IFX-Supreme joins the node-based compositing club

IFX-Supreme joins the node-based compositing club

BrainDistrict released the first public version of IFX-Supreme, a commercial node-based image editor for Linux, Windows and Mac. LGW took a closer look at it.

Since the company already has an image editor (PaintSupreme, see here for v1.0 review) and works on a 3D modeling application, a tool for node-based compositing was only to be expected.

Main window with the NodeGraph mode enabled

IFX-Supreme: main window with the NodeGraph mode enabled

What's the point of nodes?

If you are into node-based compositing, IFX-Supreme is quite a bit like The Foundry NUKE, Autodesk Toxik, Eyeon Fusion and Ramen. If you are more of conventional image editing persuasion, you will surely recall Mathmap for GIMP, and Filter Forge for Adobe Photoshop.

In other words, IFX-Supreme allows freely combining various effects in a graph composition. That makes it possible to create complex effects and color grading filters from basic “bricks”.

Example of a node composition

Linking effects: part of a node composition to simulate sepia toning

A composition of nodes can be saved to be reopened and adjusted at any later time. So the primary file format is an IFX project.

Specifics of implementation

While IFX-Supreme shares basic concepts with other similar tools, it still has its ways of doing things.

First of all, let's get the terminology right, because the application differentiates between filters and effects.

Much like with Inkscape and SVG, a filter in IFX-Supreme is a combination of effects connected in a graph. You can use several filters, but you can only stack them linearly, using one of 8 available blending modes.

Stack of filters in IFX-Supreme

Stack of filters: you can tweak settings, but you can't move filters up and down the stack. Not yet.

An effect is just that: a single particular color adjustment or generator or something else that you can combine with some other effect.

That is, if you want to try and emulate a popular Orton effect, you need to create two filters: one will contain a blur effect, the other will have a sharpen effect. Then you'd have to pick relevant blending modes and tweak opacity.

A more traditional node-based editor would just let you plug the output from the source node into different effect nodes, then apply blending modes to them, then mix them and plug into output node. If you are more used to this kind of compositions, you might find IFX-Supreme a bit cumbersome to use.

All settings of an effect are controlled in a sidebar on the “Current Node” tab. Alternatively you can use the “Important Parameters” tab which lists most important settings from each node in the currently selected filter.

Important parameters can be controlled from the Image View mode too

Important parameters can be controlled from the Image View mode too.

IFX-Supreme doesn't allow loading masks from images or painting new ones. The idea is that PaintSupreme v1.2 will be able to use IFX filters and effects and control them via the “Important Parameters”. This version of PaintSupreme is scheduled to be released later this month. Hopefully in the future both apps will interact a lot more than that.

Animating changes

IFX-Supreme has a timeline (Ctrl+B to toggle) where you can add keyframes to animate effect settings.

Automatic animation is available

Automatic animation is available, as well as few playback modes

The principle is pretty much the same as everywhere:

  1. Create a new keyframe in the beginning and define initial settings for all nodes.
  2. Create the next keyframe, apply changes to nodes composition or tweak settings of nodes.
  3. Repeat step 2 until you're done.
  4. Save the animation as a sequence of images (file format is configurable in Preferences)

The bottleneck here is rendering. Since the application currently doesn't seem to employ mipmapping and other techniques to cut the fat, previewing animations on a full-size photo is pretty much unusable. Actually, this should be discussed separately.

Rendering

Unfortunately, rendering is the part of the application that still needs heaps of work. Here are some basic gripes.

Even though reportedly some caching is in place, IFX seems to rerun rendering from the very beginning every time you tweak any node's settings, the position of that node regardless. Even more, it will render the image again even if you remove a node that isn't connected to anything.

IFX-Supreme is single-threaded currently. Multithreading will be available in v1.1 and, in fact, is currently in the testing. After that the team is going to implement OpenCL. Sounds like a good idea.

The only way to switch off the autoupdate is to disable the filter in the filters stack. As computations are currently very heavy, you might find this quite useful.

UI considerations

The user interface seems pretty straightforward and heavily relies on drag'n'drop: filters have to be dropped on opened images, and effects have to be dropped to the composition area.

Unfortunately it isn't possible to add a new custom filter in the NodeGraph mode: you'll have to temporarily switch to the Image View mode. Developers intend to fix that.

For some reason it isn't possible to zoom in and out in the Image View mode. Again, this will be taken care of in future versions.

One more gripe here is that sliders in the NodeGraph mode react to every single change. That means you can't yet move a slider all the way to the right or left: IFX just starts re-rendering changes whenever you touch the slider. For v1.0, you'd have to stick to the numeric input. The team agrees that this may not be desirable and is considering a behavior toggle in v1.1.

Overall impression

In general, IFX-Supreme 1.0 is much like any first public release: some things are in place, some things are sorely missing, and some things need a jolly good polish.

So far the development seems to be focusing on quick wins and features for advanced users rather than professionals.

Huge, huge filter selectors. By the way, you can upload those online from the application to share with other users.

The application doesn't yet have keying, OFX plug-ins support, color management (at least, in user accessible manner), support for HDR imaging and industrial standards such as OpenEXR. Color grading tools are quite basic, but you can split/join channels to/from RGB, HSV, HSY and, for some reason, CMYK.

Personally I don't see hardcore Blender users switching to IFX-Supreme, given the already existing feature set and — yes — the upcoming tiled and OpenCL-based compositing in 2.64, still expected this summer.

However if you were looking for affordable compositing software with a more conventional user interface and support for any desktop system, in due time IFX could be just what you wanted. The application is currently available at an introductory price of $15.99.

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6 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Considering the price, it has a good feature and may be good for quick and dirty pre-viz work or small projects. They have a free demo, too, which is cool.

  2. Disappointed, though, to see they only distribute 32-bit libraries. No reason in this day and age to not do 64-bit, especially on Linux.

  3. D’oh, it’s linked to libQtHelp.so, which is not available on Ubuntu systems via the ia32-libs. This won’t run at all on 64-Bit Ubuntu. What a shame.

  4. Also interesting is, that an Node-based editor for GEGL is on its way as an GSOC project: http://git.gnome.org/browse/gegl/log/?h=soc-2012-editor

  5. you can’t argue with the price. but i think that anyone considering a node based composting editor, even at this cheap price would be put off that it is 32bit. graphs applications have moved to 64bit long ago. it is still a welcome development tho.

    @tobias
    this is very interesting. i think gegl’s killer app would be a lightweight node compositor. essentially a GUI wrapper for gegl. if it had good caching, opengl and a nice plugin system it would take off very well.

    it would be a preferred application to either blender or nuke.

    is there any binaries or website/blog for this?

  6. Alexandre Prokoudine 26 July 2012 at 9:26 pm

    No binaries, no website, no blog.

    I’ve spent several hours playing with it, mostly because it’s slow :) It’s not really useful much at this point. It won’t even preview EXR or RGBE, only JPEG and PNG.