Autodesk Smoke 2015 Review

What is Autodesk Smoke?!

Autodesk Smoke 2015 combines powerful video effects capabilities with an easy-to-use editing platform. Most people think of Smoke as a finishing package, but it’s also a full editing package with a node-based compositor built in. Wait — what's a node-based compositor? Unlike layer-based compositors like Adobe After Effects, which render linearly from the bottom layer to the top, a node-based compositor allows you to quickly lay out extremely complex scenes and even 3D environments that can render in parallel!

The Redesigned Timeline FX Ribbon
Node-based Compositing of 3D Text and Graphics
This is why powerful node-based compositing is the mainstream for visual effects in the movie industry with packages like Nuke, Shake and Fusion. The other major advantage to node-based compositing is the intuitive way that the entire composition is shown to the user. If you use After Effects, you’re likely aware that diving down into a complex composition can quickly become confusing — with precomps within precomps and hundreds of layers and adjustment layers. This is why After Effects has its pseudo "node view" meant to mimic a node-based compositing UI-style.

Smoke 2015 is also a full-fledged video editing software package. For Final Cut users, the keyboard shortcuts are exactly the same, so crossing over is easy (but we'll get into that a bit more later). 

Using Autodesk Smoke 2015

It won’t take long for experienced editors to get a grasp on Smoke. As stated above, the keyboard shortcuts are the same as for Final Cut Pro 7. However it works a bit more like Avid Media Composer on a few things that even Autodesk calls "gotchas,” such as your playhead in the clip-preview window acting as an implicit in-point. However, once you get used to these, the learning curve on Smoke is extremely quick. 

It’s also a full editing package with a node-based compositor built in.

Smoke 2015 includes the standard transition set complete with the standard SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) wipes. Moreover, you can easily (VERY easily) customize transitions. They appear on the timeline just as transitions would in any video editing software, but the customization interface makes it obvious they are handled as a composited effect on the back-end. For instance, say you want to use a logo-shape as a wipe element. Easy as pie and quick as a lightning bolt: open the effect panel for a wipe transition, and you can easily change the shape and path of the vector used for the wipe and save it as a favorite for re-use. This makes creating graphics packages for any project simple and fast without the need to jump back and forth between After Effects and your editing software.

The Redesigned Timeline FX Ribbon
The Redesigned Timeline FX Ribbon
Using ConnectFX within Smoke 2015 is simple, and very cool. Granted, it doesn’t replace Nuke — it's more light-weight than a fully dedicated node-based compositor — but compared to other video editing software packages, Smoke 2015's ConnectFX is extremely powerful. Most things that would require shifting from Premiere Pro to After Effects (or Media Composer to Avid DS), can be done directly from within Smoke using ConnectFX.

As stated before, most people think of Smoke as a finishing package, and of course, it shines here, as well.  The color correction tools — especially the Color Warper — are formidable. Moreover, they are simple to use.  The Color Warper has an embedded histogram, and this makes altering your colors, contrast and looks effortless. If you're in the Adobe world, you could think of the Color Warper as Curves, HSV, Brightness/Contrast and Tint all in one effect. 

The Limitations

Although using Smoke 2015 feels like a breath of fresh air (easy, fast and extremely stable), no video editing software is pure greatness. The biggest, most blazingly obvious limitation is that Smoke can only be used on a single monitor. WHAT?! The idea of limiting an editing package to a single-monitor computer seems outdated, and quite frankly a bit ludicrous. We tested on a massive Mac-Pro with two huge UHD monitors, yet only one could be used. Most assuredly annoying. However, once past the initial visceral response to this limitation, we tended to forget all about it while giggling at the power at our fingertips.

Smoke 2015 is also unfortunately a Mac-only package. With the turn Apple has taken in the last few years toward catering more to the consumer electronics market than the professional production market, it would be nice to have the alternative to work in PC or even Linux-based environments. 

Finally, a user cannot specify the working hard drive from within the Smoke interface. You'll need to open the Smoke utilities application and add all of your working and project folders to make them options from within Smoke. It’s a bit of a roundabout way of setting things up, but if you're working in a multi-user editing house, this can make workflows a bit more streamlined. So is this a limitation? That's debatable, and depends on your company's workflow. 


Autodesk Smoke 2015 is incredible video editing software. Its price may be steep, and it's subscription-only, but this package is incredibly powerful, and more important, it’s stable. Not one crash.  Not one hang. We threw everything we had at it, and it just kept taking it. In short, Autodesk Smoke 2015 allows the creativity to flow: seamlessly, quickly and nonstop. It's easily one of the best products on the market in the editing world, and we look forward to seeing what the Smoke community creates with it.

Autodesk, Inc
Monthly (basic support): $185; Annual (basic support): $1,470
Monthly (advanced support): $205; Annual (advanced support): $1,630
30-day trial available; extended trial for students 

Tech Specs

  • Operating System: Mac OSX 10.7.5 or later, 10.8.x or 10.9.x
  • CPU: 64-bit Intel multi-core processor
  • Storage Space: 3GB free disk space for download and installation
  • RAM: 8GB minimum; 16GB recommended
  • Graphics/VRAM: 512GB+
  • License Restrictions: Subscription only
  • Requires Internet Connection: Yes


  • Built-in node-based compositor and effects
  • Extremely stable
  • Quick workflow
  • Easy learning curve (if you’ve ever edited before) with detailed tutorials


  • Mac only
  • Only supports one computer monitor for the User Interface
  • Pricey, and subscription only


Ty Audronis is a respected post-production consultant, editor, VFX specialist and cinematic drone pilot.

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