Review: Motion 5

Final Cut Pro X may have gotten the big headlines recently, but it wasn’t the only release to succeed the Final Cut Studio empire. Apple also released two companion apps for FCPX: Motion 5 and Compressor 4. I’m not going to even bother to review Compressor 4, since virtually nothing about the program has been changed from the previous version–not even the interface or its 32-bitness. But Motion 5 is certainly worth a mention.

A Brief History and Overview of Motion
Motion was originally released by Apple as a standalone product in 2004, a breakthrough application for designing motion graphics in a 3D space in realtime. Its interface has provided a far more powerful canvas for manipulating and keyframing objects for motion than Final Cut Pro has been able to offer. It mainly competes with Adobe After Effects, though my colleagues in ATV’s Productions Department generally contends that After Effects is still certainly more powerful than Motion is capable of, though Motion certainly has a much lower learning curve.

Motion was eventually incorporated into the Final Cut Studio suite in 2007, and over time greatly expanded its 3D and motion tracking capabilities; it was also notable for its ability to playback effects in realtime without rendering, a feat that Final Cut Pro could rarely accomplish.

A New Interface, A New Value Proposition
With the release of Motion 5, Motion is once again a standalone software product, but the value of the package has increased dramatically. Previously only available as a part of the $1000 Final Cut Studio suite, Motion 5 by itself is now sold for only $49.99 on the Mac App Store. Furthermore, unlike Final Cut Pro X, Motion 5 is not a complete rewrite that breaks all ties with its predecessor. To wit: Motion 5 can open Motion 4 and earlier documents (though there are a few caveats, see below).

However Motion 5 does adopt the new, darker interface sported by Final Cut Pro X, which most reviewers have acclaimed as a welcome change. Motion also combines all of its main elements into one unified window; prior versions had the file browser/inspector in a separate window from the main window. The interface also now shows the list of layers and the full timeline by default; prior versions de-emphasized the use of these interface elements, although most Motion users opened them up every time anyway. They still can be hidden in the new interface. And finally, like Final Cut Pro X, Motion is now a full-fledged 64-bit application, allowing for nice speed improvements over the previous version.

More Limitations for Unknown Reasons
But Motion 5 is not all new and shiny, it does include a couple of bewildering new quirks. First and foremost, Motion no longer allows you to have more than one project open at once. If you try to open another Motion project while one is already open, Motion prompts you to save and close the open project before you can access the new one. Motion 4 and earlier allowed you to have multiple projects open simultaneously, so I’m not really sure what this is all about, but it’s a major drag.

Also, Motion projects can no longer be dragged directly into the Final Cut Pro timeline. This may be a limitation to blame on Final Cut Pro X, but it’s bewildering that the old Final Cut Pro accepted Motion files natively in the timeline, but Final Cut Pro X won’t even let you import Motion files into the Event Library. Your only choice for getting Motion files into Final Cut is to publish them as a template–more on this shortly.

A New Focus: The Final Cut Pro Template Engine
Although you can certainly continue using Motion 5 to do everything that you’re used to doing in Motion 4–heck, you can simply use Motion 5 as a standalone app if you want–Apple has refocused the program as much more of a companion product to Final Cut Pro X. Motion is now largely targeted as a tool for creating motion graphics templates for Final Cut Pro X, and these templates are divided up into four categories: effects, transitions, titles, and generators. In fact, as I mentioned in my Final Cut Pro X review, nearly all of the Apple-made effects, transitions, titles, and generators included in Final Cut Pro X were created in Motion, and allow you to open up a copy of the template in Motion so that you can make your own custom tweaks.

Well, when you create a new project in Motion, you are actually prompted to select if you would like to create one of these four templates for Final Cut, or you can choose to simply create a normal Motion project. If you select one of the Final Cut templates, a new Motion project opens that contains a couple of items by default:

  • Effect: A drop-zone is included to represent the source clip that the effect would be applied to in Final Cut. You can apply filters or behaviors to this drop-zone, or simply make something happen on top of it.
  • Title: A drop-zone is included to represent the source clip in Final Cut, and a really basic lower-third text element is included. Of course, any text included will be published to Final Cut (if you wanted to have multiple text elements, for example.
  • Transition: Two drop-zones are included to represent the “before” and “after” source clips in Final Cut.
  • Generator: Nothing is included. A Generator really isn’t much else than a standard Motion project that can act as its own clip within Final Cut.

But while all of this is well and good, the part where this falls apart is in the saving. If you opt to create a Final Cut template and not a standard Motion project, Motion doesn’t give you the option to save your work wherever you want; it only gives you the option to publish your motion graphic as a template to Final Cut Pro. When you publish it accordingly, you are giving the option to create a name, and create a category name for your graphic. (This category name shows up in the Effects/Titles/Transitions/Generators Browser in Final Cut Pro X.) Optionally you can also create a custom theme for your graphic to live in, which then shows up in the Themes Browser.

But once this is done, your project is saved to the Motion Templates folder in your local hard drive’s Movies folder; there’s no way to save a copy to your own external hard drive if you want to bring your work with you unless you manually copy the files to your hard drive yourself in the Finder. And that means that if you have to move your work around to different computers, you have to re-publish all of your Motion templates to Final Cut on each computer that you work on. In my view, it’s extremely inflexible and frustrating.

What About Standard Motion Project Files?
If you don’t have to make a Final Cut Effect, Transition, or Title, then you can create a standard Motion Project, which does let you save your project file anywhere in the filesystem that you wish. However, as I mentioned earlier, Final Cut Pro X does not accept Motion files natively in the timeline, so you still have to publish the template to Final Cut if you wish to use it there. Standard Motion Projects can only be published to Final Cut as a Generator (go to File->Publish Template, and be sure to click the “Publish as Final Cut Generator” checkbox or it won’t go anywhere), so it’s just as difficult to move around between different workstations.

What’s worse, Motion doesn’t actually let you change around files to fit in different templates. In my case, I had a couple of old Motion files that represented the iconic lower-thirds that I use frequently when editing Tech tAUk. Motion was able to open the old files (that’s one leg-up it has over Final Cut Pro X), but it wouldn’t let me publish them to Final Cut Pro as titles. So instead I had to create a brand new Final Cut Title template from scratch and copy over the old layers to the new file. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Motion no longer lets me have two projects open at the same time! I’m sorry, I just can’t get over that.

A Word on the Other New Features
The two other new features that Apple has promoted I haven’t had the chance to try out yet. One is called Parameter Rigs, making it possible to set up rigs to modify a large number of parameters at once. Personally, I don’t quite get this one yet. The other is a set of improved controls for chroma keying, which I do look forward to trying the next time I have some green-screen footage to edit. Apple’s marketing says the tools make it easier to deal with unevenly-lit green-screens, which is a constant issue to deal with at ATV, so I look forward to giving those a try.

Motion 5 continues to be a strong app for motion graphics designers, and it is very welcoming of the speed boost and facelift that it’s received. Not to mention that of the holy trinity of Final Cut Pro X apps, it currently has the highest rating on the Mac App Store.

But my primary use of Motion has historically been focused on titles and basic motion graphics intended to bounce right back into my Final Cut Pro projects, and in my testing, the new template-based workflows are much harder to deal with than they were in the Final Cut Studio days. I strongly disapprove of Apple disallowing the native import of Motion files into the Final Cut timeline directly from the Finder, and I am befuddled by the lack of portability that this workflow entails. I edit in an environment where I can’t afford to be tied down to one single workstation, and Motion’s Final Cut templates ties me down more than ever before. Plus there’s no reason in this day and age why it shouldn’t be possible to have multiple Motion projects open at the same time.

In short, Motion 5 largely feels like an afterthought to Final Cut Pro X (as does Compressor 4, even more so).

My buying advice: If you currently use Motion 4 as a standalone product without any reliance on Final Cut Pro, then Motion 5 is definitely worth the upgrade for the interface and speed increases alone. Unfortunately, if you’re like me and rely heavily on Final Cut Pro roundtripping, you’re still going to need Motion 5 if you’re going to work with Final Cut Pro X. Even so, I sincerely hope that these concerns of mine are merely early-adopter headaches that Apple will take care of fixing soon.

The Nitty-Gritty
Motion Version 5.0 by Apple
My Rating: ★ ★
Price: $49.99
Download: Mac App Store

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About Douglas Bell

I live in Washington, D.C., and work as a Broadcast Technician at WAMU 88.5 FM, the local NPR affiliate in the Washington metro area. My primary shift is to engineer the local feed of NPR’s Morning Edition, including local news and weather, long-form features and station breaks… and yes, the shift starts at 5 am, so I’ve got the whole quasi-nocturnal thing going on. I am also the Coordinating Producer for Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie, an independently-produced podcast and public radio program. Extracurricularly, I play cello, and participate in a church choir and a handbell choir. I enjoy discovering new places, and am constantly searching for the perfect cheeseburger. I am also known as a frequent teller of puns.