Pinnacle Systems Commotion Pro 3.11

In the continuing spirit of "the right tool for the job," the latest version of Commotion Pro takes the already great paint, rotoscoping, and compositing tool to new heights of functionality.

Fast FactsApplications: Postproduction, compositing

Key features: Playback from RAM; supports AfterEffects plug ins; familiar interface

Price: $1,995


Pinnacle Systems Over the last few years, Commotion has evolved from a fairly straightforward, single-clip-based paint and effects application into a more powerful cross-platform multi-layer, effects, paint, rotoscoping, motion tracking program that is virtually a one stop solution to most needs.

The program underwent a major upgrade at Version 3, shortly before Puffin Designs, the original authors, was acquired by Pinnacle Systems. Virtually every aspect of the program has been enhanced and streamlined with the latest updates.


You may notice from the illustration that the user interface has elements familiar from both Photoshop and AfterEffects. This is no accidental design, and adds greatly to the ease of use.

The toolbar contains many Photoshop-like tools, similar in function, shortcut and icon design. Tools include the familiar (paint, erase, dodge, burn, blur and select) and the unique, such as SuperClone (rubber stamp image data between layers, keeping frame sync if necessary), Tracker (generates motion tracking data that can be used to stabilize a shot or set an animation path), and Rotospline (to produce animated mattes).

The clip or project window, reminiscent of AfterEffects, contains all associated media (clips, images, mattes) and data (motion tracks, proxies). The user has access to any frame of any clip as a preview, as well as file statistics, such as size, frame rate and compression, all of which can be modified on import.

One of the big feature changes introduced with Version 3 and subsequently expanded and refined is the timeline. In Version 2, the timeline was for effects parameters only; Version 3 sees it used to keyframe all clip parameters (scale, opacity, position, rotation and anchor point) as well as to control unlimited layers.

In Version 3, each layer can have unlimited Rotospline mattes and color/luma mattes. In addition, any layer can be designated as a paint layer and manipulated directly with any of the paint or touch up tools.

Also new to this version is the curve editor, a cleverly designed window to compare and control parameter values, shown as curves on a timeline graph. This makes it easy to match non-linear changes among parameter values, an often-required task when creating motion graphics.


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Commotion Pro is QuickTime based, meaning it will work with clips from virtually every video capture or nonlinear editing system. Adobe’s input/output specification is supported, which means that Commotion can open virtually any file an Adobe product can.

Each clip’s properties (resolution, frame rate, field dominance, alpha information, 10-bit to 8-bit conversion) can be adjusted on import. Through QuickTime, the program can render to a wide range of codecs, as well as being able to preview to a FireWire port (real-time playback) or selected video card, or as a QuickTime Web stream.

Since its first version, one of Commotion’s claims to fame has been its RAM-based clip playback. By loading a selected range of frames into RAM, the user can get real time playback, invaluable for checking motion and timing, and so much more useful than AfterEffects’ method of RAM previews.

In Version 3, the developers added a disk-based uncompressed playback option, called SuperCache. This feature, which requires RAID performance of 40 MBps, loads and/or renders frames into a proprietary cache format on the designated disk, and is invaluable for playback of longer sequences than available RAM would allow.

Most AfterEffects format plug ins work within Commotion Pro. Since Version 3, it has come packaged with three sets of high-quality plug ins: Composite Wizard, Image Lounge and Primatte Keyer.

These packages contain virtually all the day-to-day tools needed to massage mattes, color correct clips and images, do high quality keying, make and animate text, do distortion and stylistic effects, apply particle systems, and so much more.

Particular standouts, stars among the stars, are the Primatte Keyer (the best of the available keyers in my opinion, cleanest and easiest to get superb results from), DeNoiser (miraculously removes image noise, especially luma noise), the blur filters (including TrueCamera blur, Edge Blur, and Super Rack Focus in particular), Real Shadows, and the aptly named Miracle Alpha Cleaner.


Commotion comes in two flavors: DV and Pro. The DV version provides 25 basic effects filters, rotosplines and compositing, but not motion tracking or any of the advanced filters or key effects. It is an excellent and lower cost way for video makers to get the power of Commotion into their toolbox.

The Pro version at $1,995 is still a bargain for the capabilities and power it brings to the user. Owners of earlier versions of Commotion should upgrade to the current version and take advantage of the new features, expanded power and ease of use. Commotion Pro is one of those rare programs that is at the same time a superbly designed tool set, easy to use, intuitive, powerful and a lot of fun.