Adobe After Effects Tutorial (Tracking)

Adobe After Effects has become an industry standard effects and compositing software platform for film and video motion graphics. Using After Effects, you can accomplish sophisticated special effects, but many also turn to After Effects to repair problems with their source material. A common issue is unstable images acquired with a handheld camera. This tutorial will show you use After Effects tracking feature to smooth out video shot on a handheld camera.

Set up Your Project

Create a new default composition by selecting “Composition” then “New Composition.” We will use the default NTSC DV preset, but if you have source material that is not standard DV video, select the appropriate preset. Enter “Motion Tracking Tutorial” for your composition title and press “OK.” Import your source video. For the purpose of this tutorial, ideal footage would be shot on a handheld camera by a camera operator with none-too-steady hands.

Track Motion

Once imported, place your video clip in the composition time line. Right-click on the clip layer and select “Stabilize motion” from the menu. When selected, you will see a pair of rectangles at the center of the monitor tab for the clip. On top of the rectangles, note the text “Track Point 1.”

Assuming you are using the After Effects default workspace, the Tracker tab will appear to the right of the composition time line after selecting the effect. Depending on the source material, the movement you want to minimize in the image may be from side to side, top to bottom, or rotational in nature (when the frame pivots from its center axis). After Effects allows you to address one or all of these conditions by adding additional track points.

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For our example, we’ll assume the video features an interview subject being shot by a handheld camera operator. The resulting movement is both up-and-down and side-to-side, but not pivoting rotationally. Therefore, we will stick with the default “Position” check box selected and leave the “Rotation” and “Scale” check boxes unchecked.

The basic concept now is to select a region of video that you want to track. Because the entire image is affected by the camera being supported by a person’s arms instead of a rock-solid tripod, the entire image is moving. Where you place the tracking rectangle is less critical. You can move the tracking point rectangles by selecting the edge (not center) of the box with your mouse and dragging the tracking point wherever you like. Note the magnified view of the video region that appears within the rectangles.

Effect Application

If you made any changes from the default effect, push the “Apply” button from the Tracker tab. A dialogue box appears giving you the option of tracking both the X and Y axis (top to bottom and side to side) or either X or Y. Press “OK” and preview the results.