Review: Apple Motion 5 new features

Motion is Apple’s compositing program. There used to be Shake too, but that application is no longer available. Instead, some of the capabilities of Shake are incorporated into Motion, without the hard to understand interface.

In Motion 5, Apple has changed the interface, which now looks identical to that of Final Cut Pro X. It also changed the way you use Motion. Finally, it added two very important new features: an extremely powerful chroma/luminance keyer, and rigs.

The interface is very nice, just as FCPX’s. On a 1600 x 1200 monitor, however, I lacked a bit of space. It’s clear that Motion (but also Final Cut Pro X) wants you to use a newer display, preferably a Cinema Display or an iMac one.

The way Motion used to work was quite limited: you created projects and if you wanted those projects to be usable in Final Cut, you would export to one of the ProRes formats. Motion 5 dramatically expands on Motion’s integration with Final Cut Pro X. You can create FCPX generators, titles and transitions, and even effects, without the need to export the project first en then import it into Final Cut.

Simplicity rules here: you just select the right format from the startup screen and Motion does the rest. The result that some people won’t like is that you save to templates, not projects anymore — unless you start from scratch.

Creating a Motion transition is simple: select FCPX transition in the startup screen, and you’ll be taken to a timeline with two drop zones already active. The transition takes place between the two drop zones, which in the FCPX timeline represents the start and end of the transition. For Effects there are not two states but one drop zone into which you “create” the effect source. Titles have a background — again a drop zone — and a text source. Only the FCPX Generator format gives you a clean slate to begin with.

Two selections and 1 minute later...

This all seems like child’s play, but really it isn’t that easy if you want to create something worthwhile. For example, a disc formed “bull’s eye” countdown timer (the type you sometimes saw at the start of uncut film) has a good dozen layers in the timeline before it starts to resemble the countdown thing with rotating elements. Sure, the countdown element itself is just a component dragged to the canvas, but the rest of the timer requires artistic and organisational insight in how Motion treats elements, changes between states, etc.

I didn’t even try making a Generator, but I did test out the rigs feature, as this is closely related to what you can do with Motion templates in Final Cut Pro X. Rigs are essentially controls that you set up in Motion and that get exported to FCPX. Rigs allow you to set up two or more changing states in Motion and let the FCPX user select between those states using a checkbox, a menu, or a slider.

Rigs are extremely simple to set up and use, and after reading through the chapter on them in the user guide, I found I didn’t need any sort of organisational insight in Motion to apply them with success. Which basically means that Motion enables you to focus more on the artistic work and less on how the program works. To professional compositors this must sound like music in their ears.

My all time favourite new feature of Motion 5, however, is the keyer. This chroma/luminance keyer must now be the most powerful ever. You can use the keyer in automatic mode, and it will do a great job. If you want to really create a perfect key, however, you’ll want to do it yourself. When I read through the chapter on Motion 5’s keyer, I first couldn’t believe this was all there was to it, but it was.

The only thing you need to do, is turn off auto-keying, by dragging a slider to 0%, then select the colour you want to remove, and drag another gizmo to fine-tune the edges. Of course, you can get a lot deeper into this for a really perfect cut-out, but in essence this is all what it takes to create a chroma or luminance key that is 99% perfect in Motion. What is most incredible about it, is the interface: I’m always baffled when I see how Apple engineers succeed to turn something complex into something so easy that it just feels ‘right’.

There is a lot more to be said about Motion 5, but I am not a professional compositor, and to me the above functionality were the key novelties of the application. I don’t know if professionals are happy with Motion 5, but I do wonder if they still miss Shake.

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