File Types Supported by Motion

Motion can use the most popular multimedia file formats supported by QuickTime. These formats can be broken down into the following categories:

QuickTime Movies

Motion supports QuickTime movies using any codec currently installed on your computer. Examples of QuickTime movies you can import include clips captured with Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro, stock footage from a CD-ROM or DVD collection, or computer-generated animation from a 3D animation package.

While you can import movies that use nearly any codec, it’s inadvisable to use highly compressed clips in your projects if you can avoid it. Clips that are excessively compressed may display undesirable visual artifacts. Fortunately, QuickTime comes with many codecs that are ideal for moving uncompressed or minimally compressed video files between applications, including but not limited to: Apple ProRes 4444, Apple ProRes 422 (HQ), Apple ProRes 422, Uncompressed 8- and 10-bit 4:2:2, Pixlet, None, Animation, Apple M-JPEG A and B, Apple DVCPRO-50, Apple DV/DVCPRO.

Some of these codecs support alpha channels, which define areas of transparency within the clip. If a particular QuickTime clip has an alpha channel, Motion automatically uses it in your project.

Mixing Different Kinds of QuickTime Files

You can freely combine clips that are compressed with different codecs in the same project. Furthermore, you can also combine clips that have different frame sizes, pixel aspect ratios, and interlacing. To learn more about alpha channels, interlacing, pixel aspect ratio, frame rates, and frame sizes, see Supported File Formats.

Importing Movies from Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro

Unlike Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro, Motion processes video in RGB color space. Video clips that have been captured in Y′CBCR color space are treated as RGB clips when imported into a Motion project.

Important: Mixing clips with different frame rates may result in undesirable motion artifacts.

Still Image Files

You can import still image files using virtually every popular still image format in use, including but not limited to: SGI, Photoshop, BMP, PICT, JPEG, TIFF, TGA, and JPEG-2. Like video clips, you can mix still image files with differing frame sizes and pixel aspect ratios. When you create or modify an image in a graphics editor such as Photoshop, it’s a good idea to keep in mind the frame size and pixel aspect ratio of your project to ensure that the graphics you create are appropriate for your project. For more information, see Supported File Formats.

Using High-Resolution Still Images

A common and effective use of still images in motion graphics work is the animation of high-resolution files. The DPI of image files as defined in programs like Photoshop does not apply to video, as the dimensions of each imported still image are defined simply by the number of pixels. If the current dimensions of an image are larger than the frame size of your project, the image appears to be much larger, and by default it appears to be “zoomed in” to its maximum size. You can change the scale of the image to shrink it down to fit within the project’s frame size, but you can also animate the scale to zoom into or out of the image, or animate the image’s position to pan around within it, creating all kinds of motion-control effects.

Because Motion is graphics-card dependent, you may have different file-size import limitations. When you import an image that is too large, an alert dialog appears that states “This media is too large to render at full resolution, and will be shown at a lower quality.” Click OK to import the image at a lower quality. For more information, visit the Motion website at

When importing large still images, you can set a preference that tells Motion to import the file at its original size, to change the resolution of the image to fit the Canvas size, or to scale the image down to fit the Canvas size.

To set the large still image import preference
  1. Choose Motion > Preferences (or press Command-Comma).

  2. In the Still Images & Layers group of the Project pane, choose a setting from the Large Stills pop-up menu.

    Figure. Preferences window showing Project pane with Large Stills pop-up menu set to Scale to Canvas Size.

    There are three options: Do Nothing, Scale to Canvas Size, and Down-Res to Canvas Size.

    • Do Nothing: Imports the image at its original size.

      In the following example, an 1146 x 756 image is imported into an NTSC D1 project (720 x 486) with Do Nothing selected in the Preferences. The image is much larger than the Canvas.

      Figure. Canvas window showing a large still imported using the Do Nothing setting.
    • Scale to Canvas Size: Imports and scales the image to fit the project size while maintaining its aspect ratio.

      In the following example, a 1166 x 738 JPEG image is imported into an NTSC D1 project with Scale to Canvas Size selected in Preferences.

      Figure. Canvas window showing a large still imported using the Scale to Canvas Size setting.

      The image is scaled—the equivalent of using the Transform tool to scale down the image in the Canvas while pressing Shift. To observe that the image is merely transformed and has not changed resolution, select the image file in the Media tab of the Project pane, and then open the Media tab in the Inspector. The Fixed Width and Fixed Height parameters display the resolution of the original file.

      Figure. Inspector showing Media tab displaying the unchanged image resolution.

      The image is scaled to fit the largest X or Y value of the image to that of the Canvas.

    • Down-Res to Canvas Size: This setting changes the resolution of the imported image so that the image fits the project size while maintaining its aspect ratio.

      Note: The Down-Res to Canvas Size option is the best choice for optimizing your process time. When you use Scale to Canvas Size, Motion must calculate the scale at each frame.

      In the following example, a 757 x 1140 JPEG image is imported into an NTSC Broadcast SD project with Down-Res to Canvas Size selected in Preferences.

      Figure. Canvas window showing a large still imported using the Down-Res to Canvas Size setting.

      The image looks identical to an image that is scaled on import. However, its resolution has been changed so that the image fits the Canvas. To observe that the resolution of the image has changed, select the image file in the Media tab of the Project pane, and then open the Media tab in the Inspector. The Fixed Width and Fixed Height parameters display the new resolution of the imported image.

      Figure. Inspector showing Media tab displaying the changed image resolution.

      Note: You can use the Fixed Width and Fixed Height parameters in the Media tab to further down-res the image.

Still Image Duration

When you first import a still image into your project, the image assumes a duration equal to the current duration of your project. Increasing the duration of your project does not automatically increase the duration of an image that’s already been imported. Still images have infinite duration in Motion, so you can stretch them out in the Timeline to be as long as you need. For more information about working with objects in the Timeline, see Using the Timeline.

Image Sequences

Numbered image sequences store video clips as individual still image files. Each image file has a number in the filename that indicates where it fits into the sequence. In a film clip that’s been digitally scanned, each file represents a single frame. In a video clip that’s been converted to an image sequence, each file contains both fields of a single video frame, with the upper and lower lines of the image saved together. Image sequences use the same variety of file formats as still image files. Some of the most popular formats for saving image sequences include SGI, BMP, JPEG, TIFF, and TGA. Like still image formats, many of these support alpha channels, which are automatically used by Motion.

Because image sequences have been around for so long (before QuickTime, they were the only way to store video on a computer), they remain the lowest-common-denominator file format for exchanging video across many different editing and compositing applications. While QuickTime is increasingly used to exchange video clips between platforms, image sequences are still in common use, especially in film compositing.

As with QuickTime video clips, you can mix image sequences of different formats, using different frame sizes, pixel aspect ratios, frame rates, and interlacing. For more information, see Supported File Formats.

Important: Any imported image sequence must contain three or more digits of “padding,” for example, imagename.0001.tif.

Collapsing Image Sequences

The “Show image sequences as collapsed” button at the bottom of the File Browser allows you to display image sequences as a single object, rather than as the collection of individual files that exist on your disk. Image sequences that you import into your project in this way are treated as single objects everywhere they appear in your project.

Figure. Show Collapsed Image Sequences button in the File Browser.

Note: You can turn this feature off in case you have numbered image files that aren’t supposed to be used as an image sequence. For example, pictures taken with digital cameras often have numbered filenames that can be mistaken for an image sequence.

Layered Photoshop Files

You can also import layered Photoshop files. Many motion graphics professionals create layouts in Photoshop, where they paint and manipulate all the graphical elements they’ll use to create a static composition. Once that’s done, the resulting layered file can be imported into Motion to be animated, along with other imported and Motion-generated objects, to create the final project.

When importing Photoshop files, you can choose to import:

  • All the layers merged together as a single object

  • All layers as individual objects, nested together within a group

  • An individual layer as a single object

When you import all layers as individual objects, Motion creates a new group in the Layers tab and Timeline, and nests each layer of the Photoshop file as an individual object within that Motion group. Each resulting object retains the position, opacity, and blend mode of the original Photoshop layer. Furthermore, Photoshop text layers are imported, but appear in Motion as noneditable bitmap graphics.

Incompatible Effects

The following Photoshop effects are not currently imported into Motion:

  • Layer effects

  • Layer masks

  • Adjustment layers

  • Paths

  • Shapes

Note: Motion does not support Photoshop layer sets.

For more information on how to import layered Photoshop files, see Adding Layered Photoshop Files to a Project.

PDF Files

The PDF file format is a PostScript-based document format that accommodates PostScript-based graphics and text, as well as bitmap graphics. Areas of transparency within a PDF file are also transparent within Motion.

PDF files are capable of storing PostScript-based illustrations. Unlike graphics file formats such as TIFF and JPEG, which save images as a collection of pixels at a given resolution that are divided into red, green, and blue channels, PostScript-based illustrations are saved as mathematical descriptions of how the artwork is drawn. As a result, PDF files using PostScript-based artwork and text have infinite resolution.

The practical difference between bitmap files and PostScript-based files is that scaling a bitmap beyond 100 percent results in the image progressively softening the more you increase its size. PostScript-based illustrations remain sharp and clear no matter how large or how small you scale them.

When importing a PDF file, its size is relative to the original page size of the file. As a result, even small graphics may have a large frame size, with a lot of empty space surrounding the graphic. When exporting a graphic as a PDF file for use in Motion, you may want to scale the graphic up to fit more closely within the page, or reduce the page size in the source application’s page preferences to more closely fit around the graphic.

Fixing the Resolution of a PDF Object

Although PDF files have unlimited resolution, large PDF objects can consume a lot of video memory, which could potentially limit Motion’s performance. To avoid this, you have the option of limiting the resolution of each PDF image used in your project in order to save video memory. By using the fixed resolution parameters, the files only need to be rendered once. This allows for faster performance.

If you decide to fix the resolution of a PDF file, the width and height values you assign should be equal to the largest scale at which you plan on using that object in your project. For example, you might add a PDF of a map to your project with the intent to scale it up to zoom into a particular country. To conserve video memory, you can set the Fixed Width and Fixed Height parameters to the maximum size of the zoomed in image. If at first you don’t assign enough resolution, the Fixed Width and Fixed Height parameters can be changed at any time.

The fixed resolution parameters for PDF objects can be adjusted in the Media tab of the Inspector. Select the PDF object in the Media tab of the Project pane to activate the Media tab of the Inspector. Adjust the following controls to modify the PDF’s fixed resolution parameters.

  • Fixed Resolution: A checkbox that fixes the resolution of a PDF object in the Media tab to the size specified in the Fixed Width and Fixed Height parameters.
  • Fixed Width: A slider that sets the maximum horizontal resolution to which a PDF object can be smoothly scaled.
  • Fixed Height: A slider that sets the maximum vertical resolution to which a PDF object can be smoothly scaled.
  • Use Background Color: When this checkbox is selected, the background color defined in the Background Color controls is used for the transparent portions of the PDF.
  • Background Color: Use these color controls to set the background color for the transparent portions of the PDF.

Mixed Content Within PDF Files

Although PDF files can simultaneously contain PostScript-based art, PostScript text, and bitmapped graphics, all of these types of image data do not scale the same. PostScript-based art and text scale smoothly, but bitmapped graphics that are embedded in a PDF file are subject to the same scaling issues as any other bitmapped graphics format. As a result, they may soften if scaled larger than their original size.

Note: Form objects, buttons, and JavaScript objects that are present in an imported PDF file do not appear in Motion.

Multi-Page PDF Files

You can import multi-page PDF files. When you do, an additional parameter called Page Number appears in the Properties tab when the PDF object is selected. A slider appears and allows you to set which page is displayed in the Canvas. This parameter can be animated to display different pages over time.

Important: Multi-layered PDF files are not currently supported. To import a multi-layered illustration, export each layer as a separate PDF file and import these as a nested group of objects in Motion.

More About Alpha Channels

Ordinary video clips and image files have three channels of information, one each for the red, green, and blue channels. Many video and image file formats also support an alpha channel, which contains additional information that defines areas of transparency. An alpha channel is a grayscale channel where white represents areas of 100 percent opacity (solid), gray regions represent partially opaque areas, and black represents 0 percent opacity (transparent).

When you import a QuickTime movie or an image file into your project, its alpha channel is immediately recognized by Motion. The alpha channel is then used to composite that object against any other objects that are behind it.

There are two different ways of embedding alpha channel information into files, and Motion attempts to automatically determine which type of alpha channel a particular object uses:

  • Straight: Straight alpha channels are kept completely separate from the red, green, and blue channels of an image. Media files using straight alpha channels appear perfectly fine when used in a composition, but they may look odd when viewed in another application. Translucent effects such as volumetric lighting, or lens flares in a computer generated image may appear distorted until the clip is used in a composition.
  • Premultiplied: This type of alpha channel is multiplied with the clip’s red, green, and blue channels. As a result, objects with premultiplied alpha channels always look correct, even with translucent lighting effects, because the entire image is precomposited against a solid color. Most commonly, premultiplied alpha channels are multiplied against black or white, but Motion can also resolve alpha channels that have been premultiplied against other colors.

The only time it really matters which kind of alpha channel an object has is when Motion doesn’t correctly determine it. If an object’s alpha channel has been set to Straight in the Media tab when it’s really premultiplied, it may appear fringed with the premultiplied color around its edges. If this happens, you can select the problematic clip in the Media tab of the Project pane, then change its Alpha Type parameter in the Media tab of the Inspector.

Audio Files

You can import different audio file formats into your project, including but not limited to WAV, AIFF, .cdda, MP3, and AAC. Although Motion is not necessarily intended to be a full-featured audio editing and mixing environment such as GarageBand, Soundtrack Pro, or Logic Pro, you can import music clips, dialogue, and sound effects to use in your projects. If you import a QuickTime file with mono or stereo tracks of audio, the video appears in the Timeline, while the audio appears in the Audio Editor.

From within Motion, you can select an audio file and open Soundtrack Pro to modify the audio file. Once saved in Soundtrack Pro, the file is automatically updated in Motion. For more information, see Using Soundtrack Pro with Motion.

You can freely import audio clips with different sample rates and bit depths. When you do, Motion resamples any audio tracks that need it to the sample rate and bit depth currently in use by your computer. The default is 16-bit, 44.1 kHz float for the built-in audio interface. If you use a third-party audio interface, audio is remixed to the sample rate and bit depth used by that device.

You can import audio files with sample rates up to 192 kHz, and with bit depths up to 32 bits. Mono and stereo files are supported. Multi-channel audio files are also supported.

Motion supports as many layers of audio as you want to use in the Audio Editor, although mixing many audio tracks together may affect playback performance. In the Audio Editor, you use the same tools and commands to edit audio objects as you use in the Timeline layers list. Each audio layer also has individual settings for level and pan, so that you can mix a group of tracks together for stereo output.

For more information about file formats supported by Motion, see Audio Formats. For more information on using audio in Motion, see Working with Audio.

A seamless way to browse for and import music from your iTunes library is to use the Music category in the Motion Library. For more information, see Adding iTunes and iPhoto Files from the Library.

Note: You cannot import rights-managed AAC files, such as non-iTunes Plus tracks purchased from the iTunes Store.