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Review: Motion PowerStart

Oct, 2004
Motion PowerStart course on DVD-ROM
Requirements: Mac OS X, QT 6+, 1024 X 768 monitor, DVD drive
Price: $79.95


By David A. Saraceno

Apple's Motion compositing program was released for sale approximately two months ago. This revolutionary and sometimes controversial version 1 provides a new paradigm for designing graphics, at a significantly lower price point. With an appropriate hardware system, and a powerful video card, Motion provides near real time feedback for the creative motion graphics professional. Instructional material has been sparse to date. Motion ships with a small "Grand Tour" Guide and a manual in PDF format, and there have been various reviews and tutorials on the web, but no dedicated instructional resources until now.

First out of the block to fill the void is "Michael Wohl's Motion PowerStart" from This DVD-ROM instructional piece provides, in three chapters, a surprisingly in depth analysis of some basic and advanced features in Motion. And like any good movie, the creators have left open the option for a series of sequels to explore additional features of Motion.

Motion PowerStart's narrator is Michael Wohl, a filmmaker, editor, co-creator of Final Cut Pro, and author of "Editing Techniques with Final Cut Pro." Accompanying him in writing the DVD is Josh Mellicker, a certified instructor in Motion. Wohl's fast-paced narration is rich with suggestions, explanations, and power tips both to introduce you to the basics of the program and streamline your workflow. All is accomplished within the context of a series of projects that commence with a 10-second television bumper and culminate in the design of a DVD motion menu.

The PowerStart DVD ships with the instructional section, project media, and some nice footage in both SD and HD formats.

Copy the PowerStart media to your hard drive, and launch the instructional section. In the start section, Wohl outlines the scope and focus of the PowerStart DVD, and differentiates Motion from dedicated particle generators, After Effects, and other traditional compositing tools.

Wohl feels that with Motion Apple has targeted editors and designers who want to design video graphics without learning the complexities of programs such as Combustion or AE. He feels that the program's primary feature is real time feedback in the creative process, which he considers similar to the artistic endeavor of doing a real time audio mix.

There are three basic chapters in the instructional piece and separate pieces on integration with Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro. In addition, an overview of the basic Motion interface is detailed. Wohl recommends, as does Apple, a top of the line computer, plenty of system RAM, and a "killer video card."

PowerStart Interface. Wohl recommends that you have the PowerStart DVD and Motion open simultaneously. This enables the user to switch to Motion to follow along with the tutorial as it progresses. To this end, the DVD implements the use of "chunks" in its interface.

With chunks enabled, the PowerStart DVD automatically pauses to permit the user to switch to Motion to perform the instructional task. A separate video section and narrative in the DVD explains how to implement the chunks feature. If you want to view the video without interruption, you can turn off chunks. Another interesting feature of the interface is the "ask a question button" that takes you directly to the web site, where you can post a question on their forums ­ a very nice feature.

You can use either the main menu or the DVD "map" button to quickly get to any portion of the instructional piece.

Self-paced learning. DVD-based learning coupled with specific projects and supplied material is, in my view, the best of all worlds for learning ­ and in this respect, PowerStart excels. From simple suggestions, such as holding the Option key down when selecting a "new" file to access various presets, to the recurrent "pop up" reminders for power tips and other suggestions, this DVD is a trove of information ­ particularly for the novice and intermediate user. Perhaps that's the status we all hold given the newness of motion.

Some users may initially view the instruction as basic. I initially felt that way, but as I viewed the piece again, I realized that there was "no wasted space" of substance in Wohl's information. The information on filters, emitters, behaviors, and other features was excellent. It embraced not only how to use them, but how to improve workflow when using them. In this sense, the instruction was both creative and efficient. Wohl even describes how to add a menu command to use the "fade in/fade out" behavior.

As the DVD progresses, you'll learn how to replace footage to speed workflow, the importance of "grouping" layers, which is the Motion equivalent of nesting or precomposing in After Effects, overcoming creative obstacles using various keyboard commands, and as the web site correctly points out, developing good habits when working in the timeline.

PowerStart also touches on the oft misunderstood and unheralded use of key framing in Motion, using both the "record" function and the key frame editor. There are sections on the various masking tools, a fairly thorough explanation of modifying particle generators, and a good discussion of creating and saving favorites to preserve the "look and feel" of graphics in an interface or motion sequence.

No doubt we'll see additional instructional aids slowly released for Motion, and hopefully a forthcoming maintenance release to increase stability as well. Until then the Motion PowerStart DVD provides a straightforward instructional experience within the context of real projects to gain a working knowledge of both the application and a solid professional workflow.

copyright ©2004 David A. Saraceno

David A. Saraceno is a motion graphics artist located in Spokane, Washington. He has written for DV Magazine, AV Video, MacHome Journal, and several state and national legal technology magazines. David also moderates several forums on
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