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
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.