OWC 12.4

Review: Blackmagic Design’s Fusion 7.6 Studio

This compositing pro gives us an overview of the newest version.

By Joël Gibbs

Blackmagic made big news with its acquisition of Eyeon last year, and it didn’t take long for them to rebrand the software and make the tool its own. The acquisition happened in mid September, and by December 19, Fusion 7.6 Studio was shipping.

Personally, I was pretty excited about the acquisition. Those of us that have been using Fusion for a few years (I’m pretty recent, picking it up about five or six years ago) were worried about the product’s future. Fusion the software was still great, but there were marketing issues, and third-party developers were pulling away from it. Now Blackmagic has put Fusion back in the forefront of the compositing scene, and they did it in three steps: one, gave it good marketing; two, restored confidence that the package won’t disappear in the next year; and three — and
this is where Blackmagic shows us its genius — gave it away to the world for free.

We now have two versions of Fusion: a free version and Fusion Studio, which sells for $995. Both versions are fairly similar in features, the main differences being that the free version doesn’t support third-party plug-ins or render nodes. Fusion Studio has all the bells and whistles, and now comes with Generation (shot tracking, versioning and reviewing software that interfaces with Fusion), Dimension (Optical Flow and stereo tools) and Avid Connect (connects Fusion to Avid Media Composer).

Fusion is in its seventh major release. Right before the acquisition, Eyeon released Fusion 7.0 that had been nearly two years in the making. From the release notes, this was a major rewrite in the 3D engine and user interface, with a massive amount of bug fixes all around.

For the purpose of this review, I’m going to give you some broad strokes of what to expect, or not expect. If you’re coming from Nuke, you’ll find a lot of similar tools and general workflow. I say general, because even though Nuke and Fusion are node-based apps, they have different philosophies regarding certain tasks. So there will be some adapting and rethinking. If you’re coming from an edit app or layer-based compositing like After Effects, this will give you a good idea as to what you can expect

Things You Can Expect From Fusion 7.6 Studio
It’s a well-rounded compositing packageyou get all your basics and more.
Color correction — You have many color correction tools, and for me the color correction node has always been fun to work with. It has levels, hue saturation, lift, gain, gamma and contrast all in one spot.

Tracking — You have 2D tracking out of the box in Fusion. Right now, Fusion doesn’t have its own 3D tracker. (Though for the current price of Fusion, you can afford to get SynthEyes, which exports just fine to Fusion.)

Keying — You have two keyers out of the box: Ultimatte and Primatte. But you’ll also want to check a free third-party Fuse called KAK (Kick Ass Keyer) made by a power-user named Pieter Van Houte. It started out as an alternative to Nuke’s IBK keyer, but has become much more.

Particles — Fusion has highly controllable particle systems that exist in 2D or in 3D. You have all sorts of parameter nodes, such as directional forces, friction, flocking, turbulence, avoidance and many more.

Masking/Rotoscoping — You have all the tools you need to get the job done in this area too, including a roto-assist as of version 7.

An awesome 3D compositing package — Fusion has a great 3D system that allows you to create shapes and/or import 3D geometry. You can texture, animate, deform, project onto and emit particles from the geometry. It supports the latest FBX import, and has more recently added Alembic support. To give you a quick idea, you can do pretty much anything you could do with Andrew Kramer’s Element 3D and, frankly, a lot more. What you won’t have is the extensive library of pre-made shaders, objects and the animation engine.

The power of node-based compositing — There’s a place for layer-based compositing, and to me it’s never been an either/or situation. Motion graphics have just always been easier for me to take on in Adobe After Effects, though some people out there use Fusion for it. But when you get into the nitty-gritty of shot-based compositing, there’s nothing like nodes — no more precomping; it’s all there for you to look at and tweak.

As a side note, I remember an effect I was working on for an independent feature film. It took me forever to get it set up and looking good in Fusion. I thought to myself at the time, “I should have used AE to get this done.” But I hadn’t realized that I needed that effect in two other shots. Because the node tree was built, it was an easy copy and paste —change out two nodes, slip in two keyframes and bam! Done!

It’s fast
It’s fast in several ways. First the 3D viewport with all the geometry in there is fast. It doesn’t bog down, even with pretty dense scenes. Now I hear from Fusion/Nuke users that Fusion has an upper hand as far as handling 3D scenes, but that is hearsay. I’m sure someone will hunt me down for saying that. You can do the tests and tell me.

Over the past few years, Fusion has been tapping into the graphics card more and more. It uses OpenCL for many of its volume tools. Tools like volume mask and volume fog will literally save you hours of rendering compared to the traditional 3D rendering way. More and more tools are making their way to having OpenCL options in them.

Fusion’s 3D rendering engine comes in two flavors also. It has its traditional software render engine, but also has an advanced OpenGL render engine. The GL engine is fast, especially if you’re sporting a high-end card, like an Nvidia Titan or something.

Tech Support
The Fusion development team has been a rather small one over the past few years, but they always answered emails regarding bugs, hang-ups, unexpected software behavior, etc. Now that Blackmagic is invested, I can’t imagine that changing. I’ve actually been in contact with the support team several times in the past month, and they’ve either helped out or passed along concerns to the development team.

Things You Won’t Get in Fusion 7
Good audio support — Fusion has supported audio for some time, but it’s kinda bare bones. You can’t scrub or make markers or really use it effectively in your comp. A third-party plug-in package called Krokodove does have a plug-in that can use the audio to generate keyframes, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Good documentation — If you’re a manual person who likes to read it through a few times to get to know the tool, this is going to hurt. They have a manual, and it’s been somewhat updated, but there’s still quite a bit of documentation missing, especially when it comes to getting the most out of Fusion through scripting. Let’s hope that Blackmagic changes that. In the meantime, you could check out their training videos.

Lots of third-party plug-ins — There are some plug-ins for Fusion out there, but as I mentioned earlier, many of them have dropped off over the years. That said, there are some signs that make me think this situation might change.

The perfect compositing package — Sorry guys, as much as I like using Fusion, it still has its issues. It still has that certain feature that wasn’t implemented just right or that thing that makes you wonder how people can even use it in production. You can find many online discussions about the woes of managing multichannel EXRs, or working in linear color space caveats, and how they should or shouldn’t be done.

Summing Up
In conclusion, if this seems like a tool that might help in your work, there’s no reason not to try it out and see what you think about it for yourself. Thanks to its price point of $995, it’s pretty hard to get anything out there that has the same bang for its buck.

Joël Gibbs is a director and lead compositor at Nashville-based Magnetic Dreams (@MagneticDreams), a digital content and animation studio. Check out his recent Behind the Title on postPerspective. 

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