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Commotion Pro 4.1 for Mac OS X

Painting, rotoscoping and compositing suite By Kevin Schmitt
Do you remember when Commotion, then from Puffin Designs, first hit the Mac scene a few years back? A lot of us hadn't seen anything like it, at least any desktop application like it. Provided you had enough cash to get yourself a copy and plenty of RAM to load your footage into (and RAM was some major cash back then), you could have a serious, quasi-real-time, high-end compositing package right there on your Mac. Times are a tad different now. RAM sure is a heck of a lot cheaper, and so is Commotion Pro, now owned by Pinnacle Systems and currently standing at version 4.1. And if I didn't know any better, I could swear that Pinnacle Systems is quietly trying to muscle in on After Effects' traditional motion graphics turf, in addition to retaining the signature high-end painting and rotoscoping features Commotion has had all along.

What It Does
I go way back with Photoshop and the After Effects Production Bundle, so naturally I was curious about what Commotion Pro would offer to a long-time Adobe stalwart. Let me put it this way: if you can imagine smushing Photoshop and After Effects together into a single, integrated program (and with just a dash of Illustrator thrown in for good measure), then you can begin to have an idea of what Commotion Pro can do. The fast answer, though, as to what Commotion Pro 4.1 does is this top-10 list:

1) It still has an excellent implementation of RAM-based playback.
2) It paints on video footage.
3) It has myriad tools for making rotoscoping easier and, in some cases, automatic.
4) It has really, really outstanding motion tracking capabilities.
5) It contains advanced keying features and masking options, including Primatte Keyer.
6) It can create layered compositions and motion graphics.
7) It ships with a lot of excellent plugins.
8) It has one-and-a-half really cool Mac-only features.
9) It now runs natively on Mac OS X.
10) It stays crunchy, even in milk.

Before we go down the list in detail, let's start with the interface. Pinnacle Systems has a pretty good idea of where its users are probably coming from, because if you're at all familiar with the aforementioned Adobe products, you will feel quite comfortable in Commotion Pro from the giddy-up. Icons, keyboard shortcuts, interface conventions, almost every part of Commotion Pro should feel familiar to Adobe users (fig. 1).

Figure 1: The Commotion Pro 4.1 program running natively in OS X.

Now, on to the list:

1) It still has an excellent implementation of RAM-based playback.
I found Commotion Pro's RAM playback engine to be much more powerful and flexible than After Effects' version. The most direct way is to invoke Commotion Pro's Load Clip panel (fig. 2), which in addition to letting you specify which frames of a clip to load into RAM, offers a bunch of other options like proxies and footage interpretation to get just what you need when you need it. Once the clip is in the project, you can load different sections into RAM by setting a range in the clip and then loading the specific frames. The workflow is very smooth and highly functional, making what could be a tedious process of loading and unloading frames a relatively pain-free endeavor.

Figure 2: The Load Clip panel, it all its glory.

Even better, if you're one of those lucky folks that have a super-fast RAID drive setup, you can forego the RAM playback entirely and play uncompressed source footage directly from your disk through the SuperCache feature.

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