Combustion 4

Combustion 4

Despite an un-Mac-like interface, Combustion 4 has excellent improvements.


Combustion 4 is a big, bodacious visual-effects app that serves up loads of pro-level tools; think of it as a competitor to Adobe After Effects Pro. Many effects artists - especially folks familiar with Autodesk's big-iron effects workstations - prefer Combustion's unique way of doing things, and the latest version won't disappoint that crowd.


Combustion turns your whole screen (or screens) into one giant window with context-sensitive controls. Like After Effects, Combustion offers tons of keying and compositing features, vector paint tools, particle systems, motion tracking, image stabilization, and effects filters (though After Effects has about twice as many filters). But while After Effects uses Photoshop-style layers to build its effects, Combustion uses a connect-the-node paradigm similar to Apple's Shake.


Capsules are one of the new big-ticket features you'll come to know and love. A Capsule is a collection of multiple operators that you can apply again and again in your projects. Say you've carefully handcrafted a stylized look for your video, involving operator values for color correction, film grain, shutter info, blur, and so on. Just save all these operators as a single Capsule, and you can apply the Capsule to any footage with just a couple of clicks. You can even email the Capsule to colleagues so they don't have to reinvent the wheel. You can edit each operator value you've included in the Capsule and create minimum and maximum settings for those values to prevent others from tinkering too much with the effect. Capsules are great tools for maintaining a consistent look among a number of effects artists, but Capsules don't work in other Autodesk products, just the Mac and Windows versions of Combustion.


Combustion 4 is now much better at creating slow- or fast-motion video effects. In earlier versions, you could only play video at a constant speed; now, a new operator called Timewarp lets you slow down, speed up, or reverse video precisely when you want the effects to occur. Timewarp grants you tons of creative control, letting you set keyframes, choose interpolation modes, and more, but expect to spend at least a few hours discerning the mysteries of Timewarp's interface, which involves some intimidating charts and graphs.


Combustion's new Diamond Keyer operator is an advanced keying tool based on the Color Warper Keyer found in Discreet's Flint, Flame, and Inferno workstations. Diamond Keyer is both powerful and easy to use: Its interface consists of a single panel of intuitive controls; you can use six presets for luma and chroma keying to grab an alpha matte in seconds, and then hone your key with some additional controls such as tolerance and softness. Spill suppression and matte refinement, however, are applied as separate operators outside the Diamond Keyer interface. You may wish these functions were built in directly, but the Diamond Keyer focuses on the most-common keying tasks, making them almost instant. And sure enough, we were able to pull a number of keys that needed no additional futzing.


Other handy additions: The G-Buffer Builder takes the manual labor out of applying 3D lighting, fog, and depth-of-field effects; the Compare tool lets you split a video frame and compare it side by side with another image; and the layout guide offers handy snap-to properties.


The bottom line. Combustion 4 offers plenty to newcomers and loyal fans alike. If $999 seems steep, consider the $2,999 sticker on Apple's Shake, which itself is a bargain by the rich standards of the effects industry.


COMPANY: Autodesk
CONTACT: 800-440-4198,
PRICE: $999 (full), $299 to $399 (upgrade)
REQUIREMENTS: 800MHz G4, Mac OS 10.2 or later, 512MB RAM, 120MB disk space
Fantastic new keyer. Sophisticated time-remapping tool. Time-saving Capsules.
Un-Mac-like interface. Crashes occasionally.





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