Organizing Groups and Layers in Motion

Whenever you drag a media file from the Library or File Browser into the Canvas, Layers tab, or Timeline, or generate an image from within Motion, the resulting element is represented as a layer. Think of layers as a series of clear overlays stacked one on top of the other. These layers combine to create the composite that you see in the Canvas. Motion provides a graphical representation of this layer hierarchy in the Layers tab of the Project pane and also in the Timeline layers list. You can rearrange the stacking order of the layers in your composition by dragging them to a new location in either of these lists.

Layers, in turn, are nested within containers known as groups. Whenever you create a new layer, that layer is placed within a group. You can drag a layer from one group and place it inside another group, but layers cannot exist on their own, outside of a group. Layers nested inside groups appear indented in the Layers tab and the Timeline layers list.

Figure. Layers tab showing group with nested layers.

A group can also contain other groups nested inside it. In this way, you can construct complex hierarchies of nested groups, with each nested group subordinate to the group that contains it, up to the topmost group.

Figure. Layers tab showing nested groups.

One of the goals of organizing the layers in a project is to group layers that you want to work together as a unit. Doing so ensures that animation and effects that are applied to the enclosing group also affect all layers nested within that group. By nesting related layers that you want to animate inside a group, you can save time by animating just the enclosing group, instead of animating each layer individually.

For example, when you select a group that has three layers nested within it, the entire group is selected as a single unit.

Figure. Layers tab and Canvas window showing a selected group.

Moving a selection in the Canvas moves all three layers simultaneously.

Figure. Canvas window showing a group moving as a single object.

Regardless of how they’re nested, individual layers can always be animated independently. Subordinate groups can also be animated independently, although such animation and effects also affect all groups or layers that are nested underneath.

The following example shows how you might create a hierarchy of groups to prepare for the animation of a human figure. Each component of the figure is a separate layer. For example, the arm is made up of hand, forearm, and upper arm layers. Each related layer is in a group that’s nested inside a parent group. For the arm, the hand is nested inside the forearm’s group, which is nested inside the upper arm’s group.

Figure. Layers tab and Canvas window showing complex heirarchical groups.

Note: In this example, each object’s anchor point has been moved to the appropriate axis of rotation for that object. For more information about changing an object’s anchor point, see Using the Adjust Anchor Point Tool.

Both arms and both legs are also made up of a hierarchy of nested body parts. It then follows that these nested groups of layers, which connect to the torso, are themselves nested inside the Mannequin group. When you collapse the arm and leg hierarchies, you can see the following simplified hierarchy.

Figure. Layers tab showing collapsed nested groups.

With all of these objects organized this way, animating the figure becomes easy. For example, if you want to move the entire arm at once, you need only select the Left Arm group, regardless of how many layers are nested within it.

Figure. Layers tab showing an expanded nested group.

When you rotate the selection in the Canvas, every object nested within that group rotates as a single item.

Figure. Canvas window showing a nested group manipulated independently.

Another example of how you might make use of the group hierarchy can be seen through the application of filters and behaviors. If you apply a filter to a single layer within a group, the filter affects only that layer. All other layers within the group remain unaffected.

Figure. Layers tab and Canvas window showing a filter applied to a single layer.

However, If you apply the same filter directly to the group, all layers nested within that group are affected by the filter, as if they were a single layer.

Figure. Layers tab and Canvas window showing a filter applied to a group.

Background of Your Project

Two parameters in the Project Properties dialog (choose Edit > Project Properties) affect the background color of your project and how your composition will appear when it’s exported out of Motion:

  • Background Color: A color well that defines the color that appears in the Canvas if no other object obscures the background.

    Note: If you intend to export your project with a premultiplied alpha channel, be aware that Motion always renders against black.

Selecting Layers and Groups in the Layers Tab

In order to reorganize layers and groups in a project, you must first select which ones you want to move. This section covers the many methods you can use to select layers in the Layers tab.

To select a single layer or group
  • Click a layer or group in the Layers tab.

    Doing so deselects all other selected objects.

    Note: Selecting a group does not also select the layers nested underneath it. However, operations performed on a selected group also affect layers nested within it.

To select multiple contiguous layers or groups
Do one of the following:
  • Shift-click any two layers in the Layers tab.

    Doing so selects both layers, and also all layers in between.

  • Click to the left of any layer’s thumbnail icon and drag up or down to select multiple layers.

To select or deselect multiple noncontiguous layers or groups
Do one of the following:
  • Command-click any unselected layer or group to add it to the selection.

  • Command-click any selected layer or group to deselect it.

To select all layers or groups in the Layers tab
Do one of the following:
  • Choose Edit > Select All (or press Command-A).

  • Click the first group or layer in the list, then Shift-click the last group or layer in the list.

To deselect all objects or groups in the Layers tab
  • Choose Edit > Deselect All (or press Command-Shift-A).

Reorganizing in the Layers Tab

The order in which layers and groups appear in the Layers tab helps to determine the layout of your entire project. The order of layers and groups determines which objects appear to be in front of other objects in the Canvas. You can change the ordering of one or more objects in the Canvas or in the Layers tab.

To move a layer or group up or down in the Layers tab
  • Drag a layer or group up or down in the Layers tab.

    A position indicator appears to show the new position the selection occupies when you release the mouse button.

Note: You can also use the Bring and Send commands in the Object menu to move layers up and down in the nested hierarchy within any group. This is especially useful when working with selected objects directly in the Canvas. For more information, see Arrangement Commands in the Object Menu.

If you want to organize the objects in your project into multiple groups, you can create new, empty groups at any time.

To create a new, empty group
Do one of the following:
  • Click the Add button (+) at the top of the Layers tab.

  • Choose Object > New Group (or press Command-Shift-N).

    New groups always appear at the top of the Layers tab, and are numbered incrementally based on the number of groups you’ve created so far.

When you have more than one group, you can move layers back and forth between them, changing their nested relationship in your project.

To move a layer from one group to another
  1. Select one or more layers.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Drag the selected layers to a new position underneath another group.

      A position indicator appears to show the new position the selection occupies when you release the mouse button. If you drag the selected layers within a nested group, the length of the position indicator shows which position the selection occupies within the group hierarchy.

    • Select one or more layers, choose Edit > Cut (or press Command-X), then select the group you want to paste into, and choose Edit > Paste (or press Command-V).

You can also copy a layer from one group to another.

To copy a layer from one group to another
Do one of the following:
  • Option-drag one or more selected layers from one group to another.

  • Select one or more layers, choose Edit > Copy (or press Command-C), then select the group you want to paste into, and choose Edit > Paste (or press Command-V).

Nesting Groups Inside Other Groups

In addition to nesting layers inside groups, you can also nest groups inside other groups. You might do this if you’re creating a layer hierarchy to control the relationship of one group of layers to another, or if you’re grouping layers to which you want to apply a single set of behaviors and filters.

Nesting a group works the same way as nesting a layer.

To move a group inside another group
  1. Select one or more groups.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Drag the selected group onto another group.

    • Drag the selected group to a new position underneath another group.

    • Choose Edit > Cut (or press Command-X) to cut the selected group or groups, then select the group into which you want to paste, and choose Edit > Paste (or press Command-V).

Grouping and Ungrouping Layers

You can also nest layers together within a new group using the Group command. You can group layers that appear within the same group, or you can group groups that are all nested at the same level relative to the hierarchy of your project. You cannot group groups that appear at different levels.

To group selected layers together, nesting them in a new group
  1. Select all the layers or groups that you want to group together.

  2. Choose Object > Group (or press Command-Shift-G).

    A new group is created and is numbered incrementally based on the number of groups you’ve created so far. The layers or groups you selected are nested within the new group.

    Figure. Layers tab showing two layers becoming grouped.

Groups of nested layers or groups can also be ungrouped, which deletes the containing group and moves all objects and layers within it up the group hierarchy.

To ungroup nested layers
  1. Select the group containing the nested layers or groups you want to ungroup.

  2. Choose Object > Ungroup (or press Command-Option-G).

    Note: You cannot ungroup groups that are already at the top of the Layers tab hierarchy.

Showing and Hiding Groups and Layers

Layers and groups appearing in the Layers tab can be hidden in order to make them invisible in the Canvas without removing them from your composition. For example, if you’ve placed a large object into your project and it’s in the way of some other objects you want to move or rotate in the Canvas, you can simply hide the offending object. You can also hide objects you’re not sure you want to keep in your project, while preserving their placement in case you want to use them later.

If you hide a group, you also hide all layers and groups that are nested within it. Hidden layers and groups are not rendered when your project is exported.

To show or hide one or more selected layers
Do one of the following:
  • Click the checkbox to the left of a single object or group in the Layers tab or Timeline.

    Figure. Layers tab showing activation checkbox.
  • Choose Object > Active (or press Control-T) to turn the layers on or off.

  • Control-click a layer or group, then choose Active from the shortcut menu.

    Note: If you hide one or more layers within a group, the enclosing group’s Activation checkbox shows a dash, instead of a checkmark, to show that some of its layers are not visible.

You can “solo” a layer or group in order to hide all other layers in the project. This technique can be useful when you want to isolate a single object in the Canvas to animate or manipulate without interfering with other objects in your composition.

To solo a layer
  • Select one or more layers or groups to solo.

  • Choose Object > Solo (or press Control-S).

    Note: You can also Control-click an object in the Layers tab, then choose Solo from the shortcut menu.

    All other layers or groups are deactivated, and only the soloed object is visible in the Canvas. When the selected item is soloed, the solo menu item displays a checkmark.

Fixing the Size of a Group

By default, the size of a group is determined by the layers within that group. Because animated objects often grow in size, the active height and width of a group (its resolution) can become quite large. You can constrain the resolution of a group to a specific width and height in the Group tab of the Inspector.

The project shown in the following image contains a particle system. Notice that the animated particles, although not visible once they move off the Canvas, make the group containing them very large.

Figure. Canvas window showing default size of a group containing particles.

You can crop the size of a group that contains growing objects using the Fixed Resolution checkbox in the Group tab of the Inspector.

Figure. Canvas window showing group with Fixed Resolution turned on.

If your project contains animated objects that move or expand beyond the edges of the Canvas and you don’t activate the Fixed Resolution checkbox, your computer processing time may increase.

Note: The Group tab of the Inspector (which contains the Fixed Resolution parameter) is only accessible when a group is selected in the project.

When the Fixed Resolution checkbox is selected, objects that are in the group but outside of the Canvas are cropped to the size of the group defined in the parameter.

When enabled, the Fixed Resolution parameter crops the group to the size specified in the Fixed Width and Fixed Height parameters. This means that if the group’s anchor point is offset, the cropping may not occur around the edges of the Canvas, and objects may become cut off.

Figure. Canvas window showing how the Fixed Resolution setting affects a group with an offset anchor point.
To fix the resolution of a group
  1. In the Layers tab (or the Timeline layers list), select the group.

  2. In the Inspector, click the Group tab.

  3. Turn on the Fixed Resolution checkbox.

    Figure. Group tab showing Fixed Resolution checkbox enabled.

    By default, the group’s resolution is set to the project size. An indicator appears to the right of Fixed Resolution, informing you that the group has been rasterized. For more information on rasterization, see About Rasterization.

  4. To define a resolution other than that of the project, adjust the Fixed Width and Fixed Height sliders.

Note: When a layer within a fixed resolution group is selected, the bounding box around the layer appears at its original size, unaffected by the containing group’s resolution.

Locking Groups and Layers

Once you’ve finished making adjustments to a particular layer or group, you can lock it to prevent accidental modification. Locked layers cannot be moved, and their parameters cannot be altered or animated. Animation and behaviors that were applied to the layer prior to being locked still play. Locking a group also locks all layers and groups nested within it.

To lock layers or groups
Do one of the following:
  • Click the layer’s lock icon in the Layers tab.

    Figure. Layers tab showing lock icon.
  • Select one or more layers or groups, then choose Object > Lock (or press Control-L).

    The locked layer’s bounding box in the Canvas turns red to indicate that it is locked.

    Figure. Canvas window showing locked layer.

Collapsing and Uncollapsing Group Hierarchies

Groups and layers in the Layers tab appear in a hierarchy that shows which layers are nested inside which groups. Nested layers and groups appear underneath and indented to the right of the group they’re nested within.

To make the Layers tab easier to manage, you can collapse all layers that appear nested within a single group using that group’s disclosure triangle. Collapsed groups appear as a single line in the list, and can be moved or nested like any other layer. Each group’s thumbnail displays a preview of the entire composite within, making it easy to see what’s nested inside.

To open or collapse a single group
Do one of the following:
  • Click the disclosure triangle to the left of that group’s name and icon.

  • Press the Up Arrow and Down Arrow keys to navigate up and down the Layers tab, then press the Right Arrow key to open a group, or the Left Arrow key to collapse it.

Renaming Groups

You can rename the groups and layers that appear in the Layers tab to further organize your media and make each group’s and object’s purpose easier to identify. When you rename a layer, the original name of the source media file on disk remains unchanged. Also, changing a layer’s name in the Layers tab does not change the name of its corresponding object in the Media tab. You cannot change the name of an object in the Media tab.

To rename a group or layer
  1. Double-click the name of the group or layer you want to rename.

  2. When the name is highlighted, type a new name.

  3. When you’re finished, press Return to accept the new name.

    The new name is also automatically accepted when you click another layer or group.

Note: Once you change a layer’s name in Motion, there is no automatic way to change it back to what it was originally except for the Undo command.

Searching for Groups and Layers

If it’s difficult to find a single group or layer in a large project, you can use the Search field at the top of the Layers, Media, and Audio tabs. It is similar to the Search field in the File Browser, and allows you to search for all layers or groups with a name containing the search term you enter.

To find a group or layer by name in the Layers tab
  • Type a search term in the Search field.

    As soon as you begin typing, all groups and layers with names that don’t contain the search term anywhere within them are hidden from view, leaving only a list of groups and layers that match.

To clear the search results
  • Click the Clear button at the far right of the Search field to restore the full contents of the Layers, Media, or Audio tab.

    Figure. Search field and Clear button in the Layers tab.

Note: Groups and layers that are hidden as the result of a search operation are not disabled in the Canvas, and they are not prevented from rendering during export.

In addition to searching for layers by name, you can find any object’s source media in the Media tab using the Reveal Source Media command.

To reveal an object’s source media in the Media tab
Do one of the following:
  • Control-click an object in the Canvas or a layer in the Layers tab or Timeline, then choose Reveal Source Media from the shortcut menu.

  • Select the object in the Canvas or layer in the Layers tab or Timeline, then choose Object > Reveal Source Media (or press Shift-F).

    The Media tab and Inspector both open. The “master” object is selected, and its Media tab parameters are exposed in the Inspector.

Sorting Objects in the Media Tab

The Media tab contains 15 columns that provide information about each object in your project.

Column
Description
Preview
Displays a thumbnail of the media object.
Name
Lists the filename of the source media on disk to which the object is linked. If you change the name of corresponding linked objects in the Layers tab, this name doesn’t change.
Kind
Lists the type of file, whether it’s a still image, QuickTime movie, image sequence, or audio file.
In Use
Indicates whether or not the media is in use in the project.
Duration
Displays the total duration of the object, in frames or timecode, depending on which is displayed in the Timeline.
Frame Size
Displays the frame size of the object, in pixels.
Compressor
For QuickTime movies, displays the codec used. For still images, displays the method of compression that’s applied based on the file type.
Depth
Specifies the color depth of the image.
Frame Rate
Displays the frame rate of the object, in frames per second.
Data Rate
Displays the data rate at which a QuickTime movie is compressed.
Audio Rate
For audio files and QuickTime movies, displays the sample rate of the audio.
Audio Format
For audio files and QuickTime movies, specifies the bit depth of the audio.
File Size
Shows the size of the source media file on disk.
File Created
Shows the file creation date of the source media file on disk.
File Modified
Shows the file modification date of the source media file on disk. This is a useful parameter to use for file management.

You can customize the Media tab to show, hide, or rearrange any of these columns to suit your needs. You can also resize the thumbnails displayed for each object.

To show or hide a column
  • Click the right angle bracket (>) at the right of the column headers, then check or uncheck the columns you want to show or hide in the pop-up menu.

    Figure. Media tab showing Show/Hide Column pop-up menu.
To move a column to the right or left
  • Drag any column header to the right or left to move it.

To increase or decrease the size of each object’s thumbnail
Do one of the following:
  • Use the scale slider at the bottom of the Media tab.

  • Drag the separator between the rows of objects.