By Frank McMahon
In gFx Pro's main work space, all of the tools are accessible via tabs, which improves the creative work flow.
Curious Software ups the ante with an update to its desktop compositing program, gFx Pro. Curious gFx Pro 2.5 is suitable for painting, animation, rotoscoping, and digital effects for film and television, in up to 6k resolution and full 16 bit.
For those unfamiliar with the company and the program, Curious Software's claim to fame has been, up to this point, Curious World Maps software, a leading broadcast map-creation program. The company has employed much of that popular program's feature set in the creation of a desktop compositing program somewhat similar to Adobe After Effects and Discreet Com-bustion. Curious gFx Pro 2.5 falls into generally the same price category of those programs. The 8-bit version is priced at $999, while the 16-bit version runs $1999.
Installation is quick and easy, and copy protection is ensured via an Ethernet-linked license file on your machine or a dongle. Curious is very protective, whereas vendors, such as Discreet and Adobe, have loosened their copy protection in recent years through the elimination of dongles, for example. Curious's tight control could adversely affect its market share, as it often inconveniences and annoys legal users.
After gFx Pro is launched, the main screen opens with all your tools in full view. This seemingly simple characteristic is perhaps the best feature a compositing program can offer. Viewing footage with your tool set surrounding it, rather than having features buried in sub-menus and alternate windows, is in-valuable, and key to a productive work flow.
The top row, above your footage, includes buttons for loading various elements, such as video, images, text, and shapes. To the right appear stacks of layers. The program excels at masking and having layers interact with one another, so having them on screen at all times is handy for manipulation. At the bottom of the interface are various playback controls, as well as multiple tabs for adding painting, lighting, and layer effects and for altering content on screen. Each layer can be composited with other layers in different ways. You can position, scale, and rotate a layer; adjust transparency; matte out a section; rotoscope a matte; choose a blend mode, such as dodge, burn, subtract, and pin light; and add trails and drop shadows.
Animators will love the many Paintbox features, including onion skinning and wire rig removal. In fact, it's safe to say that while other compositing programs are dedicated to adding footage effects, gFx is geared more toward roll-up-your-sleeves, pixel-pushing work—animating items and removing ob-jects that need to be deleted. Most impressive are the program's tracking controls, which are crucial to any animator. The automatic tracking is amazingly easy to produce and adjust. After a quick glance at the manual, in fact, I was able to track a graphic to a motion path I created in roughly one minute.
As for new features in this 2.5 update, viewer guides are included for various aspect ratios, cached frames play back faster and more efficiently, B-spline shapes have more control options, and keycode info exports with Cineon frames. Moreover, Restore Brush brings back your animated brush with a single click, RAM playback is adjustable, a new smoothing algorithm has been added to motion paths, and shapes can now be grouped in a tree hierarchy.
Curious's gFx Pro 2.5 has much to like, yet I was a little disappointed with its video card compatibility, consisting of only a few boards (Decklink and DPS). And while it works with QuickTime-compatible I/O cards, I'd like to see compatibility with Fire-Wire output or 3D GL video for the program to be used with a dedicated monitor.
Technical support, via e-mail only, costs $150 per year. I wish Curious would include free basic support. I can't comment on the quality of the support, because I did not require any assistance—a good thing.
The program's polished interface, similar to Discreet's Combustion, puts everything right in front of you and one quick click away. The learning curve is not steep; after going through a few of the included tutorials, you can figure out most of the program's features. If you are into pixel work, animating, motion tracking, keying, and rotoscoping, Curious gFx is a solid piece of software with a great interface.
Frank McMahon (www.fmstudio.com) is a graphics professional with more than 15 years' experience testing high-end software and hardware tools for the creative community.
Curious Software www.curious-software.com
Computer Graphics World September, 2004
Price: $999 for the 8-bit version, $1999 for the 16-bit version
Minimum System Requirements: Windows NT 4, 2000, or XP with the latest service packs or Mac OS 10.2.3; a Pentium III 700mhz or equivalent or G4; 256mb of RAM, and 1.3gb of hard-disk space