Autodesk Combustion 2008 review

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 6 out of 10We rate this 6 out of 10We rate this 6 out of 10We rate this 6 out of 10We rate this 6 out of 10 We rate this 6 out of 10

  • Price When Reviewed: 850 . 165

  • Pros: Colour Warper with advanced colour correction; selective masking and strong import/export functions; enhanced schematic view; Intel Mac and Vista support; workflow enhancements.

  • Cons: Limited range of new features; no Linux support; some bugs.

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Motion graphics and compositing veteran Combustion has been idling in the Autodesk back room, but is now back for 2008, with some workflow improvements and the addition of the Colour Warper tool, derived from the Flame visual effects system.

This is essentially a full suite of colour correction tools contained in one Combustion operator (an operation that modifies layers and composites) and it performs quickly and impressively. It offers three panels/workflows: basic, for colour correction of the whole clip; selective, for working with mattes and defined regions of the clip; and setup, where you can import and export Colour Warper settings.

Basic offers a quick way to interactively adjust attributes such as gamma, gain, offset, hue, saturation, and contrast using controls like trackballs, an interactive histogram and curves. Every Colour Warper panel features the Work On list, which lets you specify if all colours are affected, or just selected ones.

When you need to refine a key clip by suppressing colour spill (above), you can use this function combined with the Suppress and Saturate trackballs to isolate and modify colours. The procedure is straightforward and usefully interactive, but needs some tweaking to be truly effective on more troublesome clips.

Selective colour correction, where you modify a range of colour, as opposed to the entire clip or image, is also a breeze. You use the Selective tools to create mattes to isolate colour ranges, with up to three mattes able to be generated. Additional Colour Warper operators can be added to handle more, while the Warp trackball in the Basic controls can readjust a specific range of colour.

Also new in this version is the Vectorscope, a handy tool to help match colours, adjust shadows and highlights, view colour distribution, and ensure that colours are legal (in other words conform to broadcast standards).

The 2D vectorscope displays a clip in the 2D in terms of hue and saturation in a colour wheel, while the 3D vectorscope, which adds lightness to the hue and saturation views, has X, Y, and Z axes representing red, green, and blue.

The two ways of viewing combustion’s node-based workflow, the schematic tree view and the workspace panel with timeline, have both received tweaks in this release. You can import footage or add a solid layer from the schematic view using the context menu, while restructuring nodes in the process tree has also been enhanced.

There are also new options for independently setting frame rate, pixel aspect ratio, and field order overrides for imported footage and multiple viewports can be synchronized for simultaneous playback.

Bizarrely, Autodesk’s current policy is not to supply fully working software for press review, so we had access only to a 30-day, fully featured trial edition. This completely failed to work on our Power Mac G5 running Mac OS X Tiger, but ran very well on both Leopard and Vista on a MacBook Pro.

Compared to the release schedules of strong competitors in the compositing market, such as Fusion, Nuke and After Effects, Combustion 2008 feels more like a point upgrade – though it remains cheaper than all three.

Combustion 2008 is by no means a bad product, and will provide new users with a great compositing tool. However, aside from the very effective Colour Warper, users of version 4 have been given little impetus to upgrade from their stable workhorse.

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