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First Impressions: Apple Motion 2

The motion graphics speed demon gets even faster By Dave Nagel
At this week's convention of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB 2005), Apple revealed its next-generation motion graphics tool--Motion 2.0. The new release, though not announced with a huge amount of fanfare or hype, is a major one, packing significant performance improvements, some powerful new features and even a cool, new workflow function that let's users "play" their animations with a MIDI keyboard. I had a chance to get up close with a pre-release version, and here's what I found.

Now, to begin, Motion is a program that, last year, had the entire creative community abuzz with excitement, yet failed somehow to maintain that excitement after its rollout. Maybe expectations were a bit too high for a 1.0 software release, or maybe people expected something along the lines of an "After Effects killer," though Apple itself positioned the program not as a competitor, but a complement to an After Effects workflow. At any rate, the price point--at $299--was great for a professional motion graphics application; the features were solid, in many cases quite innovative; and the performance was simply awesome; but the program just didn't quite catch on as many had expected.

So what does Motion 2.0 have that will make it more appealing to motion graphics professionals? Quite a bit. But I want to begin with one feature that's seemingly minor on the surface, and one that has to do with the concept of using Motion as a complement to After Effects. After all, Motion can't do everything that After Effects can do, and, even if it could, few people would be willing to turn from such a core tool as After Effects in favor of a new upstart like Motion, even if all of Apple's other professional creative tools have proved top-notch. So it's important to consider Motion in the context of an add-on to, rather than a replacement for, Adobe After Effects.

But with Motion 1, this notion was hardly palatable. There was nothing "add-on" about it. There was no communication between the two programs, no integration whatsoever. If you wanted to use both applications, you'd have to work in Motion, render and then bring the final QuickTime output into AE, just as you would if you'd started with any other program.

Now, with Motion 2.0, Apple has found a pretty clever way to eliminate this problem and bring true integration to the two programs. I don't know exactly how it works, but essentially, After Effects treats Motion files as QuickTime movies. You can drag raw, unrendered Motion projects into After Effects' Comp window, and they simply show up as footage. There is no compatibility issue whatsoever. Regardless of what you do in Motion--any filters, any behaviors, any particles, etc.--you can bring the unrendered project into After Effects and work with it as if it had already been rendered. And yet, the file remains fully editable. So, in After Effects, you simply choose "Edit Original" in the Comp window, which opens the project in Motion, which you then tweak and save, and which then updates automatically back in After Effects.

Now that's some great integration. I've seen it up close, and it works. And, to me, this may be the critical new feature in Motion 2.

But it's not the only one. In terms of effects, Motion 2 includes a new feature called Replicator, which lets you repeat elements of your composition according to preset patterns (grids, swirls, etc.) or user-defined patterns. (See the screen shot below for an example.) It also allows you to animated these duplicates in tandem or individually for creating some swank, Spirograph-like motion backgrounds. In fact, I expect to see stock houses coming out with library after library of SD and HD motion backgrounds simply because they're so easy to create in Motion 2.

Motion 2's main interface. Image courtesy of Apple.

There's also the addition of 3D rotation for objects and layers; some 130 other accelerated effects; 50 new particle effects; and MIDI mapping for Motion's parameters, meaning that you can control animations with MIDI controllers and keyboards, with support for velocity sensitivity. Why is this last one worth mentioning? Well, it means you can control multiple animation parameters at once with your keyboard, interacting with the animation even as the file is playing back. You can alter the scale and angle of single or multiple elements; you can cycle colors on the fly; you can change an object's position or rotation; basically, you can do anything you want to your project simply by interacting with your MIDI device. And with velocity and fader support, it's essentially like working with pressure sensitivity on a graphics tablet, meaning that you can vary the degree of change based on how hard you hit a key or how far you slide a slider.

In addition to this, Motion also now has its own plug-in format called FxPlug, which lets developers create accelerated filters (i.e., faster than After Effects filters), with full access to Motion's interface elements, such as Dashboard. Developers have already committed to delivering FxPlug filters, including Boris FX with Continuum Complete, Zaxwerks with 3D Flag and dvGarage with DVMatte.

It's also worth noting that Motion now comes with Compressor 2, a major update to Apple's audio and video encoding suite. I've covered Compressor's new features in my preview of DVD Studio Pro 4, which you can read by clicking here.

On the performance side, Motion 1 is just plain fast, faster than any other motion graphics program I've worked with. Much faster than After Effects in practically every area where the two programs overlap. Motion 2, on the other hand, is just crazy fast, with major enhancements particularly in the area of particles, where you might see as much as a 15-fold improvement. (For example, a particle system that may have run at 2 FPS in Motion 1--in other words, one that emitted massive amounts of tiny QuickTime movies--will now play back at 30 FPS in Motion 2, at least based on my initial experiences.) And that's just one example. From what I was able to experience, the whole thing has been sped up to an incredible degree, including the addition of GPU-accelerated 32-bit float rendering.

So in my estimation, Motion 2 isn't just a feature-update type of release; it's a significant step forward in motion graphics with, yes, some great new internal features, but also one critical new feature that addresses the workflow needs of artists. We will, of course, bring you much, much more information on Motion 2 when the shipping version becomes available. In the meantime, if you have any further questions, be sure to visit me in the Motion forum at DMN Forums by clicking here.

Motion will ship in May as a part of the Final Cut Studio, which includes Final Cut Pro 5, Motion 2, Soundtrack Pro and DVD Studio Pro 4 for $1,299. It will also be available separately for $299. (The upgrade from Motion to Motion 2 runs $99.) For more information, visit

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