Sometimes called match moving or camera solving, motion tracking has been used as a visual effects tool for over 30 years now.
It was first used in 1985 for a series of adverts for National Geographic, but if you want to read more about its history in general, you can read an article here about its development – click here
It’s one of the basic building blocks of any film or TV show and has started to make more regular appearances in smaller productions such as corporate films for businesses.
One of the main uses of motion tracking is to put things that weren’t captured in camera into filmed footage, making them look as if they were on set when you hit the record button.
This could be 2D or 3D animated objects, creatures, motion graphics, logos or even just basic text.
The US Defense Department first developed the concept of tracking for use in missile guidance systems.
Above is a still image taken from our motion tracking reel, which you can view by clicking the link at the top of this blog post.
When the technique is done well, it can expand your creative palette considerably, making your films more memorable through an inventiveness to the way in which you relay messages across to your audience.
And by following our tips below, you too can get impressive results without experiencing any dramatic increase to your budgets costs …
First off, plan your shoot with the tracking locations and content in mind rather than as an after thought. For example, if you have a product on a table with the idea to add to a floating animated label, think about where that label will fit in the shot, framing it as if the label was already there. This approach will make for a more balanced composition and also give the viewer time to read and take in what’s on the screen.
Motion blur is a killer as it makes everything a bit smudgy, and if there’s too much of it, the shot is just untrackable. So, nice steady movement, no swift turns and shooting at a high frame rate will help tremendously.
There’s no reason you can’t have fast hectic movements in between areas that you want to track, just plan it out and consider the pace of the shot where you want the track to be included.
Make sure you shoot in full HD or 4K. This helps keep things crisp and gives more accurate information to extract the tracking information from.
Do fades and shot transitions after the CG elements have been added. Fading to black or white or other transitions can make the faded sections very difficult to track to the end and colour grading can remove more of that valuable data that helps get a smooth track.
As with anything, an experienced professional is going to give you better, faster and – in the long-run – cheaper results. Motion tracking is an art and like anything else, takes practise to be good at. Novices are a lot less likely to know how to get the most out of their tools and more likely to produce poor-quality, shaky results instead.
Distant Future has a lot of experience with motion tracking and we can tell you if your shot will track well even before you’ve shot it, as well as advise using extra tracking markers and removing them in post-production.