Apple's Motion proves worth the wait

Apple's Motion proves worth the wait

With its promise of real-time compositing, colour correction, and a drag-and-drop interface - not to mention its $449 price - few programs have been as eagerly anticipated as Apple Computer's Motion 1.0. Video editors and motion-graphics pros wondered if Apple's new product would provide an alternative to their current compositing application, be it Adobe After Effects 6.5 (4.5 mice; November 2004), Discreet's Combustion 3 (4 mice; September 2004), or Apple's own Shake. The answer is no - the program is not an outright replacement for those far more expensive tools. But after using Motion for just a few days, you may be surprised at how much of your compositing and graphics workload you will choose to move to this excellent new contender.

While Motion doesn't provide any features that the competition doesn't already handle, its combination of nearly real-time performance and a simple interface will cause animators, titlers and compositors to take a serious look at its capabilities. The program is so tightly integrated with Final Cut Pro HD that video editors who have been looking for a more powerful titling tool than the one built into Final Cut will find an excellent solution in Motion.

Interface in Motion

Motion provides a conventional timeline interface, but its real power comes from complex drag-and-drop behaviours and an advanced particle system. Motion's interface derives elements from many different Apple apps, but with its tabbed file browser and pop-up menu panes, it most closely resembles DVD Studio Pro 3.

It offers several ways to perform most operations: you can drag and drop items to windows or interface elements, click on toolbar buttons, select menu options, or tweak parameters in Motion's comprehensive Inspector window.

You can perform the same complex masking operations in Motion with a simple drag and drop that would require a lot of configuration in other compositing applications.

Though Motion provides a typical timeline-based interface for layering and animating elements in a composite, its interface is more compelling because of the addition of behaviours. Say you want to animate an object to make it fly across the screen. Instead of setting separate start and end points on the timeline, you can simply drop a Throw behavior onto the object from the Behaviour library. A semi-opaque pop-up Dashboard lets you control the Throw behaviour's direction and speed.

Behaviours are not a replacement for traditional keyframe-based animation; they're simply a very powerful shortcut. At any time, you can transform an applied behaviour into a set of keyframes that you can easily edit and customise using Motion's timeline.

Motion includes a robust set of behaviours, including physics-based behaviours such as Gravity, Collision Detection, and Wind effects. Most behaviours include dozens of editable parameters that allow you to customise, combine, and transform simple behaviours into complex actions.

Compositing in Real Time

The big attraction of Motion's interface is that you perform all your operations while your video is playing. You can adjust the response of a behaviour, tweak the settings of a filter or change any parameter of any layer - or any operation at all - and the video playback will immediately update to show your new result. Motion's workflow is completely smooth and interactive in comparison with the traditional, tedious motion-graphics workflow.

The combination of real-time performance and a behaviour-based interface lets you have a lot more fun experimenting in Motion than in any other compositing app.

Motion can't always muster a full 30 frames per second, but even if playback drops to half that speed, it is still good enough to judge the overall impact of an effect, to synchronise settings on multiple layers or to adjust your composite to fit a voice-over.

Motion includes a sophisticated particle system that allows you to create smoke and fire effects, rain, or simple cascades of visual elements. Motion's particles are easier to use than those of any other competing particle system. The added advantage is that you can configure them in real time.

Dollars in Motion

If the prospect of real-time motion graphics for $449 has you drooling, bear in mind that it requires a certain level of hardware. We tested Motion on both dual-2GHz and dual-2.5GHz Power Mac G5s, with varying RAM configurations and video cards. Though RAM and processor speed did make a difference, our tests showed that the video card had more to do with Motion's performance than any other factor.

With an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200, playback stuttered frustratingly on a complex composite. Upgrading to an ATI Radeon 9800XT smoothed out playback right away. So Motion's price might be a little higher when you factor in the need for a fast video card.

Though Motion has just about everything you need for most compositing tasks, it still lacks some key elements. It provides only 2-D compositing and it has no painting capabilities, so you won't want to use it for serious rotoscoping.

And because it lacks a motion tracker, you won't be able to perform any image stabilisation. In addition, though its colour-correction filters are very good, Motion uses only 8-bit colour, so it's not appropriate for high-end colour correction.

Buying advice

Apple's Motion 1.0 is going to improve a lot of motion-graphics workflows. It not only offers an excellent interface with nearly real-time, interactive playback; it's also fun to use. Give it a try. If you do lots of motion graphics or compositing, you will probably find yourself moving toward Motion.

Motion 1.0

4.5 mice out of 5

Pros: Excellent interface; interactive playback; great particle system; extremely powerful behaviour mechanism; great price.

Cons: No motion tracker; no painting tools; only 8-bit colour support; 2-D only.

Local information

RRP: $449

Availability: Motion 1.0 is available direct from Apple.

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