Feeling somewhat inspired by the summer’s effects-laden movies? You’ll be happy to know that you can create your own special-effects extravaganza on your Mac with the same tools the professionals use. One of those tools is Commotion 2.0, the latest upgrade to Puffin Designs’ excellent rotoscoping and painting program. Building on its predecessor’s facilities for creating mattes, painting on moving images, and touching up videos, this version includes new effects brushes, support for Adobe After Effects filters, and a new text filter.
As in earlier versions, Commotion 2.0’s strength lies in its ability to work with movies in real time. The program loads QuickTime movies into RAM, so you can preview short video clips (or long clips, if you have enough memory) at their full size and frame rate. Because most single shots in a movie tend to be shortand effects sequences are even shortera few seconds of video are usually all you need for the kinds of effects you create in Commotion.
Commotion’s powerful spline tools let you create mattes by outlining shapes using an Adobe Illustrator-like pen tool; you can then animate these rotosplines over time and combine them with the program’s motion-tracking features to create animated mattes. The only new twists to version 2.0’s rotospline features are that you can now simply grab the pen tool and start drawingyou no longer have to go to the Rotosplines palette firstand you’re allowed up to 100 undo’s per document.
Version 2 retains its predecessors’ assortment of brush and clone tools for painting. It also adds some new FX Brushesreally just small paint-on texture filesfor creating everything from subtle highlights and halos to big, gaudy brushstrokes. The program offers a wealth of brush parameters, including spacing, opacity, and feather; each has a range of values, depending on the brush’s speed, pressure, tilt, and bearing (you’ll need a drawing tablet for the last three). You can create your own brushes, but Commotion ships with such a huge assortment of prebuilt brushes that you may never need to create your own.
In addition to flexibility, the brushes offer impressive speed and performance. Even complicated brushes paint smoothly, and the program has no trouble keeping up with the speed of your brushstrokes. The addition of FX Brushes to Commotion 2.0 should appeal to effects creators who have been relying on MetaCreations’ Painter for natural-media video painting. Although Commotion lacks Painter’s full suite of extraordinary paint tools, it offers a much better interface for painting on moving video.
Commotion 2.0 not only supports After Effects plug-ins but also adds a timeline interface that lets you animate plug-in parameters just as you would in After Effects. The timeline lists the filter’s properties in a column and lets you define multiple, separate keyframes for each property. To set a keyframe, you simply drag the current time marker to a new location on the timeline and change the value of the property you want to animate. Although the timeline lacks velocity and function curves, its simple linear and ease-in, ease-out interpolations between frames offer all the control you’ll need for most effects.
New users should note that filters in Commotion are destructive. Applying the effects alters the movie’s frames; you can’t go back and tweak a filter’s settings without reverting to the last saved version and reapplying the filter.
If you’ve used an earlier version of Commotion, you’ll notice that the current version replaces many of the basic filters with equivalent (but faster) filters from ICE. In addition to offering improved performance, the new filters support hardware acceleration using BlueICE hardware.
One of the new filters, Motion Text, lets you create and animate type. Unfortunately, its controls aren’t as interactive as they could be. To add a title to a movie, for example, you select the Motion Text filter and enter your text in a somewhat clunky modal dialog box. In addition, you can have only one font and type size per title.
From the Motion Text dialog box, you set parameters and see the results in a tiny preview window. In addition to the usual size, color, and position parameters, Commotion lets you specify horizontal and vertical scaling, feathering, drop shadows, and curve (as defined by two points of a spline). Instead of using interactive controls to specify position or spline points, however, you control these parameters numerically. A simple interface that lets you click within the preview window to define position and curve would be a nice addition.
The ability to animate text within Commotion rather than After Effects is very handy and saves time you would otherwise spend switching between the two programs. Because it’s so much faster to animate text in After Effects, however, you’ll probably want to use the Motion Text plug-in for only the simplest jobs.
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Commotion 2.0 isn’t a huge upgrade over the last version, but its animatable filters, Motion Text filter, and FX Brushes are handy and well implemented. They’re also a promising sign that Puffin is aiming to expand the program’s range beyond simple rotoscoping. Whatever the future holds, Commotion 2.0 is an indispensable tool for motion-effects professionals.