The AutoDesk Smoke Confessions

Introducing the Autodesk Smoke.

In the world of visualFX, online editing, motion design and what I playfully refer to as ‘colouring in’, the Smoke is an all in one TV post production ‘know it all’ tool… and just like smoking a cigarette, it can be harmful to your health – Late nights, technical bugs and the indecisive creatives that crowd the suites can all lead to heart disease. #notafact

I was first introduced to the Smoke whilst working as a runner, also known as a tea/coffee maker and/or person to be shouted at, at the children’s TV production company Ragdoll Productions. The company, founded by the ‘grandmother of UK children’s telly’, Anne Wood, is responsible for award winning shows such as In The Night Garden, Brum, Rosie and Jim, Abney & Teal and Teletubbies.

Moon Man Dan
With ‘cutting my teeth’ in the crazy world of children’s tele, I found my passion… and it lies in bringing content to children. I setup Pickled Pepper Productions in 2012 which brought a team and myself together to produce a concept animation named Moon Man Dan. If you haven’t heard of this ‘yet to be awarded’ miracle of entertainment, it is available as an iPad App and animated film here:



Moon Man Dan Website

iPad App

The smoke system has been essential in the Moon Man Dan journey. Firstly, its sheer power and versatility. Secondly, the people you meet along the way. 9 out of 10 Smoke operators are great people. #fact

Learning The Software

A colleague, Anthony Brownmoore now of BlueSpill, London was keen to teach me the software. At the time he was bringing together images of Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and many characters whom if you aren’t aware of, ask the nearest four year old.

My time whilst learning the Smoke was spent backing up the computers and keeping a handle on the general maintenance of the machine room, the ‘tech hub’ of the post production facility. It was during this time as an ‘assistant’ that I learned in-depth the different methods of TV data storage – HDCAM, HDSR, DigiBeta and tapeless formats.

Sponge-Like Mind

During the early days of my career, I was fortunate enough to have spent 8 months on location; my journey to the Smoke had seen me experience first hand the workings of ‘shooting for FX’. On location green screen, blue screen, motion control cameras and studio shoots were an every day experience – where a sponge like mind definitely absorbed and enjoyed a lot of it. Not earning much money (literally minimum wage) and working many long days are some of the most memorable times of my life.

Over time, I had watched, worked and interacted with these rather strange characters and after the shoot I found myself back in the post production studio. It was an amazing feeling to be allowed a continued part in bringing these characters further to life. Knowing that my hand could have been the last to have played a part in the shots final hours was the drive to stay late and learn.

So, what is this Smoke?

The Smoke is a software package and at first glance it takes you into the complete unknown. It plays with your insecurities as a budding operator and questions your methods. All that may have been learned in past software packages, such as Adobe AfterFX or Discreet’s Combustion is still very much valid,
but the Smoke lures you in. It walks you down a path of complete nervousness with nonsense menus, swipe gestures and FX nodes. Finally, it throws you into the compositing abyss where only screams of “why wont this work!” and “This is so easy in AfterFX!” echo the corridors.

Knowing the software now, it is understandably complicated. It is used as a powerful tool for both compositing, fast re-versioning edits and ‘wowing’/confusing (delete where you feel appropriate) your client. It can produce results fast and once ‘cracked’ an operator never simply operates the Smoke, they perform with it.