How to Use Motion Tracking in After Effects

20/11/2021
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If you want to insert a graphic or effect into your 2D and 3D footage, in After Effects, you will need motion tracking. How else could you track the movement of an object in your video? How could you give your animations a captivating and real-life quality? Let’s learn more about what motion tracking is and how to use motion tracking in After Effects.

What is motion tracking in After Effects?

Motion tracking involves tracking the movement of objects in any given piece of footage. You can then use this track data to apply it to any other new elements in your footage.  

So, essentially, you can add new elements to a video and make them look like they’ve always been there in the first place.

What Is Motion Tracking Mostly Used For?

Motion tracking is used in several industries – including entertainment, medical, military, video game development, and sports.

So, let’s look at some practical applications of motion graphics. First of all, you can use motion graphics to combine elements that you have filmed separately. For example, you can add some super cool city footage rolling through the window of a moving bus.

Secondly, motion tracking is super helpful for animating still images into action footage. For example, you can add a cartoon animation of a bee sitting on a flower.

Thirdly, you can use it to add specific effects to moving objects. For example, you can add a super-fast effect to a moving rally car.

Moreover, you can connect a tracked element to different features, such as audio stereo. You know that cool effect where audio seems to blast from multiple sides during an action scene. You need motion tracking for that.

Furthermore, you can stabilize footage, remove any jostling from a handheld camera.

So, motion tracking enables better colour grading and the application of different effects. You can even replace screens, insert 3D objects into 2D footage etc.

Step-by-Step Use Guide to Motion Tracking in After Effects

Digital artists use motion tracking to track the movement of an object in their video footage. Using the tracked data, they can further customize the footage. So, here are five steps on how to motion track in After Effects:

1. Import the object or type the text you want to add to your footage.
2. Position the text or object on the appropriate layer and in the correct spot.
3. Open up Tracker and move the playhead to where you want the tracking to begin.
4. Locate the Tracker Panel and click Track Motion before selecting the track points on the graphic or text.
5. In the Tracker menu, click Edit Target and input the graphic or text in the appropriate layer.

For more cool guides, check out our take on Animation in the UI UX Design Multiverse!

Different Methods of Motion Tracking

There are numerous types of motion tracking in After Effects, and you must use the correct method according to the desired output. So, the different motion tracking techniques include the following.

Single- point tracking

Single-point tracking in After Effects is the most popular form of motion tracking. This technique is used to track a composition using a single focus point. It is primarily used in the tracking of 2D projects focused on a singular point to prevent warping. Consequently, single-point tracking is suitable for beginners and single object tracking.

Two-point tracking

Also useful for beginners, two-point tracking involves gathering data from a composition using two focus points. Therefore, it differs from single-point tracking in that it allows you to scale and rotate an object or element of footage. So, for two-point tracking to be effective, there needs to be a minimal camera shake.

Corner pin tracking

So, this technique is only applicable for objects or graphics that have a four-point surface. There are several applications for corner pin tracking – including screen or sign replacement, image frames, and other simple surfaces. All points need to be on-screen for this to work.

Planar motion tracking

Planar tracking in After Effects often requires you to have an advanced skillset and use the ‘x-plane’ and ‘surface’ functions in Mocha. This is a JavaScript test framework that comes free with After Effects. So, the functions carried out in Mocha are transferred to After Effects for greater accuracy. Furthermore, you can draw a shape around the graphic or area that you want to composite.

Spline tracking

So, spline tracking is the most accurate. It’s used to track complex objects or elements within a composition. Therefore, you can track the motion of any shape.

3D camera tracking

This tracking technology allows you to analyze footage and the 3D space within it. It generates numerous track points. You can select the appropriate track points and add the necessary features. Consequently, this is one of the most powerful features of After Effects.

With 3D camera tracking, you can add text, null, and solid. It also allows you to track multiple objects moving simultaneously in a video. However, the 3D camera tracker layer size must match the composition for this technique to be effective.

Conclusion

Motion tracking iMotion tracking is an essential element of a digital artist’s repertoire. Start learning the basics and,  in time, you’ll practice it like a master. You need tracking for pretty much everything, from mapping text to an object or replacing a computer screen with another. So, there you go!

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