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Motion 3.0.1

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Motion, Apple’s motion-graphics and video-processing software, has always stood apart not so much for what it does but the way it does it. In many visual and video tools, you spend much of your time preparing graphics and then watching rendering progress bars, but Motion’s workflow is built around real-time adjustment and experimentation. With Motion 3.0.1, Apple has focused on the major capabilities previous versions lacked: motion tracking and stabilization, painting tools, and a true 3-D graphical environment to augment speed and easy, improvisational control. Motion may not become your only motion-graphics program, but it could easily become your favorite tool for quickly creating visuals.

Final Cut’s real-time sidekick

As in previous versions, the heart of Motion is its real-time interface. Place images (including multilayered Adobe Photoshop images), vector art (including Adobe Illustrator files), or video into the canvas and then click on the play button on the Transport control. You can then drag and drop behaviors—integrated, adjustable actions that automatically animate elements in your project—without ever touching a keyframe. When you do want to work with keyframes, you can edit and create animation curves in the Keyframe editor. Motion 3 expands upon this feature with new Pen and Box tools for drawing and modifying animation curves. This version also adds an Audio behavior, with a clever interface for singling out specific frequency ranges and thresholds. This behavior can sync motion to a soundtrack or even use imported sound to dynamically animate a composition.

Motion, with its new motion tracking, Match Move behavior, and stabilization tools, is now an invaluable part of the Final Cut Pro workflow. For precise color control, you’ll likely turn to Final Cut Studio’s new, and more advanced, Color application, but Motion is very useful for adding creative filters, especially when combined with behaviors for scaling effects over time.

Apple has included some very effective tracking tools in Motion 3, using technology derived from Shake (   ). You can use these tools to stabilize clips or to match an animation to movement of an object in your video, generating motion tracks that you can use in your composition. When you apply one of these tools, Motion will first analyze the video in the background, allowing you to make any adjustments in real time, without rendering. This is more than just a convenience: with the ability to make small adjustments as a clip runs in the background, you can easily dial in exactly the setting you want. For instance, using Final Cut Pro’s SmoothCam feature to fix shaky footage, you often wind up re-rendering footage as you go. In Motion’s nearly identical Stabilize feature, controls are more accessible, appearing automatically via a translucent floating palette called a heads-up display (HUD). Using the HUD, you can easily fine-tune stabilization settings while the clip is looping, without ever needing to render. When you send clips to Motion from Final Cut Pro, Motion automatically replaces Final Cut’s SmoothCam filter with Motion’s Stabilize behavior, thus maintaining your original settings. Tracking specific points in an image is also easy; Motion will even suggest points in the image that should yield the best results. The tracking feature also complements some of the new 3-D and paint tools.

In addition to making smoothing clips easier, Motion 3 adds expanded options above and beyond what is possible with Final Cut Pro for retiming clips. You can focus on sophisticated time mapping via behaviors and keyframes for effects such as dynamic speed changes or abrupt shifts to slow motion. You can also improve the look of slow motion with the addition of Motion Blend and Optical Flow frame blending. Under some conditions, these can be more effective at smoothing out slow-motion clips than Final Cut Pro’s basic blending options.

Paint and 3-D

In the past, some motion-graphics artists have complained that Motion didn’t offer enough functionality beyond basic compositing and effects. Motion 3 changes that, particularly for paint and 3-D. The emphasis remains on rapid, improvisatory graphics effects, not extensive frame-by-frame edits or techniques like rotoscoping. As a specialized tool within a larger workflow, however, Motion’s unique process can be a boon.

The Paint tool has been transformed into a powerful vector-based art tool in Motion 3. Paint styles give you access to a large library of preset effects, ranging from organic models that mimic real brushstrokes to gorgeous light and particle effects, or even custom or video-based sources. You can draw right into your project in real time, ideally with a tablet so that Motion can read pressure and tilt information. Motion can automatically “draw on” animated paint strokes if you choose, using a recording of your drawing speed or overlaying a timing preset (the Natural setting works especially well).

But the Paint tool is also system-intensive: Even on a Mac Pro, real-time previews can be slow as you add elements to your composition. Motion's 3.0.1 update addresses many of the performance issues with Paintbrush Styles. Some styles remain system intensive, however, particularly when you add behaviors. Apple’s documentation also warns that Paint is not a rotoscoping tool. Unlike Adobe After Effects, Motion can’t import vector paths from other programs, and there aren’t as many tools for precise frame-by-frame edits. For cases in which speed is more important, though, Motion excels. The paint and drawing tools ultimately work best at rapidly painting over an image or improvising additional visual elements in a composition.

Often, the biggest difficulty when working in three dimensions is staying oriented. Motion 3 provides accessible tools and feedback, including grids and guides, persistent on-screen controls for rotation and positioning, instant access to basic views, automatic behaviors, and even a picture-in-picture display of the active Camera or Perspective view when you drag an object around. All of this runs well in real time for most basic 3-D compositing. Motion even animates transitions as it moves from one view to another so you don’t get lost.

Motion is elegant and fast, but it’s not the right tool for every job. In almost all aspects of the program, increasing complexity can decrease performance. You’ll need a last-generation Power Mac G5 or an Intel-based machine with a dedicated graphics card and lots of RAM. With the proper hardware, many operations are very fast, though you’ll find that with some resource-intensive situations, frame count in real-time preview gets sacrificed. That’s the price you pay for slick visuals without rendering. Apple could add tools to better manage what gets displayed and what doesn’t. Motion also won’t replace some of the more sophisticated scripting and fine-tuned editing found in After Effects, or high-end compositing workflows in tools such as Combustion (   ) and Shake.

Macworld’s buying advice

Motion 3.0.1, with its elegant, real-time interface design, has always been promising. By adding some new dimensions to the visuals Motion can produce, Apple has vastly expanded the value of its motion-graphics tool. It’s a complement to Final Cut Pro for video processing, but it’s finally looking like a serious motion-graphics contender in its own right. If you’re new to creating motion graphics, Motion makes normally difficult workflows unusually easy, so long as you have the hardware muscle to handle it.

[ Peter Kirn is a media artist and educator based in New York. He runs the online music tech blog and community and visual tech site ]

Motion’s expanded vector-paint tools can create organic paint effects and slick eye candy, and that art can be transformed in 3-D space via Motion’s new 3-D tools. Motion gives you multiple ways of manipulating what’s on screen: the timeline and keyframe editor, the heads-up displays, and the Inspector.Motion provides several tools for making 3-D manipulation easier, including easy-access controls on the heads-up display and on each element, a pop-up menu of common 3-D perspectives, and a picture-in-picture display to help keep track of what you’re moving.
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