Tutorial On Motion Tracking In After Effects

Motion tracking in After Effects is not as difficult as it first appears. The software makes it relatively easy to track certain types of footage. Here are tips and tricks you can use to make the process go smoothly.

Setting Up

Go to the Window menu at the top of your screen and open up the “Tracker” menu. It should pop up in the lower right hand corner of your screen. You now have two options–track motion and stabilize motion. For this tutorial you will choose track motion. A set of two white squares will appear on your screen entitled Tracking Point 1. These squares will allow you to set the point in your footage that you want motion to track from.

Picking Your Tracking Point

Picking the point that you want your footage to track from depends on what you will be using the motion track for. For example, if you want an animated plume of smoke to follow a tugboat, you will want to drag your Tracking Point 1 squares to the top of the smokestack on the tugboat and center them there. This point is what After Effects is going to try to follow when you begin to track. The best Tracking Points will stand out–i.e., a bright green smokestack in front of a black background is going to work much better than a black smokestack in front of a dark sky. Once your square is on your Tracking Point, adjust the center square to fit directly over the point you are using. Your outer square should fit an area as large as you believe your Tracking Point is capable of moving in one frame. For example, if you have a slow moving tugboat, your outer square won’t be much larger than the inner square. However, if you’re tracking a speedboat, it needs to be much larger.

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Analyzing Footage

Click the third button from the left next to the word “Analyze” in your Tracker menu to begin tracking your footage. This is known as the “Analyze Forward” button. Keep your mouse on this button. You will see the footage begin to play, and your Tracking Point 1 square will begin to move with the footage. Ideally, this will happen smoothly. However, if you notice that after a few seconds your tracking point is getting lost, either due to poor footage or the subject moving too quickly, press the Analyze Forward button again. Use the Page Up key to go backward frame-by-frame to figure out where the Tracking Point square and the footage stopped working together. Zoom in to this frame and readjust your two squares to more fully encompass the footage. Then, click analyze forward again. If your footage goes out of sync again, stop and backtrack to find the problem. Motion tracking, simply put, is a tedious process. However, once you have your motion tracked properly, click the “Edit Target…” button, and select the layer you want the motion tracking applied to. For example, if you have your motion-tracked footage of the boat, you may be applying it to a layer you’ve already created with a smoke plume in a layer called “smoke.” You would select “Layer: smoke” and click OK.