Although Autodesk is known for many high-end visual effects and finishing software such as Smoke and Maya, many people in the motion picture industry consider Flame to be its flagship product. In fact, some companies are built around a single Flame system because its ability to alter, transform and enhance images is so enormous. However, as a company takes on more work, additional Flame systems may be needed, and this can be a costly path to follow. Flame is a turnkey system that runs on very powerful computer systems that ensure fast and smooth operation, and these are not exactly cheap.
Some wise developers at Autodesk proposed creating new software that had the creative power of Flame, and could handle many of the same tasks. This product that resulted, now known as Flare, can be used on less expensive workstations that can handle parts of a major Flame project, hence multiplying the work capacity of the company.
Autodesk Flare is a subset of Autodesk Flame and contains Flame’s most essential creative tools. To understand what Flare does, one has to begin by examining the features of Flame.
Flame is probably the most powerful set of 3D compositing and image manipulation tools in the industry. As such, it is a specialized system designed to focus on highly detailed special effects on a shot-by-shot basis. In other words, it is not designed for editing and doesn’t have the architecture of a typical NLE. Instead it is formed on an architecture that creates branches where the effects are designed and encapsulated in moveable nodes.
This graphic method of organizing the effects design process is referred to as Procedural Batch Compositing. It allows the user to create a complex chain of visual effects with more precision, while retaining the ability to easily make changes. Each effect is connected in a way that allows the user to change the interplay of the effects, and fine tune each one individually. Flame artists are essentially visual design specialists who concentrate on refining one shot at a time in a motion picture sequence.
Flare contains the core creative tools of Flame, which are essentially those contained in Flame’s Batch compositing environment. These include keying and rotoscoping, paint, tracking and stabilization, color correction, warping and morphing, 3D text, and a host of image processing plug-ins, including particle emitters. Both Flame and Flare offer the same ability to incorporate live action plates with mappable 3D geometry in a 3D space with moveable light sources and camera motion. It is a 64-bit architecture honed to display the results as you work in real time.
Flare has been carefully designed to work on a networked system to maximize its integration with a central Autodesk Flame system. A typical layout may include a central Flame system operated by a Flame artist overseeing the project, and one or more Flare workstations networked into the system. The Flare software can access the same media, allowing additional technicians to work on individual pieces of the project. Time-consuming tasks can be offloaded to the Flare workstations, allowing the Flame artist to concentrate on the most intricate tasks and integrating the finished pieces, and there’s no possibility for duplication of work or accidental overwriting.
Flare was built to take advantage of an existing network. This means that Flame will maintain bandwidth priority even when working collaboratively with multiple Flare systems, making it possible for Flame to always function at top speed. While this sounds easy in concept, it actually required significant engineering prowess, as this integrated workflow must handle complex compositing while using HD, 2k and 4k media. Successful networking also required the development of a sophisticated file management system.
As Flare is a software-only subset of a traditional Flame turnkey system, it doesn’t need all of the hardware and components of the Flame system. It can be installed on a range of suitable hardware configurations and costs about one-fifth the amount of a Flame system.
Flare can also be loaded onto a laptop for use in on-set VFX supervision.
Because a Flame/Flare networked system is not easy to ship, I traveled to Autodesk’s New York office to see it in action. Bill Ennis, Autodesk’s applications engineer team leader for Advanced Systems took me to a Flame system and a Flare networked together. He first showed me how the Flare system had all of the essential tools to accomplish the intricate compositing tasks usually associated with Flame.
For example, working with HD footage of an automobile on a test track while using the toolset available in Flame, he quickly cut a rotoscope outline of the car and attached some markers to map a new model onto the original. Within minutes, the original car was replaced with a new one by mapping a 2D image onto it. Interestingly, the 2D surface took on the same interactive characteristics as the 3D model onto which it was mapped. It was possible to get the 2D image to display the same light, shadow and reflectivity that would occur on the 3D model underneath it. Just as with Flame, Flare enables you to map 2D surfaces onto 3D models while retaining the 3D interactivity of light, shadow and camera positioning of the original model.
For broadcast use, Flare is an amazingly powerful text and graphics generating device. It allows 2D text to be instantly converted to 3D and placed on a motion path of any design. One can also change light source direction and camera movement with minimal effort. Templates can be used and modified to get text to air in little time. Flare is also a very efficient graphics station in a broadcast environment. And all of the creative tools of Flame are available with Flare.
Post-production image manipulation
Real-time rendering, 64-bit architecture, runs on a networked environment, allowing collaboration with users of Autodesk’s Flame
Call Autodesk or authorized reseller for pricing.
Autodesk | 415-507-5000 | www.autodesk.com Like Flame, Flare excels in all aspects of image replacement and enhancement. By rotoscoping and creating mattes, it’s possible to change any part of the image by mapping a new image in its place. Objects in the image field can also be simply removed.
While we were creating with the Flame system, another artist worked on media from the same project on a networked computer running Flare. When the work was completed, it was saved as a 100 percent compatible setup that could then be accessed instantly and integrated into the finished product in the Flame system. The workflow was seamless and there was never any interruption in the speed of the Flame system.
Unlike the familiar desktop associated with Flame, when you start up Flare, it immediately launches into the Batch Compositing interface, which is a masterful way of creating a design. The user has tremendous flexibility, as each node encompasses design elements and the sequence can be easily rearranged. The system responds with such speed, that watching a Flame/Flare artist at work is like watching an accomplished painter effortlessly creating images on a canvas.
Another important feature of the Flame/Flare setup is compatibility with other Autodesk products, such as Maya. This allows a seamless workflow in which intricate 3D models can be created on Maya, imported into Flare, combined with live-action film and then sent on to Flame for final integration into the finished shot.
Autodesk Flare provides current users of Flame with the ability to greatly multiply their productivity in an economical fashion. At one-fifth the cost of Flame, each Flare unit allows the facility to subdivide the workflow without investing in more full-scale Flame systems. Flare contains the essential creative tools of Flame and works seamlessly in a networked environment. It also brings other advantages, such as creating a workstation that can be used to train new Flame artists. And one should not overlook how well Flare works as a graphics station in a broadcast facility. Any outfit currently using Flame will find Flare an irresistible method of extending their capacity, speed and capability.
Geoff Poister, Ph.D., is a member of the Film and Television faculty at Boston University and a regular contributor to TV Technology.
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