Friday, October 09, 2009

The evolution of animation

I’ve been using Final Cut Pro for three or four years now. Prior to that I’d been using Premiere, but when Adobe – temporarily – abandoned the Mac platform, I switched. Coming to Final Cut, I didn’t spend much time really learning the program; I figured out what I needed to do - how to cut clips, apply transitions and effects, and add titles - and away I went. Over the years I picked up how to use the 3-Way Color Corrector (after going to a demo on using XDCAM with Final Cut Pro!) but I never spent any time learning more.

And I never got beyond Final Cut; I never did more than launch Motion, and didn’t even get that far with Color or SoundTrack.

It’s silly really, having these programs and not being able to use them to their full – or any - potential. After attending a recent seminar and seeing a demo of new features in these programs, it occurred to me that it was time to spend a bit of effort actually figuring out how to use these tools.

So I started with Motion.

Motion is a compositing and animation tool. It’s great for creating titles and effect sequences, but it’s unlike any animation tool I’ve used before.

The first real animation program I used was Director. In Director, animation is frame based. Put something in frame one, copy it to frame 2, move it’s location, then go to frame 3, and repeat. It works pretty well, and they later added tools for automating the creation of animation over a sequence of frames, but you’re still very much working on a frame-by-frame basis.

The next tool I encountered was Flash. It uses key-frame animation. Put something in frame 1, go to frame 10, create a new key frame, move the position of the object, and tell Flash to “Motion Tween” and it creates the inbetween locations for all the frames 2 to 9.

Keyframe animation is great for quickly moving something about. It’s not so good if you have something changing it’s shape as it moves (say a character walking, which is really a sequence of graphics) but even that can be worked around. It still took a little time to “unlearn” what I was used to doing in Director.

And now here’s Motion, which is essentially an animation tool. And yes, it has key frames, but Motion adds something new to the mix: Behaviors.

Want something to move across the screen? Attach the Throw behavior. Let me say right here that there’s something awfully disruptive about using the word Throw as a command in an application. To define the Throw, you set the starting point (in the timeline) and the end point, and let it “throw”. Now you can still sort of think of it as key frames (start and end), but it’s so much more – and so different to – key framing.

Behaviors are so powerful, that the book I was using to learn the program literally said for the first half; “Don’t worry about key frames.” And it’s true, you can do amazing things with Behaviors. Motion also includes a Particle System which makes it possible to do things that are tedious or even unimaginable in other animation programs. Think of it as a way to generate patterns of dozens or thousands of objects; for everything from smoke to bubbles.

I’m still getting my head around it.

I have the original Apple Pro Training Series: Motionbook, so I’ve been using it to get a better grasp of Motion. It was interesting using a book written for version 1 of Motion, with version 4 of the software. I got through 95% of the book without really noticing any differences; and 4% of differences were hardly significant; Layers are now Groups, and it now correctly guessed the type of mask applied to one kind of graphic. I did have a bit of a problem when one of the effects (lens flare) had been moved completely from where it was supposed to be, but I eventually figured that out too.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t cover some of the newer features, like the 3D camera tools, but I found an online tutorial that helped with that. The book was a really good introduction, and even though I haven’t seen the latest issue, on the strength of the first one I’d recommend it for those looking to get a leg up on Motion.

Rather than buy the new lesson book, I’ve pre-ordered Apple Pro Training Series: Motion 4 Quick-Reference Guidein the hope that it will help me with the things I don’t understand now.

All in all, I think Motion is very cool, and if I can remember how to use half of the stuff that the book showed, then I’ll be happy!

Apple: Motion
Amazon: Apple Pro Training Series: Motion 4
Amazon: Apple Pro Training Series: Motion 4 Quick-Reference Guide

Apple: Making Your Design Move with Motion
Ken Stone net: Particles in Motion
Studio Daily: Play with 3D Space in Apple Motion 3
CreativeCOW: Apple Motion Tutorials

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