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How To Create Clips From the Desktop in Smoke 2013

How To Create Clips From the Desktop in Smoke 2013

While Autodesk Smoke has many abilities to import and conform footage from an outside source, such as ingesting from a tape or importing from a filesystem, there are many times the user may want to create a clip from scratch.

These clips may be used in various ways: as edit clips in the timeline, or as a container for Connect FX. In this tutorial, we will explore a several different ways to create media, which can be accomplished through the File menu, by Command-clicking in the desktop, or from the Tools tab at the bottom of the screen.

The first method is the easiest, using the File menu.

  • In the toolbar at the top of the screen, click “File” and hover over the “New” option in the dropdown menu.

Creating a new clip from the File menu.

Creating a new clip from the File menu.

Here you see the five different kinds of clips you can create with this method: Color Source, Color Bars, Noise, Gradient, and Audio Tone.

  • Choose “Colour Source” to bring up the Colour Source Creation dialog.

The New Clip dialog box

Selecting a color chip will change the clip’s color, or you can click in the color square to bring up Smoke’s standard color selection tool, where you can enter a custom color using the color picker, or by entering specific color values for YUV, RGB, or HLS color models.

You can also select the many different options you have with creating clips, including resolution, frame rate, bit depth, aspect ratio, length, and whether you want an audio track to be included with the clip.

Notice that your project’s defaults are already entered into the clip metadata fields.

  • Click the “Cancel” button to exit the Color Source Creation dialog box.

Next, we’ll look at an easy way to create another kind of clip, this time directly from the desktop.

  • Command+Click on the desktop to bring up a contextual menu.

Alternately, if you are using a mouse, you can right click on the mouse button to bring up the contextual menu.

  • Roll over the “New” option, and the same clip options are available to you as from the File > New menu.

Smoke's Contextual Menu

Selecting a new Color Bar clip from the contextual menu.

  • Select the “Colour Bars” option to bring up the Colour Bars Creation dialog.

Notice you have all the same clip metadata options such as Resolution, Frame Rate, etc. along with the Colour Bars options.

  • Click the “Create” button to exit the dialog and create a Colour Bar clip.

Notice where the new clip has been placed on the desktop.

At this point, use either the File > New or the Command + Click > New method to look at the other clip creation options. They are all very similar, except for the Audio Tone option, where the usual clip metadata doesn’t apply, since you’re creating only audio with that one.

So far, we have looked at a couple of easy ways to create five different kinds of clips using the clip dialog box. Next we will get introduced to several more ways of creating clips, this time using the Tools tab at the bottom of the screen. These tools use Modules, separate areas of Autodesk Smoke which give us more control over how we want our clips to look. This modular workflow is a very powerful aspect of Smoke, giving you all the options you need for the effect you’re working on without being distracted by the parts of the program you don’t need. You can also save and restore setups you’ve made specific to the modules. When you are finished working in the module, the resulting clip is either generated or rendered.

The three different ways the user can create clips with the Clip Tools tab are: Paint, Text, and Gradient.

  • To access the Clip Tools menu, click the “Tools” tab at the bottom of the screen.

The Tools Tab

Access the clip tools from the “Tools” tab at the bottom of the desktop.

This brings up the Clip Tools menu. First we’ll look at the Paint tool.


• Click the button labeled “Paint” from the clip tools menu.

You will see a new panel appear at the bottom right: the “Expected Inputs” panel.


You will notice the top button of this panel labeled “Front” is a dropdown list. A dropdown list is indicated by the two vertical arrows on the right of the button, and offer additional options to the default one shown.

The default button setting is “Front“. This setting allows you to select a single clip from your library or desktop. But we dont have any clips to select yet, so we’re going to create one.

  • Click the dropdown button labeled “Front” from the “Expected Inputs” panel.

  • When the dropdown list appears, select the “None” option.

Paint clips with None option


The “None” option tells Smoke that you want to create a new clip to take into Paint. A new menu pops out to the right, allowing you to specify the size, resolution, bit depth, aspect ratio, and framerate of the new clip.

Clip settings for the Paint tool

In this case, the settings are already selected. Look familiar? These are the default project settings you specified when you created your project. This is where we can begin to see the benefits of having our project settings properly set, and Autodesk Smoke will default to these settings in all modules when entered for the first time. This speeds up your workflow and eliminates errors. However, these menus also allow you to change the settings, should you choose to do so. For now, we will keep the settings at their project defaults.

Another thing to notice when you selected the “None” option is the cursor changed. There should be a small line of text that says “Render Here”, along with a crossed out circle, if your are still hovering the cursor over the toolbar. This is Smoke’s way of asking you where you want the destination clip to be, and the crossed out circle is present because you cannot render a clip to the toolbar. Move the cursor up to the desktop area and you will notice the cursor changes to a crosshair symbol.

  • Click the crosshair in the desktop to set the destination for the clip.

Setting the Paint Clip's destination


The entire screen changes. You have been magically transported to the Paint module!

We won’t explore the Paint module right now, but we will paint something in the blank canvas above the tools area. The default paintbrush is already set and waiting for your masterpiece.

  • Click-drag the paint cursor in the blank canvas to paint something.

Not quite the Mona Lisa, but it will work for now.

Not quite the Mona Lisa, but it will work for now.

  • When you’re done, click the “Exit” button in the left corner of the toobar.



You are transported back to the desktop. A proxy of your painted clip is present in the location you clicked the cursor when you entered the Paint module.

The finished painted clip

The finished painted clip, back in the desktop.

You have successfully created a clip in Smoke with a duration of one frame. You can drag the proxy around the desktop, drop it in your library, or do any number of things with it.

If you wish to paint some more on your masterpiece, you can select the “Front” option in the “Selected Inputs” menu and click your painted clip to re-enter the Paint module with that clip. Or, you can select the button under that called “Use Current Setup” to enter Paint with your most recent setup, which is a nice shortcut. Another quick way to access the same setup is clicking twice on the Paint button. Notice the little “S” button to the right of the paint button? When enabled, it will also take you to the same setup you were previously.

Now let’s look at the Text module to create clips from scratch.


  • In the Clip Tools menu, select the “Text” button.

Enter the text module

Entering the Text module.

  • In the “Expected Inputs” menu, select the “None” option.

  • Click the cursor on the desktop to enter the Text module.

You will be taken to the text module. Like the Paint module, it has tools on the bottom and the blank area at the top where you will enter your text.

  • Click the text cursor in the blank area to bring up a text entry field.

  • Type a message in the text entry field.

The text module

Entering your message to the world in the Text module.

Remember how the Paint clip we created only had a single frame? This time we will create our text clip to be 24 frames long. Find the duration field near the middle of the screen, to the right of the timebar.

  • Click in the Duration Field.

Notice the Timecode Calculator appears. You can use the calculator, or just enter digits in the text entry field at the top.

  • In the Timecode Calculator’s text entry field, type “24”. Press “Enter” on the Timecode Calculator or press your physical keyboard’s “Return” key.

The frame duration field


The Duration Field updates the resulting clip’s length to one second of SMPTE timecode, read as 00:00:01:00, which is 24 frames in our default timecode setting of 24 fps.

If you prefer, you can read the clip’s frames as frames instead of timecode. To do this, click in the button above the Duration Field labeled “Timecode”. This toggles the unit to “Frames”, which is a bit more friendly to we humans.
  • Exit the module via the “Exit” button to the left of the screen.

Wait a minute! Where’s our clip?

Nearly all Smoke’s modules will require a render. Since we exited the Text module without rendering, Autodesk Smoke thought we were not ready to render to create the clip yet. So how do we get back where we were?

  • Click the “Text” button again in the Clip Tools menu.

Re-Entering the Text Module

Click twice to re-enter with the same settings.

Notice the little “S” button to the right of the “Text” button? When depressed, this tells Smoke that you want to re-enter the Text module’s previous setup with the same settings.

  • Click the “Text” button a second time to enable the “S” switch, and then click on the desktop to select a render destination and enter the Text module.

  • Once back in the Text module, click the “Render” button at the left of the screen to render the clip.

Render the text

The desktop reappears, and your painted clip is no longer lonely… it has the rendered text clip beside it. Notice its length status in the lower left of the proxy is one second.

Rendered Text clip


Next we will create a gradient clip.


By now, you should have the hang of entering a module, selecting the input, changing the length in the module, and rendering it. Try it now:

  1. Select the Gradient tool in the Clip Tools menu.

  2. In the Gradient module, update the Duration Field to 48 frames (2 seconds).

  3. Render the clip.

Your resulting proxy on the desktop should look something like this:

The Gradient result

Totally Grad.

Congratulations! You have successfully explored Smoke’s various options for how to create clips on the desktop.

Questions? Comments? Problems with the tutorial, or getting Autodesk Smoke for Mac to work as described in this tutorial? Give your feedback below, and thanks for reading. Good Luck!

– Smoke Sensei

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