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Combustion 2008

A long-awaited update adds ColorWarper By Jon Carroll

Combustion was originally developed by discreet logic as its desktop compositing application. It was a way to bring some of the tools from its 'systems' products (Flint, Flame, Inferno, etc) into software designed to run on more readily accessible computers. Discreets systems products, at the time, were running on 'big iron' SGI Irix systems and cost $250,000 and up.

Combustion's big item when it first started shipping was that it had an implementation of the same 2d tracker used in the systems products, and it was one of the first desktop compositors to allow for '2 D' compositing using the RLA and later RPF formats developed in conjunction with Autodesk.

Autodesk bought discreet logic and wrapped them into its Kinetix division (at the time, the developers of 3d Studio Max) and named them Discreet- which is now Autodesk Media and Entertainment. Later updates added the Discreet Keyer, the Discreet Color Corrector, and the Diamond Keyer, all products ported down from the 'systems' products.

This latest update adds the Color Warper, once again ported down from its systems products into a less expensive and more desktop-friendly product. The Color Warper is a type of color corrector that uses a different interface from the standard three-way color corrector used by most other products.


Vectorscope 3D

The Color Warper is most powerful when used in conjunction with the 2d and 3d vectorscopes that Combustion 2008 provides. The documentation even covers- lightly- the use of the vectorscope views for things like spill suppression and color shifting, among others.

ColorWarper controls

The Color Warper also uses the Diamond Keyer as a way to select areas to be affected by the warper. One iteration of the Color Warper within a composite allows for a Master color correction and three selection channels- each selection controlled by a separate keyer. The strong color correction setup between the Discreet Color Corrector and Color Warper makes Combustion a good choice for heavy color correction and when combined with its strong rotoscoping tools makes it a decent tool for grading as well.


Rotospline Interface

Combustion has always had powerful cutting-edge rotoscoping tools and it is in this capacity that it is most often used by high-end effects facilities. Combined with its tracker, roto in Combustion is faster and easier than in other software, with the added feature that your tracking results can be exported to the systems products for use in an online final composite. (As a note, the Color Corrector, Color Warper, and Discreet Keyer's results can all be exported to these compositing systems as well.) This means a facility that has these expensive systems can have junior or assistant compositors working on desktop PCs doing repetitive tasks that would take away time from the senior compositors doing final composites on the 'big iron' systems. This can also reduce the necessity for having many of these systems in the facility, saving a considerable amount of money.
Combustion works in 8, 10,12,16 and floating point bit depths and has for awhile. It also makes use of After Effects and Photoshop plug-ins but its implementation of both plug-in standards is a bit old and may not work with newer plug-ins, or may only work with the plug-ins in their 8-bit modes. Some plug-in developers have made provisions to keep their plug-ins working properly in Combustion, while others have produced Combustion-specific versions of their plug-ins. The Combustion plug-in architecture is not an openly published architecture and so it is not common to see plug-ins 'native' to the software. Combustion also has a built-in particle system based on the Particle Illusion particle system. It has a fairly robust set of text and paint tools that make it useful for motion graphics as well, even though the toolset of the application is obviously meant for compositing.
Combustion also supports the use of various video devices as external frame buffers, so your preview output can be seen on an external monitor. Currently, external FireWire devices (miniDV cameras and decks, primarily), Black Magic Design cards, the AJA Kona (Macintosh) and Xena (Windows),  Matrox Axio and RT.X2,  Canopus Edius and NewTek Video Toaster all support acting as framebuffers for Combustion. Other devices may be accessible through provisions for DirectShow and QuickTime framebuffers.
As for the actual performance of the update, a simple test composite rendered in both Combustion 2008 and an earlier version shows Combustion 2008 to be around 10% faster in actual render speed (1 m 14.07 s versus 1 m 21.67 s)- a minor speed increase, but on a long render of a complex composite it may make the difference. When tested on a separate system, the render actually took less time than the previously benchmarked difference between the systems. Because of the memory bandwidth intensive nature of compositing, Combustion and most other compositing applications are more sensitive to memory bandwidth than some other media applications, in the same way that you can get two different ?system speed difference results in your 3D applications by benchmarking a geometry and procedural-heavy scene versus a scene that is heavy on textures.
Overall, Combustion 2008 is a welcome upgrade to the application since version 4 was shipped in 2005. Support for Intel-based Macs was added with Combustion 4.04 for Mac, so this is a Universal Binary version as well. Combustion uses OpenGL for display and caches the rendered composites in memory, so the more RAM the better. It also responds very well to multiprocessor/multicore systems. I'd recommend at least 2GB of memory and a dual-core processor with a fast OpenGL graphics card for anyone looking to add Combustion to their graphics arsenal. 

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Jon K. Carroll is a effects artist living and working in Los Angeles and a recent graduate of Columbia College Hollywood. He can be reached via email at [email protected]
Related Keywords:combustion, visual effects, desktop compositing, compositing tools


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