• Price: 850 . 200 . 400

  • Pros: Capsules make creating and sharing preset effects easy. B-spline polygon tools hasten masking. Timewarp operator allows creative use of slow- and fast-motion. Minor updates concentrate on efficiency.

  • Cons: Lack of focus on day-to-day tools. Few new features. Little automation of Diamond Keyer. Capsules need community around them.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Combustion has been portrayed in many different ways by Discreet since its inception – a tool to free up £700-per-hour Flame and Inferno systems, and a training tool for those suites. But the company has had the most trouble trying to convince the majority of compositors that it’s a better compositing environment than After Effects.

Discreet’s application has always had the edge when it comes to traditional effects-creation, but lost out to AE for motion graphics. Combustion also didn’t have AE’s breadth of plug-ins and wasn’t as efficient at the day-to-day tasks of those not working on high-end film and commercial productions.

Unfortunately, version 4.0 isn’t going to do anything about this. Combustion’s still better than AE for pure special FX work and the new features include some great-looking additions, but most are as exciting as Discreet’s name change into Autodesk.

Key changes

A prime example of Combustion’s focus is the new Diamond Keyer operator (as Combustion calls its effects nodes). This sounds like a fantastic addition – as it’s taken directly from Autodesk’s £350,000 Flame system – and for some effects artists, it is. Many, however, won’t take to it.

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The Diamond Keyer includes both a set of presets for removing single colours (red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow) and one of the best set of key adjustment tools available. These are based around two diamonds set over a hexagonal colour wheel – one for tolerance (which colours are removed) and one for softness.
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Unlike the original Discreet Keyer, matte refinement and spill suppression are separate operators. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for this, but it doesn’t make a difference to your workflow except adding extra nodes to your Schematic.
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The Diamond Keyer is the best built-in keyer we’ve seen for dealing with traditionally difficult to key areas such as hair and even smoke. There really is very little it can’t deal with. However, it’s just not as quick for day-to-day keying as The Foundry’s Keylight, which is bundled with Adobe After Effects.
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The growth of low-cost, all-digital video production – especially in the corporate sector – has changed the priorities for keyers. Hair isn’t the main issue anymore – it’s poor lighting and other production problems caused by small budgets and timeframes. It’s also artifaction caused by digital formats, especially DV.
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Keylight pulls a much better initial key from poorly-lit or compressed footage than the Diamond Keyer, which overall means that we were able to extract usable keys faster in AE than in Combustion. However, neither is as fast with this kind of footage as Ultimatte’s AdvantEdge. 
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A better addition is the Capsules system. Similar to Digital Fusion’s Groups, Capsules are bundles of operators that sit as a single operator in the Schematic view. At their most basic, Capsules can tidy up messy flows – but they’re much more useful than this.
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