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July 10, 2012
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Make the Connection with ConnectFX in Smoke 2013

Learn how to read and connect the effects nodes in ConnectFX, the node-based compositing environment in Autodesk Smoke 2013.

Smoke 2013 Header

ConnectFX is brand new to Smoke on the Mac.  Smoke 2013 now has a retooled node-based compositor based on the workflow found in its big brother Flame.  For those that don’t know, node-based compositing is the process of connecting effects tools in a procedural workflow.  The workspace ends up looking like a flow graph of sorts where you can follow the path of video and effects from one tool to another and ultimately to the final result.

Many other tools work with a node based system: Autodesk Flame, Nuke, and formally Shake. DaVinci Resolve also uses  a node-based workflow for color grading.  In contrast Adobe After Effects uses a layer based compositing workflow where one layer is placed on top of another. There are advantages to both ways of working.  Smoke 2013 employs both layer-based compositing on the timeline with video tracks, and node-based effects work within ConnectFX.

ConnectFX  Schematic

What’s in a node?

Nodes are basically effects tools, like plugins, that you use to manipulate video in various ways. There are a large amount of tools that come with Smoke so the need for extra plugins is lessened.  Smoke 2013 has multiple chroma-keyers, blurs, paint, stylize effects, damage effects, deform, color, and text nodes.

Nodes have color-coded inputs and outputs on them, and depending on the type of effect it is, it may have some specialized inputs that are looking for specific types of video like Motion Vector or Z-Depth passes from a 3D application like Maya.

ConnectFx Nodes

Smoke 2013 Input/Output Breakdown

Know what each color symbolizes and you’ll better understand node input and outputs in Smoke 2013:





ConnectFx connections

Making the Right Connections

In Smoke 2013, you can connect any node to any other node.  The openness of this type of workflow allows for some very complex and unique effects to be built quite easily.  Because it’s node based, anywhere in the flow schematic that you want to place a node… you can.  Just drop it in between one node and another. In this example the image is feeding a BLUR node, and then a TEXT node.  The result is text on top of a blurred image.

ConenctFX Nodes

By placing a DEFORM node in between the BLUR & TEXT, the background image is now warped after it is blurred and the TEXT remains untouched.

Smoke CFX

Smoke Resutls

You can connect the inputs and outputs of the nodes in various ways:

  1. Draw a connection from an output of one node to the input of another.
  2. Hold SHIFT while placing a node in between 2 other nodes and it will automatically make a connection.
  3. Selecting a node and holding SHIFT+ALT will activate the arm connections with labels and can help make links easier.
    If you continue to hold ALT and tap the SHIFT key, the arm connection will cycle through the inputs.
  4. Hold ALT while moving one node towards another and “kissing” it. This will make the first connection, repeat to make more.

ConnectFX Shift+Alt
Smoke ConnectFX Shift+Alt

The effects and composites that you can create within Smoke 2013 ConnectFX is almost limitless. Each node is very deep and has multiple uses. The GRADIENT node alone, has 4 different types of gradient effects.  The BLUR node has 6 Blur styles with a custom bokeh option.

Once you start connecting nodes and building up a composite, you will soon see how flexible and freeing node-based workflows are.  Grant Kay from Autodesk has made a great introduction video which will help you see ConnectFX in action.


The Smoke Pre-Release Trial is currently ongoing and will be free and useable until September 15th 2012.  You can download Smoke here:
Smoke 2013 Pre-Release Trial.

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  • Jef’que

    “Smoke 2013 however, is the first to employ both
    layer-based compositing on the timeline with video tracks, and
    node-based effects work within ConnectFX.” ???

    I dont think so: AVID DS has this feature since version 3 or 4 : 1999-2000 or so, and is still the best editor around combining the two worlds of layer & node based compositing/editing with a really innovating caching of rendered parts that’s now 14 years old and has no equal yet on the market, even if Smoke has some a bit more polished tools. Go deep without getting lost, and conserve always great editing power and synchronuous multitrack sound, imho DS is still the best tool for complicated edits with a compositing edge. No? …still ongoing discussion, but the price change for SMOKE [with no feature reduction?] is surprising news ;-)

    • Brian Mulligan

      Point taken about Avid DS. I forget about DS all the time, as well, so does Avid. It has the most horrible marketing. They certainly don’t market it like they do MC. But aren’t the “nodes” in DS more of effect containers with simple inputs and outputs? Although they are similar, I have never really heard it in the same breath as I hear other node based systems like Nuke, Flame, Shake, and now Smoke 2013. But maybe that’s marketing.

      • Jef’que

        The concept of nodes is the same in all the compositing softwares. A node is an operator with logical inputs and outputs, and although the look and feel seems a bit different between the differents packages, for a typical “basic” node like a glow effect, you would need – whatever the implementation – a similar logic:
        to …
        - input the media,
        - give it eventually an extrenal matte where to apply the effect, [or additional layers or channels in some cases]
        - and internal parameters to set the glow effect

        additionally you would need ‘output parameters’ to tell it:
        - how to calculate 16 bit … float … deinterlace /reinterlace…
        - on what channels RGBA
        - output alpha or not
        The differences between the packages are phylosophical, ;-) in how complex each node can be designed. In compositing-obsessive packages like NUKE and FUSION, you would need to add a lot of rather primitive nodes to create a blue-key with spill correction, while DS has built in keyers that integrate all the tools for spill removal and garbadge matte animation in one node… allready powerful, but you can still make it more complex if you need to, anytime. This makes your work often more overseable for typical simple tasks, and easy repetable to copy and paste an effect, altough collapsing and naming of complete node branches or connected selections can be made and copy-pasted or sent by email…. Smoke had a bit the same ideology, but lacked the node-based tools from FLAME until recently. DS has all three methods for over 10 years with the best timeline/clip-editor around. You can edit and composite layer-based in the main time-line, select multiple clips and hit the compositing to find yourself in a traditional SMOKE layers-in-a-stack concept [but with a much smaller chance to get lost, nor in layers nor to finetune editing the respective clips] with an own dedicated time-line where the preselected clips have been arranged in individual layers, time synched with their initial positions. Each layer has its own TOOLSET [keyer, color correction, DVE, vector& pixelbased 2D paint] and a nodal compositing window where you can add additional effects, timeline inputs, and complicate things as you whish, and add a 3D space node if needed. The more complicated, the deeper you will have to go, but that makes it so well organized and powerfull for complex edits [add compositing only where you need]. Each composite becomes a clip in the parent timeline.
        Select the highest level of a finished part and render, it becomes a cached part that doesn’t need to rerender until any changes occur, and even then, it will only need to rerender exactly the frames that were hit by a change, and only at that level of hierarchy. Some badly needed standard things like color correction are real time as long as the timeline does not get crowded at that place. in my opinion, Apple inspired mainly lot from DS’s ease for editing when “reinventing” FINAL CUT PRO, but without all the hidden stuff under the hood of DS, how sad ! SMOKE has always had a much more difficult learning curve, although having herited from FLAME some of the best working tools around for years [tracker, keyer but that's not an argument anymore nowadays as even Adobe adds such high quality tools now]. I wonder where the last version went. I am mainly suspicious concerning the “much lighter” package than the previous version, mirroring the new price evolution?

        • Brian Mulligan

          To be fair, I edited the blog post and removed the “was the first” reference.
          Thanks for being involved in the discussion.

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