Motion 2.1.2, by Apple
Posted: 7-Nov-2006

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Halle Winkler Class: MULTIMEDIA

In the summer of 2004, to the keen anticipation of Mac-based videomakers, Apple unveiled version 1.0 of Motion. Although the advance rumors gave the impression that Motion was being launched as an After Effects competitor, it turned out to be a different approach to certain animation tasks. Motion supplemented After Effects instead of replacing it. After Effects' strengths are its many powerful compositing tools such as motion tracking, stabilization and the ability to work in 3D space, while Motion's focus was clearly on motion graphics -- the art of animated graphic design. It pursued this goal by offering a streamlined User Interface, real-time preview, and new tools optimized for the task of making graphic elements slide, shake, and propagate. At $299, it could be added to the pro toolbox without a lot of soul-searching.

Motion 2 was released in the spring of 2005 and added a new tool called the Replicator, along with increased color depth and HD support, accelerated Core Image GPU processing, editable keyframe velocity curves, and the ability to do live effects mixing using MIDI controllers.

In April of 2006, Apple announced that the long-anticipated universal binary version -- Motion 2.1 -- was available as part of the $1299 Final Cut Studio 5.1, and would not be offered as a standalone product. However, licensed owners of Motion 2 (as well as licensed owners of Final Cut Pro 4 and 5, Soundtrack Pro and DVD Studio Pro 4) have been offered very low upgrade prices to Final Cut Studio 5.1 (you can learn more about this program at
Apple's web site).

Motion 2.1 is a motion graphics program for the creation of special effects, animation, typographical treatments and particle generation for standard-definition and high-definition video. It is integrated with both Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects as part of a video post-production workflow.

When used with the Nvidia GeForce 6800, 7800 or Quadro 4500 video cards, Motion can support resolutions up to 4K, and it offers GPU acceleration up to 32-bit-float (per channel) color depths when used with any supported video card. That means that its best output should theoretically be high enough quality to be transferred to film and projected in cinemas, although putting that to the test is a bit beyond the means of this reviewer.

As part of Final Cut Studio 5.1, Motion 2.1 comes with the latest versions of Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Cinema Tools, Compressor and LiveType.


  • 867MHz or faster G4, G5, or Intel Core Duo, 1GHz or faster for HD
  • 512MB of RAM; 1GB of RAM for HD (2GB recommended) with 1024-by-768 or higher resolution display
  • Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later and QuickTime 7.0.4 or later
  • 5.9GB of disk space to install application and content (content can be installed on a separate drive)

Supported graphics cards: ATI Radeon 9800XT, ATI Radeon 9700 Pro, ATI Radeon 9600XT or 9600 Pro, ATI Mobility Radeon 9700, ATI Mobility Radeon 9600, NVIDIA GeForce 6600 and 6600LE, NVIDIA GeForce Go5200 or FX 5200 Ultra, ATI Radeon X850 XT, ATI Radeon X800 XT, ATI Radeon X1600, NVIDIA GeForce Quadro FX 4500, NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL or 6800 GT DDL.

Motion has also been found to run on systems with the GMA 950 shared-memory graphics card (the MacBook, Intel Mac Mini and education-only Intel iMac), but this is officially unsupported by Apple.

Note: in this review I am using a PowerBook G4 1.5 GHz with 1GB of RAM, so all performance observations derive from the use of a computer that is on the low end of the minimum requirements.


Only available as part of Apple's Final Cut Studio 5.1, which goes for $1299.

Before installing any single program in the Production Suite, it is advisable to start with the "Final Cut Studio" install DVD and install the shared software for the suite, and it's necessary to download and install the latest version of QuickTime Pro (a QuickTime Pro license is included with the suite).

Next I inserted the Motion 2 Install DVD and launched the standard installer package. I accepted the EULA and picked a destination, and after several minutes to copy the 6GB of DVD content, the installer finished. I chose to keep Motion's content on an external drive rather than on my boot drive, which is no problem for either the installer or the application.

After launching and registering, I quit to check for updates, and installed update 2.1.2.

After software installation, the remaining setup issue in the case of video production is playback. There is no way to simulate the luminosity of television video on a computer monitor, so video work that is destined for broadcast or projection requires a well-calibrated video production monitor to be used at some point in the process. A production monitor is basically a very precise and very tough -- and very overpriced -- tuner-less TV. More information about production monitors and calibration can be founds as the
Syntehtic-AP web site [PDF]. It isn't necessary to preview Motion projects using external video, but it's a lot easier to see what you're really doing.

There is no getting around the fact that any interface dedicated to both multilayered graphics creation and motion over time is going to be complex, and the more control the user is given, the more cramped the UI is in danger of becoming. However, Motion's UI has been tightly organized for good workflow and space efficiency, and it offers multiple approaches to accomplish different tasks without giving in to the tendency to simply pile one palette on top of another. The UI can be customized to a certain extent and different arrangements can be saved and recalled.

That being said, in the Motion manual and tutorials, Apple has a tendency to oversell the simplicity of the interface, and the program, oddly, defaults to a state in which two of the most essential parts of the motion graphics UI (the object layers and the timeline) are concealed. Judging by the fact that every tutorial begins by instructing the user to unhide them, it's clear that the Motion team is aware of their necessity, making this seem like a minor piece of wishful thinking.

But there is no denying that in day-to-day work, Motion is easy to interact with, even on one modestly-sized monitor. I think that its best achievement is that I never found myself selecting an object that I didn't intend to (or enacting any strange rituals to avoid doing that), which got me wishing that Adobe would license the UI wholesale, not for After Effects, but for the next version of Flash. These kinds of thoughts often come to mind while using Motion; a little more pixel editing and it's almost Photoshop, add some scripting and it's almost Flash, add a third dimension and it's entering the realm of After Effects. Motion is, in some ways, a small and almost over-focused application, but there are occasional glimpses into the good planning that underpins it that make you wonder if it is going to metamorphose into some kind of universal graphics colossus in the future.

There are seven major interface sections: the Canvas, the Project pane, the Timing pane, the Inspector, the File Browser/Library, Dashboard windows, and the Toolbar (note: the Inspector and the Library default to being tabs on the Utility pane, but I expect that most users would separate them, so I'm counting them as two palettes instead of a single pane).

Motion 2 - Primary User Interface

The Canvas is where the movie is viewed, and the Project pane is where object layers and project media are housed and managed. The Timing pane is a timeline containing the keyframing and audio tabs.

Motion 2 Canvas and Timeline

The Inspector is where the finest level of control is to be found, over any parameter that Motion gives access to, and the Dashboard is its complementary counterpart -- a floating semi-transparent palette that allows quick changes to a few of the most important parameters of the selected object (if I had a word of text selected, I could change its color or size in the Dashboard window, but if I wanted to make it glow or give it a drop shadow, I'd be off to the Inspector).

Motion 2 Inspector

Motion 2 Semi-transparent Dashboard

The File Browser and Library navigate the computer file system and Motion content respectively, and the Toolbar contains tools for creating and manipulating graphics, as well as shortcuts to filters, Behaviors and the Replicator.

Motion 2 Library

The Toolbar is the only choice here that I question; it doesn't do anything that couldn't be handled in the standard menubar other than house the object manipulation tools, which would fit perfectly into the top section of the canvas and make sense there as well.

Motion 2 Toolbar

In general, the look of the software is the ultra-compressed UI that Apple has moved towards in most of its Pro Apps, which is on one hand marvelously space-efficient, and on the other hand very un-Apple-looking and always a little squashed and dark. I frequently grabbed and moved the edge of the Project pane when I was trying to scroll the Inspector; there's no room for imprecise mousing here.

In a nice touch, users with a graphics tablet can access many commands by use of drawn gestures using their stylus.

What does real-time mean, really?
There are two dimensions of resolution in digital video -- spatial resolution that can be determined by the quality of color and detail reproduction in a single frame, and temporal resolution that can be measured in frames per second during playback. In an application like Motion, enough filters and generators are eventually going to bog down even the mightiest new CPUs, so in order to keep playing back without a pause for rendering, Motion reduces the framerate and leaves the visual detail level alone.

Motion 2 - Project Preferences

On my low-end machine, I found it very easy to keep a sense of what was going on in my animations in spite of the framerate reduction, and would say that Motion 2's realtime playback is all it's cracked up to be. The one performance issue I experienced was that when there was too much going on, trying to interact with the UI could become pretty hit-or-miss, and on a few occasions, I found myself pressing space to halt playback and waiting more than 15 seconds before it actually happened.

The Tutorials
A quirk of the Final Cut Studio 5.1 upgrade program is that they don't give you a single printed manual with all of that software (they also don't give you those cute little Final Cut keyboard stickers that eventually come off and stick to your fingertips after 14 hours of editing in the middle of the summer). Can anyone stand following a tutorial by switching between their PDF reader and the program they're learning? In any case, the tutorials are very good and take you through all of the necessary steps towards competence in the application with clarity and skill, starting with an introduction to the UI, followed by working with Behaviors, text, particles and the Replicator. Additionally, there are some video tutorials on
Apple's tutorials page, and more learning materials to be found on Motion's support page under the heading "Learn More about Motion". There is also a wealth of learning materials on third-party websites. This is not an application that requires the user to invest in classes, books or learning DVDs in order to master it.

Motion comes with a number of off-the-rack templates that can be selected through its Template Browser. They run the gamut from OK to great, but none of them really have that knockout Apple art direction (I guess that's proprietary!). I always find myself wondering if there are really a lot of commercial applications for video templates, but I guess for corporate video or anything with constrained distribution, it might be an option. In any case, templates are now de rigueur for Apple software for a number of reasons, and it certainly doesn't detract from the software to have them.

Motion 2 Template Browser

One of the most pleasing aspects of Motion is its move away from animating with keyframes in favor of Behaviors, which are procedural animation tools that allow the user to decide that "the object moves left for x frames at n velocity" instead of "the object starts moving left at frame 27 at these coordinates, and stops at frame 47 at these coordinates". The advantage is that instead of hunting down every keyframe on frame 27 and dragging them all one frame forward when you are ready to tweak the timing of your piece, you can move the behaviors themselves along with the objects they are attached to. And if you want the movement to be 19 frames long instead of 20, or slower, it's just a parameter change. Behaviors can be dragged onto objects, copied, pasted, saved and added to a favorites list for re-use. Keyframing is still there, and it is still necessary for certain animation tasks, but it is a joy to be able to do so many kinds of animation without entering the minutiae-obsessed keyframe mindset.

Motion 2 - Particle Behaviors

Filters and Generators
Motion 2 comes with some new filters and generators in addition to the large set 1.0 shipped with; we now have Basic 3D (approximates some 3D effects), and the very nice new Caustics generator, among others. The GPU acceleration is very noticeable when using filters and particle generators; it's fast even on my PowerBook. Filters, like behaviors, can be dragged onto objects, and changed versions can be saved and added to your Favorites.

Motion 2 now has its own plugin development API, FxPlug, which allows effects developers to create Motion-native filters that can take advantage of the software's GPU acceleration. Motion has had scattershot compatibility with After Effects plugins since version one, and in version two, it is improved, if not to the extent that users might wish for. There are important After Effects packages that still don't work with Motion such as Red Giant's Magic Bullet Suite, although Magic Bullet Editors works great with Motion and it's fast as well.

Particles and the Replicator
One area in which Motion has always excelled is particle generation, and Motion 2 continues to go from strength to strength in this area. Not only does Motion ship with a large number of attractive particle emitters ranging from flames to bubbles to rain and beyond, but anything you can import or draw or construct in Motion can be turned into an emitter or replicated and animated with the new Replicator and Sequence Replicator behavior. If you need dozens of anything emerging from the corners of the screen and spiraling towards the center while changing colors, it's easy. Simulations make it easy to apply physics effects to emitters (and other moving objects), for instance simulating gravity or repulsion among the objects as they move.

Motion 2 - Particle Emitters

Any typeface that is supported by OS X is accessible from within Motion, and all of the LiveFonts from the LiveType install in Final Cut Studio can be used directly in Motion just as they would be in LiveType. I had expected LiveType to be phased out when Motion was made part of Final Cut Studio, but both applications are part of the suite. At this point in time, I would recommend doing any new titling work in Motion rather than LiveType, since LiveType's future might be a little hazy. Motion offers the ability to set type just as well, and then do anything with it that you can do with any other object in Motion.

A major step forward in version 2 is increased integration, with After Effects and also with other Apple software such as iTunes and iPhoto (you can access playlists and slideshows directly through Motion's Library tab). Motion 2 projects can be dragged into After Effects 6.5, which treats them as QuickTime files. By launching Motion as the file editor for those files in After Effects, changes can be made in Motion and are updated in After Effects. That's pretty great. Predictably, Motion is tightly integrated with the other Apple Pro Video applications as well.

And Then There Was Shake
One last twist in Motion's tale: until recently, Apple was also producing Shake, Motion's high-end big brother (it was used for CGI compositing on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter films, among others). Shake started out as a $4999 product before dropping down to $2999 over the last couple of versions. This summer, Apple unexpectedly announced that the universal binary of Shake 4 was completed, but they were ending development and support of the product and reducing its price to $499. The plan? To develop an entirely new high-end compositor for release in 2008, based on Motion. For video- and filmmakers on a budget who aren't ready to invest in the entire Final Cut Studio suite and can stomach the lack of support, this standalone application has come down to earth and offers power to spare, at only $200 more than Motion 1 originally cost as a standalone. Something to consider if your needs run more towards CGI epic than motion graphics.

Apple's Motion 2.1 is a motion graphics program for the creation of awesome special effects, animation, typographical treatments and particle generation for standard-definition and high-definition video. While Motion isn't an After Effects killer, it could be After Effects' killer app. Motion 2 is not a huge leap forward from Motion 1, but a lot of rough edges have been smoothed, and an essentially good idea has been made demonstratably better (and faster). Some may find that it makes certain aesthetic choices so easy that it tends to promote them in a subtle way, and if I had to speculate as to why it hasn't seen broader adoption in video post, that would be my guess -- I occasionally found myself struggling to execute ideas which didn't involve anything gliding, changing opacity or replicating, and that is a little bit unsettling somehow. On the whole, though, with its easy-to-live-with UI and gentle learning curve, Motion has a low barrier to entry and plenty to offer as an animation tool for those who are already using the Final Cut Studio suite.


  • Clear, well-conceived UI
  • Realtime previewing and GPU acceleration means that Motion is impressively fast even on slower systems
  • Easy learning curve
  • Many animation tasks that would take ages on other applications are easy and precise with Motion
  • Highly integrated with After Effects 6.5


  • Motion is so optimized for certain looks that you may find yourself slipping into "Motion style" animations or trying not to
  • No longer available as standalone (puts it out of reach for people who are invested in non-Apple tools)
  • Does not come with physical manuals
  • The UI is complex (take Apple's claims about its simplicity with a large grain of salt)

Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice