Blender to Motion 5

In this article I’ll show you step-by-step how to export a 3D model from Blender to Motion. As well as a model with a basic material, I’ll cover using an image texture, working with a more complex material, mesh displacement and animation.

In a previous video posted on YouTube, I recommended using a Blender add-on. This still works if you want to send a basic model to Motion. However, if you’ve updated Blender, all the export options are missing. I can only assume this is because the add-on hasn’t been updated. So in this article and in the video below, I’m going to recommend a different workflow.

As well as using the built-in 3D objects, you can import your own. Either 3rd party ones you’ve downloaded, or ones you’ve made yourself. So this got me thinking, can you make a 3D object in Blender and bring it into Motion? And it turns out you can.

Motion 5

Motion is a companion application to Final Cut Pro. You use it to create motion graphics and effects you can publish to Final Cut. To acquire Motion, you need to buy it from the Mac App Store.

When Apple released Motion 4.5.6 in they added a great new feature, a library of 3D objects. These assets are in the USDZ format. This was developed by Pixar to transfer 3D data between software applications. Until this Motion release, it was mainly used for augmented reality apps on Apple mobile devices.

I’ve been using a 3D app called Blender on and off for a few years. And I wondered if you could create a model or an animation in Blender and bring it into Motion. And it turns out you can.

Blender

Blender is a fantastic open source app for creating 3D models and animations. If you haven’t done so already, go to the Blender Download page and get the latest stable release. When using a new Mac with an Apple Silicon process, make sure you choose the correct version.

Installing Blender

To install Blender on your Mac, do the following:

  • Double-click the DMG file to open it.
  • Drag the Blender app onto the alias of the Applications folder. If you have an older version of Blender already installed, you’ll be asked if you want to replace it or keep both versions.
  • Drag the Blender icon from the Applications folder to the Dock.

Navigating in Blender

If you’re going to follow along with this article, you’ll need to perform some basic tasks in Blender. How you navigate in the 3D Viewport and other panels in Blender depends on whether you’re using a mouse or trackpad. If you’re new to Blender and you’re working with a Mighty Mouse, trackpad or a standard 3-button mouse, download this Blender Navigation guide.

Reality Converter

Blender doesn’t come with a USDZ exporter, so we need to find a way to convert our 3D model into the USDZ format. My recommendation is to use free software from Apple called Reality Converter. Go to the Reality Converter page. Click the link to download and sign in with your Apple ID.

To install Reality Converter on your Mac, do the following:

  • Double-click the DMG file to open it
  • Double-click the PKG file to launch the installer
  • Follow the instructions

On the Reality Converter page, you might have noticed the link to examples of 3D models. You can download these models and import them directly into Motion.

Blender to Motion Workflow

So the workflow we’re going to use is this:

  • We’ll export a model from Blender in the glTF format
  • Drop the glTF file into Reality Converter
  • Export the model from Reality Converter as a USDZ file
  • And import the USDZ into Motion
Blender to Motion Workflow - Indigo Film School

So let’s get started with a basic model…

Blender to Motion – Basic 3D Model

Launch Blender. And if you’re opening it for the first time, there’s some setting up you need to do. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see the default Blender interface. The main panel is the 3D Viewport where you can see a cube. Save the project and call it Monkey Head.

Blender default interface - Indigo Film School
The default Blender interface
  • In the Viewport, select the default cube and hit Delete on the keyboard.
  • From the Add menu (top-left of Viewport), choose Mesh and then Monkey.

A monkey head is created in the Viewport. In Blender, the monkey is also known as Suzanne. In the Viewport you can rotate the world until the head is face on. You can also zoom in and out. If you’re not sure how to navigate in Blender, download the Blender Navigation guide.

Smoothing

The monkey head looks blocky, so we’ll make it smoother:

  • Click the head to select it
  • Over on the right, click the wrench to select the Modifiers panel
  • Click Add Modifier and from the Generate column choose Subdivision Surfaces
  • Give Render a value of 2. To see what this will look like when rendered, also set Viewport to 2

It looks good, but we can do even better:

  • From the Object menu at the top-left of the Viewport, choose Shade Smooth

Coloured Material

The monkey head is a boring grey colour, but we can change that:

  • At the top-right of the Viewport, change the Viewport Shading Method to Material. This allows us to see any colour changes
  • Make sure the monkey head is still selected
  • On the right of the interface, click the circular icon for the Materials panel
  • Click New to add a material
  • Click on the white Base Color bar and select a new colour

Export from Blender

Once you’re happy with the material, you can export the 3D model:

  • From the File menu, choose Export and then glTF

In the Export window, you’ll see a few different options.

  • Under Format select glTF Embedded.
  • There’s a check box if you want the exporter to remember your settings.
  • Under the Include settings, you can check Limit to Selected Objects. This is useful if you have several objects in a scene, but you only want to export the one you’ve selected.
  • There’s no need to change anything in the Transform settings.
  • Because we applied a Subdivision Surface modifier (to add geometry to the monkey head), under Geometry, I’m going to check the Apply Modifiers box. You can leave the other Geometry settings checked.
  • There’s no animation for this model, so I’ll uncheck all the animation boxes.
  • Next, I’ll choose the Desktop as my save location, call the file Monkey Head and click Export glTF.

Now we’ve exported the glTF file, the next step is to convert it into the USDZ format.

Reality Converter – Basic 3D Model

When you launch Reality Converter, you’re given a drop zone for your 3D file.

  • Drag in the glTF file you’ve just exported from Blender.

You can rotate the model by dragging.

To see what it looks like with different environment lighting:

  • Click the Environment tab at the top-right. This opens the Environment sidebar.
  • When you select one of the environments, the lighting on the model changes as though it’s inside that environment.
  • To see the environment in the background, check the Show Environment box at the bottom of the sidebar. There’s also a check box to show and hide the floor grid. And there’s a slider to alter the exposure.
Reality Converter interface with Monkey Head glTF imported - Indigo Film School
The Monkey Head in Reality Converter

When you’re ready, go to the File menu and choose export. The model is exported as a USDZ file.

Motion – Basic 3D Model

Now we have a USDZ file exported out of Blender, we can import it into Motion:

  • Launch Motion.
  • Choose the project type you need. If you’re not sure, simply choose a Motion Project.
  • Set the Preset to 4K UHD.
  • Choose a frame rate of 24 frames per second, or whatever you prefer.

You’ll see a new, empty project.

  • Click the Import button in the top-left of the toolbar.
  • Select the USDZ file you exported from Reality Converter and click Import.
Motion interface with Monkey Head USDZ imported - Indigo Film School
The Monkey Head in Motion 5

The monkey head is added to the Viewer and appears in the Project Pane. If you open the HUD, you’ve got controls for Scaling, Rotating and Moving. You can add a camera, lights and any other 3D or 2D objects to the scene.

If you need to reuse your model in other projects, drag it from the Project Pane into the 3D Object Library. It appears in the list with the rest of the objects. Note it has a placeholder icon instead of the actual model. If you want to remove it from the 3D Object Library, right-click and choose Move To Trash. If you trash the USDZ file from your hard drive without first removing it from Motion, it will be flagged as missing media.

Blender – 3D Model with Image Texture

So you’ve seen the workflow with a basic model and material. Let’s see how it works with an image texture. I’ve created an image that’s designed to wrap around a cube. If you want to follow along, download the Box Texture image.

  • With Blender open, save the project and call it Wooden Box.
  • Click the default cube to select it.
  • From the layout options along the top of the interface, choose Shading.

Shading Layout

The interface changes to show the shading layout. The main areas are the 3D Viewport at the top and the Shader Editor underneath.

  • In the Shader Editor, click New to create the default nodes. You should see a large Principled Shader node connected to a smaller node. The smaller is the Material Output that applies the material to the cube.

To add the Box Texture image, we need to create a new node:

  • From the Add menu (top-left of the Shader Editor), select Texture and then Image Texture.
  • The image texture node appears, attached to the cursor. Click to place the node.
  • On the Image Texture node, click the Open button.
  • Navigate to the Box Texture file and select it.
  • Drag a connector from the Colour output of the Image Texture node to the Base Colour input of the Principled Shader.
Blender Shading Layout - Indigo Film School
Blender Shading Layout – image texture applied to cube

In the Viewport, you can see the texture has been applied. You can rotate the world to see that the texture covers the whole of the cube. So the connection from the Image Texture to the Principled Shader carries image data from one node to another. If you need to disconnect, click on a connection point and drag the connector away.

In the Principled Shader node, increase Roughness by moving its slider to the right. As this is meant to be a wooden box, I don’t want it to look too shiny.

Export from Blender

Once you’re happy with how the image texture looks, you can export the model:

  • From the File menu, choose Export and glTF. The Export window opens.
  • From the Format menu, select glTF Embedded.
  • If you have more than one object in a scene, you might want to open the Include settings and check Limited To Selected Objects. But make sure the object is selected in the Viewer.
  • We don’t need to change anything under Transform or Geometry.
  • We don’t have any animation, so you can uncheck all the Animation boxes.
  • Choose a save location, call the file Wooden Box and click Export glTF.

Reality Converter – 3D Model with Image Texture

Next launch Reality Converter. Drag in the Wooden Box glTF. From the File menu choose Export and save it as a USDZ file.

Motion – 3D Model with Image Texture

Next, open Motion and import the Wooden Box USDZ file. Again you can use the controls in the HUD or in the Properties Inspector to Rotate, Scale and Move the model.

Blender – Transparency and Metallic Materials

I’ve going to use an image texture again, but this time I’m going to experiment with transparency and making the object look metallic. I’m going to use a world map and wrap it around asphere. If you want to follow along, you can download the same map from Vemaps. I’m going to use the PNG version of the map, as it has transparency data. The landmasses are opaque, while the oceans are transparent. In an image editor, I’ll make the grey landmasses white to make them brighter.

Motion - world 3D model with transparency and metallic material
The finished model in Motion. I’ve added a radial gradient as the background.

With Blender open:

  • Delete the default cube.
  • From the Add menu (top-left of Viewport), choose Mesh and UV sphere.
  • In the Modifiers panel (on the right, wrench icon), add a Subdivision Surface modifier and give it a Render a value of 2.
  • From the Object menu (top-left of Viewport), choose Shade Smooth.
  • Make sure the sphere is selected.
  • From the options at the top of the interface, choose the Shading layout.
  • In the Shader Editor click New to create the default Principled Shader and Material Output nodes.

Add a new Image Texture node to load the world texture:

  • From the Add menu, choose Texture, then Image Texture.
  • In the Image Texture node, click Open and select PNG world image.
  • Connect the Colour output of the Image Texture to the Base Colour of the Principled Shader.

You can see the world wrapped around the sphere. It’s not visible in the Viewport, but the black areas of the sphere are transparent.

  • In the Principled Shader, slide the Metallic slider all the way to the right, so its at the maximum setting.
  • Reduce the Roughness by moving the slider left. Do this until you see the environment reflected in the landmasses.

Export from Blender

When you’re happy with how the sphere looks, you can export:

  • From the File menu, choose Export and glTF.
  • Choose a save location and give it a name.
  • From the Format menu, select glTF Embedded.
  • Because the sphere has a Subdivision Surface modifier, under Geometry, I need to check Apply Modifiers.
  • We don’t have any animation, so you can uncheck all the Animation boxes.

Reality Converter – Transparency and Metallic Materials

I’ll drag in the World file I just exported into Reality Converter. The transparent areas are still displayed as black. If you click on the Environment tab, you can see different environments reflected in the metallic landmasses.

From the File menu, choose Export and save it as a USDZ file.

Motion – Transparency and Metallic Materials

Import the World USDZ file into Motion.

At last, the transparent areas are now showing up as transparent. You can also see there’s an environment reflecting on the metallic surfaces. If you’re wondering where the settings are for this environment, select Project at the top of the Project Pane and select the Inspector tab and then the Properties section. You can see the 3D Object Environment is set to 100% and you can use this slider to adjust the intensity. You can’t change which environment is being used as you can with the 3D text in Motion.

Blender – Mesh Displacement

Now let’s look at using a Displacement modifier in Blender to create a great looking landscape model we can bring into Motion. I’ve downloaded an image of the moon from the NASA images and textures webpage. From this image, I’ve created a roughness map by converting it to black and white and then increasing the contrast. I’ll apply this in Reality Converter instead of Blender.

I’ve also created a displacement map which is a black and white version that’s been blurred. I’ll use this to warp the mesh in Blender. The lighter areas will be higher and the darker areas will be lower. I’ve blurred it to remove the finer details. If you don’t do this you can end up with lots of little spikes on the mesh, rather than nicely textured geometry.

With Blender open:

  • Select the default cube and press Delete on the keyboard.
  • From the Add menu (top-left of Viewport, select Mesh and then Plane.
  • Scale the plane by selecting it, hitting the S key and dragging outwards.

At the moment the plane is a single face. Later we’ll increase the amount of faces to make the displacement work.

  • From the options at the top of the interface, choose Shading layout.
  • In the Shader Editor, click New to create the default nodes.
  • As you’ve done before, create an Image Texture node and bring in the coloured image for your landscape.
  • Attach the Colour output on the Image Texture to the Base Colour input on the Principled Shader.

You can see your landscape image on the plane.

Displacement

I’m going to add the displace image. For this to work, I need to add extra geometry:

  • Go to the preview options (top-right of the Viewport) and choose Wireframe. I can see the plane has a single face. We need to subdivide the plane to add more faces.
  • From the menu at the top-left of the Viewport, switch from Object mode to Edit mode.
  • Right-click on the plane and choose Subdivide. Repeat this step, subdividing a total of nine times.
  • From the menu at the top-left of the Viewport, switch back to Object mode.
  • In the preview options (top-right of the Viewport) choose Material.
  • On the right, click the Texture Properties icon (checkerboard).
  • Click the New button.
  • Click Open and import your displacement image.
  • Give the texture a name.
  • Go to the Modifiers panel (wrench).
  • Click Add Modifier and select the Displace Modifier.
  • From the Texture menu in the Modifiers panel (checkerboard), choose the displacement texture you imported a few steps earlier. The plane is displaced by the image.
  • By changing the Strength in the Modifier, you adjust the height of the displacement.
Blender - mesh displacement
The moon landscape mesh warped with a Displace Modifier

Export from Blender

Once you’re happy with the amount of displacement, export as a glTF file:

  • From the File menu, choose Export and glTF.
  • Choose a save location and give it a name.
  • From the Format menu, select glTF Embedded.
  • There’s no need to change the Transform or Geometry settings.
  • We don’t have any animation, so you can uncheck all the Animation boxes.

Reality Converter – Mesh Displacement

Drop the glTF file into Reality Converter.

While in Reality Converter, I’m going to add another material:

  • Click the Materials tab, to open the Materials sidebar.
  • Drag the roughness image into the Roughness image well.

Reality Converter uses this image to decide how rough different parts of the model will look. The darker areas are more reflective, whereas the lighter areas are less reflective.

Export as a USDZ file.

Motion – Mesh Displacement

Import the USDZ file into Motion, with the same technique as the previous models.

Blender – Animation

Finally let’s take a look at exporting an animation from Blender. If you would like to play along, download the Blender project.

For this animation, I’ve created three simple primitives and used the Shader panel to give them different colours. I’ve used a Subdivision Surface modifier on the spheres and shaded them smooth. I want the objects to rotate around the centre cube. So I’ve made this cube the parent and made the spheres into children. You can see thin black lines showing the parent child relationship. On the cube I’ve keyframed a rotation animation that lasts for 100 frames. Because the other objects are children of the cube, they’ll also rotate.

Blender - cube animation image
Cube Animation project open in Blender

In the Output Properties tab (on the right, printer icon) you can see the default frame rate is 24 frames per second. This is frame rate I’m going to be using in Motion.

Let’s export the animation and make sure we’re using the correct settings:

  • From the File menu, choose Export and glTF.
  • Select a save location and give the animation a name.
  • Because I’ve used a Subdivision Surface modifier on the spheres, I need to check Apply Modifiers in the Geometry section.
  • Make sure the Animation box is checked. But with this simple animation, I don’t need Shape Keys or Skinning.
  • Click Export glTF.

Reality Converter – Animation

Drag the glTF file into Reality Converter. Because it’s an animation, you’ll see Play and Stop buttons at the bottom of the interface. Play the animation to check there are no timing issues and no problems with the mesh.

If everything looks okay, export it to USDZ.

Motion – Animation

In Motion, I’ll create a new project and make sure it’s set to 24 frames per second. I’ll import the animation USDZ.

You can see it’s 100 frames long in the Timeline. I’ll hit the Spacebar to play the animation. You can loop the animation by grabbing the edge of the clip and dragging it out. These black lines showing where the loop points are.

Summary

So this is my approach to bringing models and animations from Blender into Motion. Instead of using an add-on, we can use Apple’s Reality Converter to transform glTF files into USDZ.

There are limitations to what you can do with the 3D objects in Motion. While they interact with lights, the models don’t cast shadows in each other. And as we saw, the Motion project has a default environment that is reflected on the models. But, you can’t change it. Also the scene that you place the objects into is not reflected onto their surface.

While it’s very exciting to be able to bring the 3D models we create into Motion, if you want more sophisticated results, you might want to create the whole scene in Blender.

If you’ve got any questions or suggestions please comment.

Go Further

If you found this useful, check out the rest of my fantastic Postproduction training articles:

Return to Postproduction Training page.


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