… for Apple Motion

Tip #465: What is a Rig?

Rigs simplify controlling effects in Motion.

A new Rig added to a Motion project.

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Rigs are used to pass controls for Motion template effects from Motion to Final Cut Pro X. But they are also useful in Motion, itself, to simplify the control set of a complex project. Instead of making changes by manipulating individual parameters in various Inspectors, you can modify the Motion project using just a few widgets in a single rig.

NOTE: A “widget” is a single control contained in a rig.

A rig is especially helpful when you need to share a complex project with multiple users or when the project is designed to be updated each time it’s used. For example, you can create a basic project for an animated lower-third title that incorporates two text objects and a background replicator.

Each time the project is used, the size and position of the lower third (a replicator in this example) must change to match the length of the text, and the color must cycle through your project’s color scheme. By adding a rig to the project, you can create a small set of controls that modify only the parameters such changes require.


To learn how to build a rig in Motion, open the Help files and search for “Build a Simple Rig?”

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… for Visual Effects

Tip #469: What is a Bump Map?

Bump maps provide texture to objects based on grayscale textures.

(From L to R) Bump-mapped image, source image, gray-scale texture.

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Typically, bump maps are used to apply texture to a smooth object.

Bump maps are 8-bit grayscale images. This means that they only have 256 values between black and white. These gray-scale values are used to tell the effects software how to texture an object.

In this screen shot, a texture (right) is applied to a smooth image (center) using a bump map effect to give the final image (left) texture.

In this example, to create the source texture for a bump map, a high-amount of visual noise was applied to a mid-tone gray background using Photoshop.

Bump maps are highly useful in creating texture, but they don’t change the actual shape of an image. This means that if you are creating cast shadows, the shadow will mirror the source object, not the bump-mapped finished effect.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #452: What is OGG

Ogg is an open-source container format for media assets.

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Ogg is another compression format you may have heard of.

According to Wikipedia, Ogg, like MXF and QuickTime, is a free, open container format maintained by the Xiph.Org Foundation, which is based in Massachusetts. The creators of the Ogg format state that it is unrestricted by software patents and is designed to provide for efficient streaming and manipulation of high-quality digital multimedia. Its name is derived from “ogging”, jargon from the computer game “Netrek.”

The Ogg container format can multiplex a number of independent streams for audio, video, text (such as subtitles), and metadata. Versions of it are supported on Windows, Mac and other platforms.

Because the format is free, and its reference implementation is not subject to restrictions associated with copyright, Ogg’s various codecs have been incorporated into a number of different free and proprietary media players, both commercial and non-commercial, as well as portable media players and GPS receivers from different manufacturers.

Here’s a link to learn more: xiph.org

… for Visual Effects

Tip #450: What Does Sharpening Do?

Sharpening adjusts the apparent focus of a clip.

The top is unsharpened, the bottom is significantly sharpened.

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Sharpening adjusts the apparent focus of a clip, without actually changing its focus.

Sharpening adjusts the contrast at the edges of objects in an image to improve their apparent focus. What our eye sees as “focus” is actually the sharpness of the edges between a foreground object and the background. If the edges are sharp, our eye considers the image in focus. If not, we consider the image – or that part of the image at least – blurry.

Unsharp Masking (which is the preferred method of sharpening) enhances the contrast between two adjacent edges. Our eye perceives that improved contrast as improved focus, though nothing about the focus of an image has changed.

When using Unsharp Mask, a little goes a long way. A Radius setting between 1.5 and 4 will yield perceptible results without making the image look like bad VHS tape.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #453: What is WebM?

WebM is supported by Mozilla, Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome.

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Developed and owned by Google, WebM is an audiovisual media file format. It is primarily intended to offer a royalty-free alternative to use in the HTML5 video and the HTML5 audio elements. It has a sister project WebP for images. The development of the format is sponsored by Google, and the corresponding software is distributed under a BSD license. There is some dispute, however, if WebM is truly royalty-free.

According to Wikipedia, native WebM support by Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome was announced at the 2010 Google I/O conference. Internet Explorer 9 requires third-party WebM software. Safari for macOS which relied on QuickTime to play web media until Safari 12, still does not have native support for WebM.

VLC media player, MPlayer, K-Multimedia Player and JRiver Media Center have native support for playing WebM files Android also supports WebM.

Here’s a link to learn more.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #454: More Than You Need to Know – About Codecs

20 different codecs – all easy to compare.

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I was wandering around Wikipedia and discovered this comparison table of twenty popular media “containers,” their features and related codecs. This is fascinating to explore, simply due to the diversity.

Even if you don’t understand all of this – and I don’t – it is still fun to look at. Why? Because this puts key features of popular codecs all in one place, making them easy to review and compare.

Here’s a link to learn more.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #436: What is a B-spline Curve?

B-splines are used to create shapes with no sharp corners.

An example of an open-ended B-spline curve.

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B-spline curves (short for Basis spline) are frequently used to create shapes because, unlike Bézier curves, B-splines have no corners.

A B-spline is a combination of flexible bands that pass through a number of points (called control points) to create smooth curves. These functions enable the creation and management of complex shapes and surfaces using a number of points. B-spline and Bézier functions are applied extensively for shape optimization.

B-splines can be open (where the ends are not connected, as in this screen shot), or closed.

The shape of the B-spline is determined by moving the nodes, the red dots in this illustration. These act as magnets, attracting the shape of the curve as the nodes move.

Neither Premiere nor Final Cut support B-splines, but After Effects and Motion do.


An extension of B-splines are NURBS (short for “non-uniform rational B-splines”). The big benefit to NURBS is that they can exist in three dimensions. I’d, ah, show you the equations for these, but they make my brain hurt.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #414: What is a Container Format?

Containers hold stuff – like media.

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QuickTime and MXF are often described as media “containers.” But, what is a container?

A “container,” also called a “wrapper,” is a metafile (analogous to a folder) whose specification describes how the different elements inside it are stored. Similar to a Keynote file or a Library in Final Cut Pro X, a container is a file that holds files, but still acts like a single file. Unlike a folder, when you double-click it, a container opens the files inside it.

By definition, a container could contain anything, but, generally, they focus on a specific type of data – most often involving media. Containers can hold video, audio, timecode, captions, and metadata that describes the contents of the container.

Popular containers include:

  • Both AIFF and WAV are containers, but only hold audio.
  • TIFF is a container for still images.
  • QuickTime, MXF and MPEG-2 Transport stream are containers for audio, video and related files.

The big benefit to containers is that they are not tied to a single codec, but allow us to use a single container for mutiple codecs, thus hiding the underlying technology inside a familiar format.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #415: Everything Starts With an IFF

All our media starts as a “chunk.”

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Back in WWII, an “IFF” was a radar signal used for “identification friend or foe.” But, in the media world, IFF has an entirely different meaning – one that we use everyday.

The Interchange File Format (IFF) is a generic container file format, invented in 1985 by Jerry Morrison at Electronic Arts, along with engineers at Commodore, to simplify transferring data between computers.

Common IFF formats include:

  • AIFF (Audio IFF file)
  • TIFF (Tagged IFF file)
  • PNG (a modified form of IFF)
  • FourCC (a Windows media format)
  • QuickTime also has IFF elements as part of its structure

An IFF file is built up from chunks, small pieces of data containing media and information about that media, similar to an Ethernet packet.

Each type of chunk typically has a different internal structure, which could be numerical, text or raw (unstructured) data.

The benefit to using IFF files is that it become easy to move files from one program or computer to another. An even better benefit is that IFF, like Ethernet, does not require us to understand how it works in order to use it.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #374: Constant Bitrate vs. Constant Quality

Two new encoding options for Blackmagic RAW media.

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This article, written by Lewis MaGregor, first appeared in PremiumBeat. Let’s take a quick look at the two new encoding options in Blackmagic RAW.

  • Constant Bitrate. This makes sure your file sizes remain predictable and manageable because your media is never going to surpass the selected data rate. While Constant Bitrate is a surefire setting, to make sure the file sizes and quality will remain as advertised, it may cause issues when the footage being captured could do without the extra compression, ensuring that all details of a busy scene are clear.
  • Constant Quality. This has a variable bitrate with no upper data limit. This means if you’re filming a wedding and the guests start throwing confetti and rice, and more objects enter into focus, the bitrate will adjust to account for the increase in complex frame information, maintaining the overall quality of the entire image. Of course, this comes with larger file sizes that you can’t predict.