Smoke Signals
May 16, 2014

Smoke Signals

Recently, Autodesk began offering Smoke 2015, its professional video editing software. Aside from significant updates and new creative tools, there will be another big change: the software is available as a Desktop Subscription. To get new users up to speed on this latest version, Autodesk is delivering a custom experience to accompany the 30-day Smoke trial.

To this end, the company has enlisted assistance from Amy Leland, a director and editor in New York City who serves as a freelance editor for CBS Sports Network. The tutorials can be found at .

Meanwhile, in the following Q&A, Leland discusses Smoke and the videos, and provides a glimpse at how her tutorials are relevant for editors with a broad background.

Tell us about your professional background.

I was lucky enough to go to a middle school magnet program for which we did darkroom photography in the 7th grade and video editing in the 8th grade. Throughout high school, I did student video projects. But, I didn't consider it as a professional path until I found myself in a master’s program for directing in theater, and started to think about how I was going to find work after graduation. I decided to take the experience I had working in the IT industry and combine it with my passion for theater, and start working toward becoming a filmmaker. In 2003, I bought myself a PowerBook and started teaching myself Final Cut Pro. By 2006, I had earned some professional certifications and was working as a freelance editor. In 2009, I became a certified trainer for Apple in Final Cut, Motion, and Color. Since then, I've also become an Avid Certified Instructor and an Autodesk Certified Instructor.

As a freelance editor, I've worked for clients such as Scripps Networks, 1800Flowers, Fresh Direct, and many others. In 2010, I became the assistant editor for "Inside the Actors Studio" on Bravo, and this summer I became an editor for CBS Sports Network. I've also done work in independent film and web series content as both a director and editor.
How did you approach the challenge of creating multiple tutorial paths for people with different backgrounds?

Because I have experience as both an editor and a motion graphics artist, I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone doing those jobs. While my hope is that users will enjoy the interface so much that they'll want to use all the tools it has to offer, I know that someone who is primarily an editor will be more focused on knowing how the editing and trimming tools will relate to the other tools they already know, but be excited about how easily they can add effects to their work. Someone who sees themselves as primarily an effects artist will want to know how to quickly get to the effects workflow, and will often be working in situations where they inherit an edit from the offline editor, as an EDL or XML. Smoke is a great tool that works in all stages of the process, so the greatest challenge was keeping the videos relatively short, and not going on and on about all of the wonderful features.
You have a lot of experience with teaching Smoke and editing. What have you learned about how people approach learning new software?

One thing every student I have ever had has in common is that we ALL learn software better by seeing and doing. In both the classroom courses I teach, and in tutorial videos, for me the most important thing is to be able to get hands-on and do the exercises or examples for yourself. One thing I really love about this Smoke Experience is that it gives users who are evaluating the trial a good path for USING the software while deciding if they want to buy it. I honestly think it's going to convince more people to get the software after the trial, because they'll have a better idea of how to use the software, and what they can accomplish with it. Trying to make that kind of evaluation without any guidance or examples can be very daunting and overwhelming. I'm hoping these videos will help open the door a bit wider for those trying to come in.

In your experience, what kind of challenges do users face when learning tools like Smoke?

Smoke is a very complicated piece of software. I won't lie, when I first started learning it, I felt very overwhelmed. It was far more complex than any other editing or effects software I'd previously used. Now, here's the good news about that. The redesign of the interface makes it significantly easier for a user to get started. I think it's also pretty daunting to get started with a software that can do so much. How do you figure out where to start? Hopefully these tutorial videos will give new users some bite-sized tasks to try, and once they know those, it will be less intimidating to branch out and keep learning more.
Do you have any advice for someone learning Smoke?

There are a lot of people out there who have been using Smoke for a long time and are very good at it. Take advantage of all of the resources you can find by people who've figured things out, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Use these tutorial videos, use the Smoke Learning Channel on YouTube, and look for great professional forums online, especially if they include folks like Grant Kay and Ken LaRue, two experts who have been particularly helpful to me. Also, just pick a project and start doing it. Thinking up an idea, and then figuring out how to make it work, is the best way to see what a design tool can do.