Fusion has been around a long time but it seems that it has been flying under the radar for the past few years. The software began as an in-house project at Sydney-based NYPD in 1987. Eyeon Software was formed to commercialize it and started selling it with the name Digital Fusion in 1996, and now it resides under the Blackmagic Design (BMD) umbrella of "creative video technology".
BMD acquired Eyeon in 2014, and a lot of people were questioning at that time why they would absorb a company and software that put them in direct competition with Autodesk Smoke, and Nuke from The Foundry. But if you look at BMD's history, and where they wanted to be in the industry, it made perfect sense. BMD was known for delivering video technology that primarily dealt with I/O and for allowing editors and producers to work with and deliver the highest quality video, and they had successfully brought the expensive and somewhat cumbersome DaVinci colour grading application to the masses, for free, only after giving it a new interface and sleek workflow. So rethinking Fusion in the same manner only made sense; give their customers a toolset that will allow them to take their content, add motion graphics and/or visual effects, and deliver it.
Now with the release of Fusion 8.2, content creators can build their whole pipeline within the BMD toolset, all the way from filming with the Blackmagic URSA, motion graphics and visual effects in Fusion 8.2, and then final colour grading and onlining with DaVinci.
Fusion 8.2 brings the compositing toolset to Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, and it comes in one of two options; Fusion 8.2 (free) and Fusion 8.2 Studio ($995). In the following review I will look at some of the key features that come with Fusion 8.2 and see what it has to offer. I will also take a look at how it fits into the compositing software's landscape, when put up against competing software like Nuke, After Effects, and HitFilm.
Fusion is a node-based compositor, offering a very similar workflow to its competitor, Nuke. Fusion has been node-based as far as I can remember, even back in 2002 when I used it just out of school, which pre-dates Nuke as we know it now. The workflow is quite simple, you start with one node, and then connect your operations as you move through your composite. Typically you would import your assets through a Loader Node or 3D import node, and then apply colour corrections, keying, etc. to your assets. When opening Fusion, the default interface gives you two viewports, a node graph down below, and then a settings or attributes panel to the right. Nuke, in comparison, behaves different. You have a viewer node that allows you to select and connect a graph to a node for viewing. In Fusion, you can simply select the node of your choice, then without letting go simply drag it into the viewport.
All tools can be accessed via the menu at the top, or by right-clicking in any of the panels. The tools made available in the right-click menu are context sensitive; meaning you will get access to different tools depending on which panel you are in. Each tool selection will be dropped on the node graph and you can simply connect the nodes together to start building your composite (or script as it is sometimes referred to). You can also hit shift+space bar and it will bring up a list of available tools. It would be nice if this was a simple hotkey instead of a 2 key combination. Not a big deal, but just one of those little details that can save some time when doing repetitive tasks.
One thing I noticed, is Fusion's workflow for dealing with multichannel EXRs is much different than Nuke's. In Nuke, you have easy access to channels anywhere in your comp, and splitting up your multichannel EXR into specific elements is fairly straightforward, thanks to various tools that are available for free. In Fusion, you have to create a new loader any time you want to access a different channel within your multichannel EXR. Also, as of right now, there is no easy way to split up your multichannel EXR into specific elements without some scripting experience. There had been a script that worked with previous versions of Fusion, but as of version 8.0, it no longer works. After Effects functions much the same way, but I found it significantly easier to use than the Fusion method of going through a bunch of dropdown lists and selecting the specific channel I needed.
Keying & Roto
Fusion comes with the standard tools available in most compositing software. Keying & Roto tools are no exception. Listed under the 'Matte' tools, users will have access to keying tools like Primatte, and Ultra keyer, both of which are very capable keyers. Roto tools can be located under the "Mask" category. Here you will find everything you need for making mattes, tracking roto shapes, and creating any additional channels you might need in a composite.
Fusion also offers some really great 3D capabilities. Besides being able to import 3D cameras, geometry and data, Fusion also allows you to create 3D text from scratch in your composite. The Text3D node allows you to create some text using any of the fonts you have installed, and then extrude it and give it depth and shading whilst maintaining control over font size, kerning, and font choice. This can be a real time saver when you are creating motion graphics with lots of text. Instead of the normal back-and-forth between a 3D application and compositor, it can all be handled in Fusion.
Shading and lighting are also part of the 3D toolset in Fusion. You can bring in 3D meshes and light them as you like using the various light sources like point, ambient, or spots.
Deep Data, Optical Flow, and Stereo workflows are supported in the Fusion 8.2 Studio version. Fusion 8.2 does not include the Stereo workflow tools, or the Optical Flow toolset.
Effects & Particles
One area that really stood out to me, were the particles tools available in Fusion. Lots of great nodes that give you lots of control over how your particles behave, and react with one another in a scene. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many particles I could have showing in the viewport before my MacBook started to slow down. One thing I would have liked to see, was a folder of presets that one could load, and customize to your liking. Overall though, a really nice set of tools that give you even more control and flexibility in the composite. Creating a little dust hit here, or a colliding rain system there is totally possible.
It would be a nice addition if users had access to a toolset that allowed them to animate and manipulate shapes and text a bit easier. Fusion comes with a great Follower modifier that allows to create text effects with lots of control over per-character text animation for motion graphics work. Animation presets in line with what After Effects has to offer would be a welcome addition.
Fusion 8.2 vs Fusion 8.2 Studio
As mentioned previously, Fusion 8.2 is available in two versions. The main differences between the two comes down to whether; A.) You will be doing stereo/optical flow work or need to use plugins from third party companies, and B.) You work in a studio and need multiple licenses for artists and/or rendering. If the answer is Yes to either A or B, then you will want to look into Fusion 8.2 Studio. Also with Studio, you get access to unlimited network rendering, and scripts that can help automate things on your network. Fusion 8.2 does not come with this customization so you will only be able to render through the compositing interface.
Generation is a project management toolset in Fusion 8.2 Studio that allows for collaboration between multiple artists working on the same project. Supervisors and producers can assign and track shots, keep track of their status, and even review and annotate dailies so everyone is kept in the loop. This is something similar to Shotgun Software which also allows for tracking and reviewing shots.
In conclusion, Fusion 8.2 (Studio) has a lot going for it. It is a really great piece of software that has all the tools any budding or experienced compositor might need. With Fusion 8.2 being free, and the full Studio version coming in at $995, this tool is a steal. It has a nice clean interface that allows you to immediately understand what is going on in the composite, and with the default toolset it can easily keep pace with its competitors. A better method for dealing with multichannel EXRs would be a nice addition, as it would speedup and ease the compositing workflow. Fusion has also been around for many years, so there is also a great wealth of tutorials out there that will get you started in the right direction.