Imagine a jigsaw puzzle that assembles itself to reveal a complete image, or perhaps just a photograph split into several shards that reunite. Apple’s Motion is a great tool for creating an effect like this, and the final result will be adjustable without using a single keyframe. It’s all in the behaviors, and in the use of a somewhat obscure technique around Clones.
The first step is to split up your image into pieces in Photoshop, and an image around 1000 pixels high will be the easiest to work with. Open up your photo of choice, then use Image > Image Size to resize down to 1000 pixels high. This will give us enough space to show the entire image in a 1920x1080 pixel canvas in Motion, with space to spare.
Don’t worry about the width, so long as it’s less than 1600 or so.
When cutting the image up into pieces or shards, you’ll need to be aware of a few minor details. If you were to create a selection and apply Layer > New > Layer via Cut, then you’ll see minor hairlines appearing in the image around the edges of your selections.
These are the kinds of hairlines you can get if you use Cut instead of Copy.
Since the Cut process is destructive, the best way to work is to use Layer > New > Layer via Copy instead. (If you prefer to use Masks, that’s fine, but you’ll need to flatten the masks when you’re done because Motion won’t import them.)
It’s easy to find jigsaw piece templates online, or you can draw your own if you want full manual control. What we want next is a template layer on top of the image layer, with thin lines separating the edges of the pieces. To create that here, we’ll use a shortcut. Right-click on your Background layer and duplicate it. Select that top layer, then choose Filter > Filter Gallery. In the Texturise category, choose Stained Glass, then change the sliders until the image is broken up into about as many pieces as you want, with a thin border between them, and no light source.
Here’s what you should be aiming for in terms of breaking up your image.
Select each piece using the Magic Wand, then Select > Modify > Expand by 1 pixel. You don’t really want the edges to overlap much, but you don’t want gaps between pieces either.
Lots of layers, a few hidden as proof, but one complete image at 100% view.
Click on the Background layer, and choose Layer > New > Layer via Copy, to create a new layer from that selection. Select your stained glass layer once more, and repeat the process until you’ve created a separate layer for each part of the puzzle. Hide the stained glass and Background layers, then verify that the puzzle still looks good, with no visible gaps. Save your file in Photoshop format, called “puzzle.psd”.
Basic motion settings at your favorite frame rate.
Launch Motion, and create a new project at 1080p in the frame rate of your choice. There are a few ways to bring media into Motion, but choose File > Import, then find your layered file, and click Import. Important: in the dialog that appears next, choose All Layers.
Be sure to import all the layers, and not merged layers.
This crucial step makes sure that each piece of the puzzle will be imported as separate objects, though it should look like it’s one image right now.
Choose the Rectangle tool, then draw a small box at one of the corners of the screen. in the Layers or Timeline pane, drag it up to make sure it’s just outside the “puzzle” group. We’ll be hiding this box later, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like. In the left-hand Utility pane, choose Library, Behaviors, then Basic Motion, and select Throw. Drag it onto your box.
Here’s the path the box will take through the puzzle.
The Heads-Up Display (HUD) floating window is the best way to control the Throw behavior, so find the HUD, or choose Window > Show HUD to show it. Drag the control there to make the box fly across the image, and adjust the speed of the throw so that the action takes about as long to cross the screen as you want your movie to run.
Your timeline should look like this now.
Back in the Library, choose Behaviors, Simulations, and find the Repel behavior in the list below. Drag this onto the box, and make sure the box is in the same group as the puzzle pieces. If you’re lucky, all the jigsaw pieces will fly away naturally, but if you need to tweak anything, the Inspector gives you access to everything you need.
The box repels the puzzle pieces as it flies across them, even on default settings.
First, under Properties, turn the Opacity down to 0%, to make the box disappear. Next, head to the Behaviors tab, and look through all the sliders on Throw and Repel. You’ll want to play with the Influence and Strength sliders to make sure the pieces don’t fly away too quickly or too forcefully, and Repel should be set to affect Related Objects. Quite possibly, you might also want to play with the throwing angle or the original position too.
To make sure that the puzzle pieces are visible across the whole canvas, select the “puzzle” group, then in the Inspector, under Group, uncheck “Fixed Resolution”.
Repel, doing its job.
Drag the playhead back and forth to make sure the motion looks correct. Dragging the slider backwards will show us the final effect—but how do we make it run backwards here in Motion?
Select the “Group 1” which contains all your work so far, and press K. This creates a Clone Layer—essentially, it works the same as the original group, but you can apply time changes to it. Hide your original layer, then select your clone.
The layers panel, after cloning and hiding the original.
In the Inspector, choose Properties, and look to the Timing section at the bottom. If necessary, access its settings by clicking Show, to the right of the word Timing and just to the left of the reset arrow. In this section, click Reverse.
Clone layers let you play with time.
Clone Layers allow a great deal of flexibility in Motion, and enable you to play with speed settings which you’d normally have to edit later in FCP X. If you wish, you can change from Constant Speed to Variable speed, then set speed keyframes at different times along the clone layer. Here, just play the movie and make sure it’s what you’re looking for.
The original layer, though hidden, is still editable, and changes made now will still affect the clone layer. Keep tweaking settings and positions until you get the effect you’re looking for. Finally, choose Share > Export Movie and render the movie out.
The final effect.
Motion is an underused tool when it comes to producing original motion graphics. Without using any keyframes, we’ve been able to force a jigsaw to fly together seamlessly, and we’re able to adjust the paths of all of the individual pieces simply by moving a single slider or moving a single object. The other Simulation behaviors can have similarly powerful effects, and they’re worth mastering. Look for more tutorials here soon.