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Sharing Motion 5 components between workstations

motion-5-logo.png(Short version: You can't use aliases to share your Motion Templates folder—but you can use symbolic links if you like living dangerously.)

Final Cut X integrates tightly with Motion 5.  Motion powers almost every visual element not shot with a camera: generators, transitions, effects, titles, and themes, for starters.  The huge upside is that you can easily customize built-in visual elements and create your own.  The downside is that these custom Motion elements, by default, live in your local user account's Home Folder.  That can be nice if multiple users who share the same machine have different quirky presets, but it can be a pain if those multiple users need to share the same presets, as they might with a show open or a branding element.

You have a couple of options to help you share elements.  One of them's smart but tedious.  The other two are hacky but, we think, elegant.

The Manual Approach
The manual approach uses the age-old sneakernet: as soon as you know that all of your Motion elements are stored in your home folder under Movies > Motion Templates, you can copy them onto a Flash drive or network share, then copy them into the Movies > Motion Templates folder on your other user account or workstation.  It's trusty but tedious—especially when that one pesky template needs tweaking.

The Symlink Approach
You may be familiar with OSX's Aliases, which are analogous to Windows' Shortcuts.  An alias looks and acts like a file or folder, but it's really just a reference to a file or folder in another location on your disk.  In other words, an alias could let you pull a switcheroo on Final Cut Pro: When FCPX looks for its Movies > Motion Templates folder, you could theoretically use an alias to show the contents of a folder that's living somewhere else.  It turns out FCP is too smart for that specific trick, but a nearly identical technique via the Terminal works just fine.

Words like "switcheroo" and "Terminal" may have perked your ears in anticipation of a disclaimer—we won't disappoint: 
We don't in any way endorse this approach, we'd never use it on mission-critical workstations, and we're pretty sure it's completely irresponsible.  Hack at your own risk.

OSX's Aliases are a feature-rich evolution of an idea that's been around for a very long time.  Luckily, their more primitive predecessors are still locked in the attic, to turn a gentle metaphor macabre, and this is one of those problems where the primitive tools are handy to have around.  Symbolic Links work like aliases, but at the filesystem level instead of the Mac OS level—the take-home is that FCPX sees aliases as files, but it sees symbolic links as the actual directories that we're using them to represent.

You can create symbolic links from the Terminal (Applications > Utilities > Terminal).  The command you're looking for is ln (that's a lowercase LN, not the word in; it's short for link).  The details depend on your particular implementation, but here's what was right for us.  There are a few moving parts:
  • Our shared Motion Templates folder is on a network share called Public.  If you're trying to figure out the name of your network share, one way is to click the name of your computer in the Sidebar of a Finder window; the share name is what appears beside this icon:networkshare.png
  • Inside the Public share, our Motion Templates folder is located a few folders down: Public > FCPX Playground > Motion Templates.  Again, your setup may differ.Screen shot 2011-10-03 at 2.45.03 PM.png
  • You need to get rid of the Motion Templates folder that's on the local machine by default, at Home Folder > Movies > Motion Templates.  We didn't have anything important in our default local Motion Templates folder, so we just erased it.  If you have custom Motion projects already, you should probably choose to move it somewhere instead.
  • As a point of information, the Motion Templates folder is, for the true filesystem's purposes, actually called "Motion Templates.localized" regardless of the language your computer is configured to use.  The .localized bit below is not a mistake, and you need to use it too.
Now let's dive into Terminal.  When you open Terminal, you're giving commands from the perspective of your home folder.  We can make the symbolic link in one command.  The magic command looks like this for the setup we described above:

ln -s "/Volumes/Public/FCPX Playground/Motion Templates" "./Movies/Motion Templates.localized"

It's anticlimactic...
Screen shot 2011-10-03 at 2.59.27 PM.png
But it works!
Screen shot 2011-10-03 at 3.00.22 PM.png
Screen shot 2011-10-03 at 3.01.50 PM.png

The Hybrid Approach
If you want to share some elements but maintain local storage for other elements, you can keep the local Motion Templates folder and use symbolic links inside the relevant subfolders.  For example, you could create a shared category of Generators; items saved to the Shared Generators category would propagate across all of your workstations and users, while items saved to other categories would remain local.  That would look something like this:

ln -s "/Volumes/SHARE NAME/PATH/TO/GENERATORS/FOLDER" "./Movies/Motion Templates.localized/Generators/Shared Generators"

Some of the trouble you're asking for
There are probably lots of ways this could break Final Cut; here are a few off the top of our heads:
  • It's unclear how well FCPX would handle the case where a user on another workstation changes one of the shared Motion elements.  Our guess is not-so-well, and that it would depend on things like the background rendering status of the generator.
  • If your network share is at all unreliable, be careful.  In our (sloppy) testing, an offline "Motion Templates" folder usually just offlined the related elements in our FCPX projects (which would reconnect upon restarting FCPX when the Motion Templates folder reappeared).  Occasionally, though, it seemed like FCPX would just swallow instances of Motion Template elements when the folder went offline.  Our hunch is that templates might survive offlining if they're stuck in the magnetic timeline in a specific position relative to other clips, but we can't confirm that. 
Will this work to share a Final Cut Projects folder?
Nope, not as far as we can tell.  We'll keep playing with it, but if you're asking that question you might be interested in our article on that topic.

We like to hack around at Final Cut for fun, but our FCPX training classes teach only the most rock-solid workflows.  Come learn and play with us in Orlando—weeklong travel packages including class tuition, airfare, and hotel start at just $1750.

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