The ideas of collaborative workflow and task-based compositing that are the backbone of Toxik could redefine the way visual effects are put together. The idea of collaborating to create art is nothing new. Many of the great painters relied on collaboration to achieve their masterpieces-detail, outlines, coloring, and, in some cases, entire scenes were the contribution of others. But these days the digital compositor is, for the most part, a solo operator. Toxik could certainly change that.
Toxik is first and foremost node-based compositing software, similar to Shake and the other Autodesk products in the Discreet line, Flame and Inferno, and it is firmly aimed at the feature film effects industry. However, the fundamental strength of Toxik is collaborative workflow. The “Facility Tools” component of the software is built on the Oracle relationship database, which gives multiple workstations real-time access to changing data. This means that a group of artists can be simultaneously working on different aspects of the same shot, and as one process is completed, it is immediately available to everyone else sharing the shot. Also, the database takes care of tracking all the elements and versions of those elements. Before Toxik, this was a major headache for compositors-we’d have to rely on manually searching for versions of elements, or on in-house naming conventions and pipeline solutions. Invariably things get lost, and time is wasted sorting through the confusion. With Toxik, the database keeps track of every version of every element of every composite.
If Toxik 2007 was just a stand-alone compositing package, it would be impressive. The pedigree of the advanced systems in the Autodesk catalog have been distilled and repackaged to create a good, professional compositing experience, with the tools that you expect in good top end systems. Toxik 2007 introduces a number of extra features, and the stability of the system has increased dramatically since the first release last year. New features include a Paint module (for dust-busting, wire removal. Etc.), floating-point color space for HDRI compositing, an updated and revamped motion path animation channel editor, and a new “Master Keyer” module. There’s also AMD processor support and better communication and file sharing with other Autodesk systems.
Toxik was built as an expandable, adaptable system with different modules available as “extensions.” This means that the base system can be supplemented with new releases modules, or new features as they become available. Or you could purchase only the extension packages that you need for a particular project. The problem with this approach, though attractive financially, is that it’s very difficult to judge exactly what you’ll need for a particular project. As each shot evolves as a composite, unforeseen problems may present themselves. Most compositors will demand a full toolset just in case.
CORRECTION: In the initial launch of Toxik 1.0 a year ago, Autodesk was allowing customers to choose which tools they wanted for each Toxik seat. Feedback from users/beta sites was that this isn’t practical. Now, Toxik 2007 and future versions will be purchased with subscription, and all seats come with all the tools.
Artists will love the new “Touch UI” feature. The interface gives you access to customizable menus, dropdown lists of frequently used features, and the “gate,” a gestural navigation tool that lets you quickly and easily get at core functions. The display is customizable with a variety of views of the workflow-you can simultaneously be working on the nodes while watching the effect in the composition, and keep tabs on any new element available from another artist working on the same shot.
Missing are any warping and morphing functionality, and the 3D geometry and text options of a Flame or Inferno. However, intelligent, user-specific features like the UI, customizable nodes and the image viewing improvements really do take it a step further than “Flame’s little brother.” Add the real-time collaborative working environment, the relational database and the invisible version tracking, and you have a system that really stands out and deserves serious consideration.
Alex Catchpoole is a visual effects artist at Guava in New York City.