By Neil Bennett | on October 11, 2001
Price When Reviewed: £372 plus VAT (Pro version £747 plus VAT)
Anyone who knows anything about compositing knows that 3D is the future. Who needs 2D when you can mix your footage and animation in true 3D space to create results that put Spielberg to shame? Well, we all do. Adobe, Boris and Discreet have been pushing the 3D line – and backing it with some excellent products – but it’s a fact that most compositing still takes place in using stacked 2D layers. There’s still a place for video paint and rotoscoping in the year 2001, and we’ve just seen the release of the top package in these two fields – Commotion. There’s no new fancy 3D doodads in this update, just improvements to what it does best. Commotion has earned a reputation for creating top-notch results and even found favour in high-end post work, working next to the likes of Discreet Flame and Inferno for paint and garbage matte work in films and commercials. Two flavours Commotion exists in two configurations, DV and Pro. Traditionally Commotion DV has provided an almost full set of paint and rotoscoping tools – plus effects filters and text controls. The Pro version added support for film-based formats such as Cineon, particle effects, motion tracking, blue/greenscreen and compositing tools including keying (with semi-transparency and spill removal), blending, backlighting, shadows and depth-of-field effects. Both versions of Commotion 4.0 have gained a major speed boost – and that’s not just from the growth in processor speeds and general RAM spec since version 3.0. Pinnacle claims to have boosted the compositing engine by up to 30 per cent, the paint engine by up to 200 per cent and rotoscoping spline feathering by a whopping 3,000 per cent. In real-world tests these figures seem to bear up to scrutiny, at least for the Mac version – but then the Windows has always been notoriously slow. Also to make working in Commotion easier, Pinnacle has added support for its CineWave and Targa 3000 capture cards. This lets users view their compositions in the Video Preview window in real-time, as well as output them to external PAL monitors. As well as speeding things up this also means that you’ll be able to see exactly how your colours and effects come out on TV. Photoshop layers support Commotion 4.0 also plugs one of 3.0’s major gaps – allowing the import of layered Adobe Photoshop files with transfer modes, transparencies, masks and layer names intact. Beforehand you would have had to settle with alpha-channel enabled Targas, but now you can use this feature to bring in all manner of still graphics and text and combine it with your footage. There’s also been a bit of an interface overhaul. Although it’s traditionally been simple to move the interface elements around, these can be quite blocky and get in each other’s way. Commotion 4.0 tries to get round this by redesigning a lot of these elements. This makes seeing what’s going on easier whatever windows you have open. Each clip and composite window includes player controls with scrub, time-code editing and in/out controls. The new Timeline Browser lets you quickly see individual layers and groups of layers. Grouping has also been turned into a management tool and a way to apply filters (such as mattes and colour corrections) to more than one layer at once. You can set the timeline to only display each group, which allows for a tidier layout. Effects work has also been made easier by the parameter palette, which allows you to pull out effect information from the timeline onto a separate palette. One thing that’s noticeable from the interface changes, especially on the Mac, is how much Commotion is becoming like Apple Final Cut Pro (FCP). This is a good thing for FCP users – especially with Commotion’s new access to CineWave, which works with FCP – but it also indicates which platform Commotion is now firmly fixated on. The Mac version is a lot faster overall than its Windows counterpart – and certain tools, such as the motion tracker, are further optimized for the G4. Commotion 4.0 also further boosts the SuperBlur filter if you own a G4. And as the Windows version also falls over more than Jimmy Carter did in the 70s, I wouldn’t be surprised if Commotion 5.0 dropped Windows support altogether. Manual mismanagement The manual’s also entirely filled with Mac screenshots. Additionally, a big black mark goes against the package as the two books (one for overall reference and one with filter-specific information and tutorials) are poorly organized – even missing indices. Commotion 4.0 Pro adds two specific types of effects that aren’t in the DV update. The blur set has been updated with a new motion-blur filter plus zoom and spin blur with quality controls for setting quality and sharpness. These work as well as any competitor but can’t match a higher-end tool such as Combustion. The Pro version also gives you far greater control over creating slow and fast motion video by allowing you to work on this using the Curve Editor window. Version 4.0 adds a good number of tools both for both versions – but the Pro-only update seems wasted. It’s not alone here. There has been a tendency with products that have two configurations for updates to focus almost completely on adding features for both versions, such as Adobe After Effects. This can be annoying if you own the higher-end version and you’re paying for an update that offers little above the often half-priced update to lower version. However, price is not something you can criticize Commotion on. Both versions have seen substantial price drops since version 3.0 – making the package a bargain. Even if the price drop hadn’t happened, Commotion is still an excellent product in its own right, as long as you’re a Mac user. Now, if only we could get a decent manual.