Autodesk Smoke costs seventeen thousand dollars.
Let me say that again, because I suspect it might not have sunk in the first time: Autodesk Smoke costs seventeen thousand dollars.
And that’s just for the software. That’s not counting the beefy-ass Mac Pro with the superfast RAIDs and the Kona board and the broadcast monitor and all that. Once you figure in the hardware, a Smoke system can easily top forty grand.
So it better be shit hot, is what I’m saying here.
And you know what? It is. It’s shit hot.
I first started using Smoke — and let me be very clear here: I am strictly an amateur with it — back when it was called Fire and sold by a company called Discreet Logic. It ran on a Silicon Graphics Onyx, a five-foot-tall solid black supercomputer that required its own special power. The hard drives were SCSI, and there were dozens of them, packed into aluminum enclosures far too heavy for a strong man to lift and bristling with unfinished edges just waiting to maim the absent-minded and the incautious. The whole system, hardware and software together, cost upwards of half a million bucks, and it only did SD, and by God, we liked it.
Today it runs on your laptop. Not well, certainly not well enough to do any production work on. But it will in fact run on your laptop. How do I know? Cause Autodesk was generous enough to send me a non-revenue copy. For nothin’. Just ’cause I asked ’em if they would.
That’s a cool company, right there. They sell a product for northwards of fifteen thousand bucks, and just give copies of it away for free to people who express an interest. Because they think they’ve got a good product on their hands, I guess, and they want people to know more about it.
Which is a bit of an uphill struggle, you know? Smoke is, I think I can fairly say, a niche product. It’s not general-purpose. It’s not all-things-to-all-people. It’s not least-common-denominator. It’s a very precisely targeted solution for a very precisely defined problem: creative finishing and visual effects for broadcast. It’s not the kind of thing you’d buy to put star wipes over your wedding videos with.
So why I do I care? Simple: An educated person is an employable person. I haven’t had any serious stick time on a Smoke since the 1990s, and I’ve never done a paying job on one to date. But they are out there, in surprisingly large numbers, and the fresher and more up-to-speed I am on the system, the better my chance of landing a good gig on one when the opportunity comes along.
So I’m gonna be playing with Smoke for a while. On my laptop. Because it can run on laptops now. Which is one of those things I guess you’d have had to see it running on an Onyx to truly appreciate, but trust me, it’s kind of a big deal.