Combustion 3

Introduction

In response to the threat posed by After Effects 6.0, Discreet has armed the latest version of its compositing tool with a non-linear editing (NLE) environment, derived from its high-end Edit system. Combustion 3 also adds Flash animation output from Combustion’s vector-paint tools and JavaScript-based expressions for expanding animation capabilities. There are new customizable paint brushes, stained-glass lighting effects and QuickTime capture from DV devices, as well as a host of other enhancements. Compositing can be thought of as Photoshop for video, but Combustion can also handle up to film strength 32-bit (float) resolution material. The basic building block of Combustion is the composite, a stacked arrangement of multiple layers of footage. The similarity with Photoshop ends there, as you can also arrange layers in 3D space, depending on the compositing mode. 3D composites bring cameras and lights to the mix, along with the ability to transform layers in the Z-axis and add render effects. Layers also possess surface properties that affect how they appear and how they react to light - much in the same way materials behave in 3D applications. Version 3.0, for example, adds an effective stained-glass lighting effect that allows layers to cast coloured shadows - however it has to be said that this is something that Adobe introduced in version 5.5 of After Effects. The timeline
Compositing also involves arranging layers in a timeline, which is used to control when they appear on the ‘stage’ and for how long. Layer segments can be trimmed, slipped and split, and there’s now the new ability to add markers in the Timeline for better organization. The other main component of Combustion is the Operator. This is a function that modifies a layer or a composite and can range from a simple blur to a complex Paint animation or a particle-emitter effect. The effect of operators can be modified by adjusting their properties - this can be done over time, using keyframes to create animations. Version 3.0 can save the settings for individual operators for future use. As you add operators and layers to composites, a process tree is built automatically. Each operator in a workspace can be viewed in its place in the tree by switching to the Schematic View. This is a skeletal network of nodes and branches, where you can directly manipulate the process tree, adding operators, changing their inputs and outputs and making connections. Of course, whatever you change in the Schematic view is reflected in Combustion’s other tools. Imported footage becomes another layer ready for compositing or editing, which is where the Edit operator makes an appearance. This offers a new way to create image sequences in Combustion by cutting and pasting between segments of imported footage. You can edit sequences in the Edit operator’s timeline and apply wipe, dissolve and cut transitions between segments. All in all, it’s a useful, if limited, way to perform some non-linear editing without leaving the package. Paint is another operator that you can apply to a layer. Adding it to the video footage means you can do anything from simple retouching to adding full motion-tracking and rotoscoping effects. An enhancement to Paint is the ability to create custom brushes. There are three ways of doing this: drawing a custom shape freehand using the Paint tools, creating a brush from one frame of a particle emitter, or by importing a frame of footage and masking out irrelevant parts of the image. The result is similar to the that of the image hose in Painter - spraying custom textures such as hair or fur, or creating effects such as pencil or chalk lines on footage. In common with all brushes in Paint, strokes made using the custom heads are resolution-independent, editable, and key-frameable. Another development is the Export to Flash feature in the Paint Controls panel. With this enabled you can create, transform and animate a limited number of Paint objects and their properties, then save your work as a .swf file. Combustion also has the Flash Player built in for previewing the results for any quick edits before export, and additionally outputs the file in HTML. Animation really benefits from the addition of JavaScript-based expressions. Expressions are mathematical formulae that you can use to animate properties of layers or operators based on the channel value. You can also tie-in the behaviour of related channels to that of the original one. The Quick Pick expression tool is used to link a channel’s value to that of a target channel, while using the integrated Multi-line editor you can define or edit your own JavaScript and ECMA-script compatible expressions. You also have at your disposal predefined scripts to use or modify from the context sensitive Expression Browser. Plug-ins are a great strength of After Effects, and Combustion has been able to accept Photoshop and AE-compatible plug-ins for some time. Combustion 3.0 ships with RE:Vision Effect’s RE:Flex - a set of three operators for warping still and moving images and meshes which - it previously sold for $600.
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