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Peter Wiggins looks at the New, Revolutionary Motion from Apple: Intro

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Peter Wiggins looks at the New, Revolutionary Motion from Apple: Intro Product Review

Peter Wiggins reviews Motion

Article Focus:
Peter Wiggins takes a thorough look at the new Motion from Apple. Never before has there been such interest and anticipation over a piece of software and Peter Wiggins hopes that this article gives an insight into the creative capabilities, workflow and SPEED of Motion.

Peter Wiggins
Flick Pictures Ltd,
United Kingdom

©2004 Peter Wiggins and All rights are reserved.


I could make this review of Motion very simple and very short: -

“You will never make another graphic in Final Cut Pro”

Although that would be the easy way out, I thought I'd take the time and put Motion through its paces. Never before has there been such interest and anticipation over a piece of software and I would hope that this article gives an insight into the creative capabilities, workflow and SPEED of Motion.

Motion is a real time motion graphics and compositing tool. It is layer based, but that's about the end of similarities with rival products. On first look, the way it handles moving objects by applying behaviors looks a bit too simple. After some time experimenting, you soon realize the power & flexibility that this enables. Gone are the endless RAM previews or rendering test movies. Motion is designed to composite on the fly, playing a video loop that can have clips; objects or text added, resized, moved or filters applied.

Motion fits quite nicely into the vertical integration of Apple’s Pro video applications.
It's always been said that Final Cut Pro lacked the text manipulation toolset needed for an audience that is used to seeing complex animations on their TV every night. It is also true that although Shake is an almost unlimited compositing app, it's not very quick and client friendly when you want to kick out a simple graphic.

Motion has also been designed to integrate with Final Cut Pro HD and DVD Studio Pro. I hope this is the start of Apple tying all the professional video & audio applications together so that you can pick and mix which you require for a certain job.

Load it off the DVD and go, simple as that, but – (and believe me it's a really big but) you must have a system capable of running the program.

Motion uses the GPU (basically the graphics card) to do its real time compositing. This means you have to have a beefy card to get any type of realtime performance. Once you are happy with a composite you then render out a QuickTime or similar file.

So as GPU power is everything, I strongly suggest that you check your system with Apple’s list of recommended cards.

Your Mac might be less than two years old but if your card is not up to the spec then don't bother. If you try to install Motion on a computer that doesn't meet the criteria then all you will see of Motion is this!

That doesn't rule out older computers completely though. Put one of the recommended graphics cards into a 1.25G Dual Mirrored Door and Motion will run.

You need a fair amount of disk space too. On installing Final Cut Pro HD (needed for the export features) and Motion on my new G5, just the two applications and their associated support files with the system folder took up 17 Gig of space. Now in addition to that you will probably want to run other applications like Soundtrack and Livetype, maybe Photoshop and Illustrator as well and you soon start eating into that hard drive.

As an added incentive to register Motion, you can download a plugin called ‘Scrub’ this performs simple timemapping on any object. It has a slider with an offset from the current frame, so by animating this parameter, basic speed adjustments can be made.

Motion caches into RAM to speed up performance and for realtime previews of composites, so don't skimp on spec’ing the machine with as much ram as you can afford. The G5 takes a maximum of 8 Gig of ram, but any application can only use 4 Gig at a time under Panther. The system could be running in RAM over the 4 Gig ‘boundary’ though.

The system I've been testing Motion on is a Dual 2Gig processor G5 with an ATI Radeon 9600 Pro graphics card and 4 Gig of RAM installed, all running under 10.3.5. For media I've got a Medea RAID hooked up by an ATTO UL3D SCSI card. For the broadcast output of Motion, I'm viewing an SDI output out of a Decklink Pro card.

I'm also using a Wacom graphics tablet as I find it easier to switch between FCP & Shake when using a pen. What I haven't tested though is the Gestures’ feature. Instead of point and click, various ‘gestures’ made on the tablet will cause various operations to happen in Motion. One for testing on a quiet rainy day!!

Here's where the fun starts!

On opening up Motion you get presented with a welcome screen, although this can be turned off in the preferences. Also in the preferences you can specify to open up a blank project, the last project or browse the templates.

Whilst we are in the preferences, let's take a quick look at setting the resolution for your project. Motion has a handy list of presets to choose from.

The presets range from 160 by 120 pixels for low data rate small multimedia projects, right up to 1080i widescreen high definition. You can of course customize or generate your own preset to suit.

There is a downside though to all this flexibility. Version one of Motion is only 8 bit. It will handle 10 bit files in and out, but the internal processing ‘under the hood’ is all 8 bit.

The GUI is split up into three main areas, well sort of three main areas, as you can move and expand items around the screen. As well as three presets, you can also customize and save your own preferred layout.

It would be very tedious for me and dull for you to go through every single feature in every window. Why? because Apple has done all the hard work already! Take a look at

What I will do though is give you my impressions and experiences of using each area

The File Browser

This is the strip running down the left hand edge of the screen. It's the area where you have access to projects, files, filters and behaviors etc.

Motion supports SGI, Photoshop, BMP, JPEG, PICT, PNG, MacPaint, Tiff, TGA JPEG-2 and most importantly QuickTime. It also has special support for layered Photoshop files and PDF’s.

Not only does it support QuickTime movies and single graphics, but it also handles image sequences as well. There is a toggle at the bottom of the window to show an image sequence as one file. A quick tip here, if you are using Shake or Maya, the native format that the files are stored in is IFF. No doubt you've guessed already it's not in the list above.

However if you install the PLE version of MAYA from Alias, it will load the components into your system to enable the handling of IFF file formats.

Hopefully Alias might sell a few copies of Maya as a result too!

It supports every QuickTime codec I've used so far and in theory, if it's installed on your computer then it should work fine. I wont list all the audio formats it supports, let's just say nearly all of them!

What is really impressive about the file browser is that there is a preview window in the top left corner. If you select a QuickTime file in the browser, it will play in the window. The same is true for image sequences. What's also very cool is that when you click on a particle emitter, not only do you get a moving preview, but you can also drag the emitter in the window to see what it will look like in a moving composite.

As well as access to files on your hard disk, the browser can also look over a network for files. Should you join a network whilst Motion is running, then the icon will appear automatically in the list, no reloading. There is also a search window that you can use to filter and find files.

In the bottom half of the Browser the files are viewed as picons. From somebody who has been using Shake for the last year and a half, this is a complete revelation. Apple, please copy and paste the code for this browser straight into Shake now.

The browser is also the area where you can drag and drop files in and out. Made a custom move on some text and want to be able to repeat it again at a later date? No problem, just drag the layer into the browser, simple as that! One point here, get into the habit of naming layers as you work otherwise you'll have a lot of files named ‘layerX’ in the browser!

So overall, the browser is extremely well thought out and easy to use.

In the same area as the browser, but on another tab is the Library. This is the place that gives you access to behaviors, filters, particle emitters etc. It works in a slightly different way to the browser, but still follows a list of folders with items that expand into lists once selected. We will have a better look at the library when we move onto behaviors.

Depending on what layout you choose, the Inspector can also be a tab in the same area. Briefly, the Inspector is used for fine-tuning when a parameter doesn't appear in the dashboard or you need a greater range than it will allow. A good example here is the line spacing parameter on text. Using the dashboard, the value will only go down to zero. In the inspector, by clicking and sliding on the value, you can set a value below zero to get your text closer together.

For the time I've been using Motion, I've had the layout set to cinema, which is the style in the full frame grab above. This way the inspector appears separately on the RHS.

The Canvas

Well, it's exactly that, the area for you to create your masterpiece!

The idea behind the canvas is that it is all drag and drop. Select a file in the browser, drag it over to the canvas, position it and let go, simple as that.

What helps is that guides appear to help ‘snap’ an element into position. Say you want to position a graphic in the middle of the frame. When you hover over the centre, the guides will appear to tell you the correct location.

Should you wish the graphic not to ‘snap’ into position, hitting the 'N' button, as per Final Cut, turns this off. You can also turn off the visibility of the guides as well.

One tip here, by control clicking the canvas a popup menu appears that you can use to alter the different types of on screen guide. You can toggle between Transform, Anchor Point, Drop Shadow etc. This menu also gives access to the cut and paste functions as well as grouping and blend modes. Using this means it's very quick to get an object to the right size and position.

So whilst still in play and dropping various clips, objects, emitters or text onto the canvas, you build up a ‘realtime’ composite in layers. A bit confused about what’s on what layer. Then take a look at the layer tab at the side of the canvas.

The most important thing here is to understand that the little arrows next to the layers act like a file ‘hierarchy’. As you can see here, Layer 3 contains Mano2, a, and Mano1. Any behavior applied to this layer will affect all three of those text elements. Layer 2 that contains the graphic “These men are riding.” is underneath Layer3 in the composite but will not be affected by most behaviors applied in Layer3. It's all quite logical, but took me a minute to work it out! You can also select to display the opacity and blend modes of each item in this window. The opacity sliders will animate when you play the composite.

Now the big question I know everybody wants to ask, how many layers can Motion handle?

For an exercise I took four video images and made a quad split. Then duplicated the layer 3 times and moved the layers so that there were 16 pictures on screen. All played fine, not in realtime though! Now take the layers, group them into a new layer and duplicate that 3 times and reposition those as above. The result: -

256 independent layers! This is not done with a tile filter; each clip can be selected and modified. Probably enough for a complicated composite. The render for the 8 second clip took 44 minutes using the Apple 10bit uncompressed codec.

What happens if I duplicate this three times and reposition each layer as above? Well, catch up with me at IBC, buy me a beer and I will tell you!

A couple of areas to look at before we move on.

At the top of the timeline is a frames per second indicator, not very visible but here you can see it indicating 7 FPS whilst the canvas is playing.

Motion caches into RAM, so the first time you play a timeline this FPS indicator will be quite low. Once it has done that, it will speed up and the counter will reflect that. This is particularly true for image sequences.

The other area to have a quick look at are the transport controls at the bottom of the canvas.

The blue bar is a ‘mini timeline’ that reflects the timing of the object selected. What’s of more interest is the red button on the left. With this selected to record and the timeline playing, Motion will learn any parameter you would like to click on. This isn't just for moving items around the screen, but parameters like a glow on a graphic can be ramped up and down by hand. It's exactly like learning the audio levels in Final Cut Pro, except it can apply to anything.

One big omission from this button panel. I would like to see a broadcast monitor on/off button. Why? – Because with the video output running, the average FPS of my composites halved! To get realtime 25 FPS playing I had to turn the broadcast monitor off, and that's a real pain as it means venturing into the preferences panel.

Apple please fix this, Shake has this operability for the same reason, so why not Motion?

If you do find that even with the broadcast monitor off, that things are playing slowly, then the resolution can be dropped down from full to a half, a third and a quarter. There are also controls for zooming out to see graphic elements that are outside of the edge of frame and a selector to view the RGB and alpha channels as well.

The Timeline

The timeline area contains three tabs, the timeline, keyframe editor and audio editor.

In the timeline the clips are not locked, it's more than just a timing display. Clips can be slipped, trimmed and layers can be reordered. The layer display on the left hand side is a close copy of that at the side of the canvas and although having both displayed seems a bit of overkill, this is the way I most comfortable working.

Navigation along the timeline should be familiar to any FCP user. Command +/- zooms in and out of timeline, I and O set in and outs of clips and shift I/O go to the in and out. One exception here is that shift left/right only moves 10 frames a time opposed to the one second increments in Final Cut.

Keyframing looks very similar to the curve editor Shake, but in a slightly more colorful and simplified way.

Should you need to change a parameter that cannot be animated by using behaviors or ‘recording’ then keyframing will enable precise control. Clicking on the layers in the layers tab in the canvas automatically loads all the curves from that object straight into the editor.

The last tab is the audio editor and allows a track from a clip or an imported file to be used a reference for animation. This is important so various graphic elements can be synchronized exactly to words in a programme, bullet points flying on for example.

One feature I'd like to see is being able to animate a parameter based on the amplitude of the audio. This would make particle emitters such as soundcheck really realistic!

The Dashboard

After using the dashboard in Motion now, all I can say is it is invaluable!
The semi-transparent dashboard pops up and shows the common parameters for the selected object. No hunting in the inspector, the sliders or graphic representations are right there ‘floating’ on a palette next to your composite.

You can of course turn these off, also in the above example I've shrunk the picture down to 50% to see the dashboard more clearly. My big tip here is by hitting ‘D” the dashboard will cycle through all the different properties, behaviors and filters of a clip or object.

This takes us nicely into behaviors.

Go to next section: Behaviors

This review may not be re-published without the permission of Peter Wiggins
Copyright MMIV

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