJA KONA 3 video card. This is a pretty standard configuration, although the graphics card is a higher specification to support Smoke's 3D finishing capabilities. With suitable monitors and storage, a Smoke for Mac OSX system is a significantly lower entry point for high-level creative finishing than was previously available. 

"Another big plus" says Adam, "is that we don't need a dedicated Smoke machine anymore. If the Mac has the spec, we can run After Effects and other programs on the same machine. This has given our studio a lot more flexibility. A good example is the launch of Nine Networks new digital channel 'GEM' – we finished that in record time to meet its launch date by having multiple artists working on it simultaneously on separate Macs.

Flame Premium

Flame PremiumFlame Premium is also a new release for Autodesk. It combines the power and flexibility of Autodesk's Flame, Smoke and Lustre products on a single Linux workstation, providing real-time colour grading, 3D visual effects and editorial finishing. This means that studios, broadcasters and post-houses no longer need multiple rooms for different functions. Flame Premium also integrates into pipelines using Smoke for Mac OSX.

"We've used Flame Premium and Smoke in combination on a lot of projects lately," says Adam, "and it's a combination that makes the whole process of producing graded footage much simpler and much faster. For compositing, Flame Premium is the only way to go, and when you pass it to Smoke Advanced you can cut to a finish in one tool; it's a very slick operation. The new Fox Sports News opener and the many variations that needed to be delivered shows just what it's capable of."

zspace were so impressed with the Smoke implementation, Adam now looks to Digistor for first-line support of the zspace LAN and storage systems as well.

"Digistor analysed in detail what we were doing. They took into account the technical aspects, considered the budget side of things and offered us practical options. They clearly have a lot of experience in implementing these systems and know how all the different platforms tie in together, whether it's Mac, Linux or Windows. This sort of expertise is very hard to find."

Digistor has been providing solutions for post-production and broadcast for over 20 years. In January this year, Autodesk appointed Digistor to represent the Smoke for Mac OS X and the Linux product ranges. Digistor now provide integrated solutions combining Avid, Final Cut Pro and Autodesk products with storage, networking and switching infrastructure. Digistor also represents Autodesk's Animation products, including 3ds Max and Maya, making the it the only company in Australia to provide the full range of Autodesk creative finishing and media & entertainment products.

"Enabling file-based workflows between systems from different manufacturers and supporting different formats has become a major part of the installations we're doing," explains Sean Curran, Account Manager at Digistor. "The reality is that most studios and broadcasts have different tools bought at different times for different jobs. Making them all work together smoothly is critical."

Adam Duncombe agrees that Digistor's broad expertise and detailed knowledge of the technology has transformed the way zspace work.

"The beauty of Digistor is that they give us a genuine end-to-end solution. They handle hardware and software support, infrastructure planning and implementation. They really know network pipelines, storage and archiving. Moving data, storing it securely and retrieving it quickly—these things are the bugbear of my existence—Digistor have really made a difference."

Sean Curran adds "zspace gave us the opportunity to do a lot more than just install some Macs. By giving us a real insight into their day-to-day operations, they enabled us to identify where we could streamline things, both in terms of process and technology.

"It's very gratifying for us to bring to bear all of our specialist industry knowledge and really make a difference, by implementing the right technology for the job. Smoke for Mac OS X and Flame Premium were, quite simply, the best solution for zspace and we're thrilled to have been involved in changing the way the company works."

Configuration Information Autodesk Smoke for Mac OSX Autodesk Flame Premium Suite
zspace is a leading Australian creative studio with a reputation for delivering innovative and pragmatic design fused with storytelling skills to engage the viewer. Services include Design, Animation, Pre-Visualisation, Shoot, on-set Visual Effects Supervision and a range of post-production options. Apple Mac Pro HPZ800 8 core system
AJA KONA 3 Nvidia Quadro 5800SDI
Nvidia 4800 AJA 2K VIO with BOB
SANman 16TB fibre storage Autodesk Flame Premium Software, including Flame, Smoke Advanced and Lustre

To watch zspaces's show reel or contact them visit www.zspace.com.au