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Combustion 2 for After Effects Users

Part 1: Working with Illustrator files By Kevin Schmitt
As some of you may be aware, Combustion 2 was awarded a rare "Must Buy" rating in a review we did on CreativeMac.com of Discreet's desktop compositing/effects/painting suite a while ago, and that was when the software would have set you back a cool five grand. These days, Combustion 2 can be had for just under a thousand dollars, and while the new price point would, in theory, merit a "Double Secret Must Buy" rating (if we had one), the lower cost probably means that there will be quite a few new Combustion users out there. And since it's probably not a stretch to assume that some of these users are coming to Combustion with some level of After Effects expertise, we thought it might be a nice gesture to offer a few tidbits to help out with the transition.

Now, it quickly became clear as I was working with Combustion that a single article probably wouldn't be enough to cram everything into, so the plan is to offer a few tutorials that deal with how an After Effects workflow translates to the Combustion environment. And since the first thing many of us do when we start a new compositing project is to import footage to work with, a natural place to start would be with getting Adobe files into Combustion. However, right off the bat, don't expect Combustion to work as seamlessly with other Adobe products as After Effects does. Indeed, interoperability with programs like Premiere, Illustrator, and Photoshop is one of After Effects' strong selling points, but once you get an idea of how Combustion interfaces with native Adobe formats, you might be surprised as to just how nicely Combustion plays with these "alien" files. And first up on the list is Illustrator.


Before we begin, a couple of quick notes. One, in this exercise I'm going to be working with the OrbitMonkey.ai file, which can be found in the "Combustion for AE Users" directory (located with the rest of the Combustion tutorials that ship with the product). So if you'd like to follow along, you can grab this file and jump right in. Two, after you've worked in Combustion a bit you'll realize that there are many, many ways to do the same thing, so if you find yourself cursing my name because, for example, I'm creating a new Composite operator when you just would have skipped ahead to directly opening footage, all I can say is please feel free to do things in the way that you're comfortable. One of the great things about Combustion is that the workflow is very customizable, so there really isn't any one right way to work. So, without further ado...

Vectors: crisp, clean, and refreshing
We're going to start from a blank Workspace here, so fire up Combustion, and once everything is ready to roll, go to the File menu and select New. You'll be presented with a dialog box like the one shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Go ahead. Copy these settings. I don't mind.

The only things that really matter for our purposes are that the type is set to Composite and the name is set to Illustrator; you can either copy the other parameters from what I did or make up your own. Go ahead and click OK, and then glance at the Workspace tab. You should see that you've created a new branch that contains a Composite operator named Illustrator (fig. 2), and in the Viewport you should see a big empty box set to the size and color you specified. So far, so good. Now to import the Illustrator file itself.

Figure 2. A Composite branch in the Combustion Workspace panel.

Go to the File menu and select Import Footage, which will bring up, surprisingly, the Import Footage dialog. Drill down to where you stashed the OrbitMonkey.ai file I spoke of earlier, click once on it, and then click OK. If you entered the same parameters into the New Composite dialog that I did, your Viewport should look very much like figure 3 (I have the Filmstrip on, incidentally).

Figure 3. My Viewport looks like this after importing the Illustrator artwork.

Now, at first glance, it might seem that Combustion's Illustrator import function, for lack of a better word, sucks. Sure, you can get the file in, but it appears that Combustion turns your nice vector-based artwork into a bitmap, and if you try to scale the image up, the jaggies set in big time (fig. 4).

Figure 4. The Orbit Monkey's looking a little rough around the edges (Get it? Ha!)

But that's only at first glance. What's actually happening is that any Illustrator files you import are converted to a Combustion Paint operator, which in your composite appear to be just bitmaps. Rest assured, your Illustrator drawing is there and is still fully vector-based and editable; it's just a little bit buried. So let's take a closer look at what's going on.


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Related Keywords:Combustion 2, After Effects, Illustrator, Discreet, compositing, effects, painting

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