Price: Pro £1,385 plus VAT, DV £550 plus VAT
Reviewers in Digit have been complaining for a while now about just how little seems to constitute a .0 upgrade these days. Anything more than a bug fix seems to constitute a .5 and companies seem not to think that creatives will not hand over their hard-earned readies for less than the full .0. It’s refreshing then to see just how much video-paint package Commotion has changed since the previous version (2.2). An interface overhaul or the introduction of a few new features ‘appropriated’ from competitive products is not good enough for manufacturers Puffin Designs. The company’s acquisition by Pinnacle has allowed Commotion to severely reduce the number of companion products you need to use with it, and finally opens the product up to a whole new market – DV. Although Commotion DV has been around since version 2.0, it has been until now a very niche product. If you worked on the kind of materials that need Commotion’s video paint-based tools then you’re unlikely to be working in DV – and almost certainly not just in this format. However, Commotion is no longer just a video paint tool – it’s a fully-fledged effects studio as well. Put simply, take the old Commotion and throw in After Effects and you’ve pretty much got version 3.0. The central tenets of modern editing and compositing packages have been added to Commotion and it’s a fantastic boost. Commotion now has a fully-keyframeable timeline with support for multiple layers. And there’s a composite preview window with every element inside open to clicking, dragging and general abuse. Commotion previously used a clip-based approach traditional to video paint packages, which can be a little alien to anyone who familiar with Premiere and After Effects. The addition of layers, keyframes and a timeline now makes it accessible to this crowd from the off – making it a great place for users with basic effects and compositing skills to get into the painstaking world of video painting. However, all users will gain something from the new facilities in Commotion 3.0. From a productivity point of view, you don’t need to waste time swapping between Commotion and After Effects any more. On the quality side, you can combine effects and paint on layers in the same structure in a way almost impossible using two applications. The other major barrier that separated Commotion from the likes of After Effects was the lack of effects. Version 3.0 offers 25 effects filters in the DV version and 75 for Commotion Pro. The standard 25 filters offer all of the common ones for colour correction and image processing and are useful without being exceptional. For the Pro version, Puffin has decided that sticking with what you know is often better than striking out into the unknown – the extra 50 filters form three packages that most effects creators should know. Primatte Keyer makes matte creation for blue- or green-screening as easy as falling off a lighting rig. Composite Wizard includes all of the standard neat tricks for creating seamless composites (edge control, colour range editing and backlighting creation). Image Lounge completes the set with particle and graphic design creation. These are very usable overall, although Image Lounge can’t compete with complete packages of either of its two elements: particle effects and character generation. So, what if you’re a current Commotion and After Effects user and you’re quite happy with your workflow? Or you resent paying the £280 upgrade price just to bring them together? Well, there’s some extras here for you – but maybe not as many as you’d like. The additions to the Composite window are useful, whether you’re interested in the timeline or not. Two-way paint, as Puffin calls the system, allows you to paint directly in the composite window and see the results in your clip as well – and vice versa. G3 and G4 Mac users can also export the composite window to external monitors through the FireWire port. Windows users need to have one of a select number of Pinnacle video-capture devices to obtain the same results. Lastly, users who want to play back long clips in RAM can ‘fake it’ using a RAID 0 disk array, as long as you have two or more spare Ultra2 SCSI drives kicking around. These features may seem like nothing to write home about – and for a large part they’re not – but the two-way paint system coupled with the layers-based timeline is likely to wean even the most AE-addicted soul away from the app-switching approach. It can’t compare with the full After Effects Production Bundle on effects alone, but Commotion has gone far beyond what it was – transcending the boundaries of video-paint tools to combine paint and effects in a credible whole. If Puffin adds editing and some more effects tools to the next big upgrade, Commotion 5 could allow you to do everything in the same package. Now there’s a thought to cherish.