Edit Review: Apple Motion 3

New in Apple Motion 3 is the heads-up display (HUD), seen in the lower right. It''s a convenient floating window that offers options that are specific to any element selected. Also note the new 3D options and the inclusion of additional camera windows.

In new version 2, Apple Final Cut Studio is an extremely powerful, even intimidating suite of professional video production applications. The effects/
compositing/motion-graphics element is really starting to hit its stride in the form of Motion 3. One of the best parts of an update to a program such as Motion is that added features dovetail into other new or existing features across the suite. Great programming makes this happen, and it fosters some great interplay between the applications' feature sets. In this new release, Motion 3 bears the fruit of that smart programming effort. (See p. 24 for Jan Ozer's review of Final Cut Studio 2.)

I'll cut to the chase: The biggest news has to be the inclusion of 3D. This is always an exciting addition to any compositing program. Of course, the first question is, How 3D is it? You could say that if you tilt a square and emulate perspective, that's 3D. So how far does Motion take it? Pretty far without turning into an actual 3D application. You cannot bring in a 3D object and render and shade it. Aside from that, everything else is pretty much 3D.

You now operate within a true 3D multiplane environment, complete with multiple selectable views. You can simultaneously look at the camera view, the top, the side, etc. Switching views is also very Apple-like and not unlike butter. When you switch from one view to another (using a handy tool called “Compass”), the view swings around for a very smooth feel. This is beyond eye candy; actually “flying” to your next selected view gives you a much better sense of your orientation and how your entire project looks in 3D space. Real 3D programs could learn a thing or two from Motion's improved interface.

Apple Motion 3 offers a huge variety of particle emitters as well as new 3D text effects.

Most of what you import will be text, video clips, shapes, backdrops, etc. These all can be manipulated in 3D, but they do not have depth. When you turn them sideways, you see just a sliver, which is to be expected. What does have depth? Essentially particles, replicator patterns, and text. The ability to work with particles in 3D is a huge advance and a lot of fun. I use many compositing programs — two favorites are Adobe After Effects and Autodesk Combustion. After Effects uses a great, refined interface with 3D cameras, while Combustion offers more of a realtime non-rendered workflow and dazzling particle system effects. I now have all those great features within Motion 3, with the addition of 3D particles.

Particles in 3D are easy to miss in Motion. You need to turn the scene into 3D (a single click), and you have to turn 3D on in the particles options (a toggle in the Emitter Inspector). Once you do, that dazzling 2D explosion ignites into 3D space. It's worth mentioning that changing a scene to 3D merely involves adding a camera. You can also toggle 3D via a little icon on a layer in the project window, where all your assets are listed.

Also available in 3D are replicator patterns and text effects. Motion now ships with several prebuilt text effects that swipe, swoop, and fly your titles around. While you may not be using presets for professional gigs, they are flexible enough that you can use them as a starting point to tweak the parameters into fresh new animations. Replicators are cool, crazy, multi-layered effects that are mostly based on the animation of shapes. The last version brought a generous supply that was great for backgrounds and lower thirds. They are vector-based, so they were easily customized. Now you can click to switch them to 3D mode, and these moving backgrounds turn into 3D swarms of color.

In the last version of Motion, I had been using variations of replicators for many of the podcasts I produce. For my Rumor Girls series and other podcasts, they looked great in HD within title and advertiser animated sequences. This past week, I have been “remastering” the sequences in 3D. Motion 3 loads Motion 2 projects, so I've been opening older projects — which I can now view and animate in 3D space — and adding 3D particles and 3D motion.

One last cool new 3D feature: vector-based paint. You can swipe your Wacom pen or mouse and create dazzling, glowing vector strokes that can be manipulated and changed. Most of you are probably not excited by that last sentence. Vector paint is often a “well, that's nice” feature, and unless you are an onion-skinning cel animator, you might not care much. But this is big news for two reasons. The write-on is automatic, meaning all those dazzling swirls of colored light sweeps often seen on networks such as NBC Universal a few years back (yes, we all overused them) can now be created with literally a couple of mouse moves. The difference this time around is these strokes have depth. If you spin your camera around, you'll see a 3D stroke in space that has width and 3D texture. And it gets better. You can swap out a stroke style for a particle preset — a 3D particle. So now you have a write-on stroke in 3D that is sizzling, expanding, catching fire, spinning into different colors, or some of the other millions of combinations. Are you excited now?

Lots of other new stuff comes stuffed into this new edition. Point tracking and match moving have evolved well, and now they're fairly effortless. You can attach anything (particle, text, image, clip, etc.) to a point in a video clip, and Motion tracks it with stunning accuracy. Also new are options to stabilize image motion and smooth out movement. It now takes only a few clicks for Motion to quickly stabilize a shaky shot. It's also smart enough to not affect pans and tilts while working to eliminate slight camera moves such as unwanted shake. That feature really opens up Motion 3 to a new audience of producers who must deal with these scenarios on a regular basis.

Retiming has been improved, and it's easier than ever to slow down or speed up footage and make it look smooth and natural. You can move various sliders dynamically over time to finesse the clip's frame rate, manipulating the playback speed just the way you want.

There's a new heads-up display (HUD) that appears as a floating palette. You might have seen HUDs in other Apple programs, such as iPhoto and Aperture. A HUD shows most of the commands and sliders that pertain to whatever you have just selected. It's very handy and a welcome addition; however, I think the default transparency is a little too see-through, so you may want to alter it via the preferences. I use the keyframe animation panel all the time, and it's been improved to allow easier manipulation of curves and effects. You can now grab sets of keyframes and stretch and reposition them as a group, which can save hours of point-by-point altering on complex projects.

Motion improved a lot between the first two versions, but version 3 really hits a homerun. The new HUD and multiple 3D windows, along with the many new icons for spinning and moving objects, allow creative media artists to move even further away from painstaking keyframes. The keyframes are still there, and if you like to work with splines of movement via frames, they can always be onscreen for you. But the beauty of Motion is that most of the time you are working in 3D space. You're moving stuff around, playing it back, sitting back with a self-congratulatory chuckle while it plays, and then leaning in to move more stuff around. It makes for very creative sessions of realtime building, as opposed to the nuts-and-bolts clicking and moving required by keyframe work.

The only downside is Motion 3 takes a fairly beefy system to make it sing. A Mac Pro with several gigs of RAM and a fast graphics card are a fine start. However, you can toggle various options, such as viewing realtime renders in reduced resolution (e.g., viewing at 25 percent instead of 100 percent) and other methods to make sure the program is responsive on just about any current Mac. For relatively slower systems, particles are where performance problems will be revealed. Particle effects are GPU-intensive (not CPU-intensive), so an advanced video card is really recommended. That said, I've run Motion 3 on everything from a Mac Pro to a Power Mac G5 to, yes, a MacBook — all with great results. As long as you temper your work within the limits of the machine, you'll do OK.

Motion takes a lot of the mechanics out of motion-graphics work. It ships with a ton of content, particles, effects, and presets — allowing anyone with minimal experience to create truly professional animations very quickly. It shines even more as a professional tool, so if you want to get down to the keyframe level and adjust parameters, Motion 3 will keep up.


Company: Apple

Product: Motion 3

Assets: True multiplane 3D environment, ships with a ton of content, particles, effects, and presets.

Caveats: Particles in 3D easy to miss, performance problems revealed with slower systems.

Demographic: Anyone who performs motion-graphics work.