Education, Pro Tips

Keep Your Footage Steady with Warp Stabilizer in Premiere (or AE)

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Hopefully, you’ll never have to worry about using this information. It would mean that you’ve shot everything perfectly, and you don’t need to fuss with adding any video stabilization in post-production. Congratulations! However, if you’re like most filmmakers, there are going to be times when you have a shot that’s just a little too shaky and needs to be fixed in post. This is where the extremely helpful Warp Stabilizer effect in Adobe Premiere (and After Effects) comes in.

Before I go on, I should say that you never want to rely on warp stabilizer from the start; you would be doing yourself a disservice as a filmmaker if you just said, “I’ll fix it in post.” The best thing to do is to use a tripod, gimbal, or Steadicam rig to ensure stable footage from the start, and just do some minor tweaking in post-production. Check out our post on How to Shoot High-Quality Video if you want more info on that, but for now, let’s talk about Warp Stabilizer.

Related Post How to Shoot High-Quality Video: 7 Basic Tips

Basic Application

Warp Stabilizer can be found in the Adobe Premiere effects tab under Distort > Warp Stabilizer. To apply it your video, select the clip you want to use, then double-click the effect. You can also either drag it onto your clip in the timeline or into the Effects and Presets tab.

warp-stabilizer-effect-panel-premiere-pro

Once the effect is applied, it will immediately begin to analyze your clip. You can continue to edit and work while it’s doing its thing, so there’s no need to wait for it. The horizontal blue/orange bar will go away once your clip is done analyzing.
 

Tweaking, Adjusting, and More Tweaking

Chances are, when your analyzed clip is done, you’ll have something that is pretty good, but not 100% where you want it to be. The good thing is that you have many options to get the best results possible, but the bad thing is (from my experience) that you may need to spend a good chunk of time getting it dialed in. You have to figure out the ideal combination between having the best stabilization and the least amount of distortion, and sometimes you have to sacrifice one over the other (distortion is usually more noticeable, so I opt for less stable, but less-distorted footage).

premiere-warp-stabilizer-analyzing-interface-window

In the Stabilization menu, under “Result,” you can choose between Smooth Motion and No Motion. Smooth Motion is for shots with movement, where you want the movements to be smoother, like a pan, tilt, or dolly shot. You can adjust the smoothness with this setting. No Motion means that a part of the main subject is still in the frame, and is mostly used with shots that are intended to be locked down or appear locked down. “Smoothness” is only available if Smooth Motion is selected. The bigger the number, the more the effect does to smooth it out, and vice versa. Anything over 100% will crop the image.
 

Selecting a Method

*All of these methods default to the previous method if the one selected doesn’t have enough data to work properly.

Position: This method uses position data to stabilize the footage, and is the most basic.
Position, Scale, And Rotation: Like the name says, this method uses position, scale, and rotation data for stabilization.
Perspective: This method basically puts corner pins on the video to stabilize it.
Subspace Warp: This is the default method, and will warp different pieces of the frame to stabilize the video entirely.
Preserve scale: This keeps the scale the same if you don’t want the clip to be scaled.

warp-stabilizer-premiere-effects-window-analyzing

You also have a number of options under “Borders.”

Stabilize Only: This will simply stabilize your footage, which exposes the moving edges. Here is what that looks like. You probably don’t want to use this option, but it gives you a good idea of how much the effect is doing:

This setting allows you to crop later with another method of your choosing. Auto-Scale and Crop Less, Smooth More are disabled in this setting.

Stabilize, Crop: The moving edges will get cropped without scaling. It’s the same as using the next method (Stabilize, Crop, Auto-Scale) and leaving it at 100%. Auto-Scale is again disabled, but Crop Less, Smooth More is enabled. I’m not sure why you would want to use this option, unless you were stabilizing a higher-resolution clip and then putting it into a lower-res sequence so you could control the scale yourself.
Stabilize, Crop, Auto-Scale: This is the default setting. It does everything mentioned previously, and additionally scales up the image to refill the frame. You can control the scaling in the Auto-Scale section. I use this one most often and get the best results from it. Scaling up too much can really change your composition, so tread lightly here.
Stabilize, Synthesize Edges: This goes one step further and actually fills the empty black space from the moving edges from frames earlier or later in the clip. You control these frames in Advanced > Synthesis Input Range. Auto-Scale and Smooth Less, Crop More are disabled. I haven’t had much success with this setting, but i imagine if you have a clip that doesn’t change all that much visually, you can do a pretty good job of filling in the edges, as long as you know the exact timestamp of what you want to use for replacement.
Auto-Scale: This shows how much the clip is currently being auto-scaled, and you can set a limit if you want to (listed below). Stabilize, Crop, and Auto-Scale have to be selected in order to use this.
Maximum Scale: Limit how much the clip is scaled.
Action-Safe Margin: Adds a border that the auto-scale will not fill. If you’re working in TV or on certain films, you may want to keep this in mind.
Additional Scale: This scales up the clip just like you would in the effect controls, but doesn’t resample the image.

Here’s a decent final result of the same clip from before after tweaking the settings. Keep in mind that the surfer (who is definitely not me) is carving, so the back and forth movement will stay the same, but the jittering and shakiness will be reduced:

 
These are the additional things you can tweak in the “Advanced” section:

Detailed Analysis: This enhances the tracking efforts of the stabilizer and can definitely help your end result. Just keep in mind that it also may slow down your computer or your clip’s playback. I almost always have this on and get better results most of the time.
Rolling Shutter Ripple: One of the distortions that you encounter when stabilizing is the ripple or waviness that occurs, and this helps reduce that. The default setting is automatic reduction, but you can bump it up to advanced if you need to. Subspace Warp or Perspective are the only methods that enable this.
Crop Less, Smooth More: Adding more smoothness with a higher percentage will result in more cropped, smoother video, and a less smooth percentage will have more of your clip visible. At 100%, the result is the same as the Stabilize Only option with manual cropping.
Synthesis Input Range (seconds): When using Synthesize Edges as your method, this number controls how far backward and forward in time the synthesis process goes to fill in any missing pixels.
Synthesis Edge Feather: Again, Synthesize Edges needs to be selected for this one. This feathers the synthesized edges where they meet up with the original video’s edge.
Synthesis Edge Cropping: This will obviously crop the edges of your frame before it’s combined with the regular frames. This is most common in analog video or lower-quality cameras. The edges are set to 0 pixels by default.
Hide Warning Banner: BAN THE BANNER!

warning-banner-premiere-interface-warp-stabilizer
 

Final Adjustments

If you’ve gone through and adjusted everything and you’re satisfied with the results, then go ahead and export (or render in AE). But if you’re not quite there yet, experiment with the other methods, framing options, and Crop Less, Smooth More parameters to get the best result you can. Try turning on Detailed Analysis and see if that changes your results, as well. Here’s a better example of a successfully stabilized clip. The before:

And the after:

I am purposefully being vague here, because a lot of these parameters depend on what kind of footage you have and what your end goal is. If you’ve got a tripod shot with a tiny bit of wiggle, do a simple Stabilize and it may be completely fixed. If you’ve got a dolly shot or something more complicated, you may need to do a full-on Stabilize, Crop, and Auto-Scale with a Perspective Warp on it.
 

Advanced Stabilization Techniques

Masking
If you’ve got a big subject taking up a lot of the frame, Warp Stabilizer is probably going to try and stabilize that instead of the whole video, which can lead to some really funky background warping. You have the ability to mask out a portion of your video (the subject hogging all of the stabilizer’s juice) and let the effect analyze everything that’s left.

adobe-premiere-mask-interface-effects-and-controls-panel

In Premiere, go to your Effect Controls > Opacity and click on the pen tool to draw a mask around whatever you want to cut out. Select Inverse if you need to. You may need to go through frame-by-frame and “rotoscope” the subject out with keyframes (which is a pain, but you know, kinda meditative), but it will give you the most control over the mask and give the Warp Stabilizer the best information to analyze.

If the subject doesn’t move all that much, just draw the mask a little bigger than the subject and hit Analyze. This won’t work if the subject takes up more than about 70% of the frame, however.

In AE, you can use the pen tool to draw a mask around the area and move it around, as well, but you need to make sure your clip is “pre-composed” or “pre-comped” before you apply the Warp Stabilizer, because AE will not recognize any masks.

after-effects-warp-stabilizer-interface-with-mask

Deleting Tracking Points (AE Only)
In After Effects, you can open up your clip, apply the Warp Stabilizer effect just like in Premiere, and then display all the tracking points it’s using for analysis. In the Advanced area, check the “Show Track Points” box and increase the track point size so you can see them.

after-effects-warp-stabilizer-show-track-points-window

Now you simply (read: very tediously) delete track points frame-by-frame for the area you wish to omit. You can select several track points at once with the lasso tool, but this will be a very slow process. You can also use a mask in this method and just delete track points as you go.

after-effects-warp-stabilizer-track-points-selected-interface

If you still haven’t gotten the results you want, then you may just have to settle with what you’ve got and move on. The good thing is, you’ve learned what to avoid and how to best ensure you get the most out of your stabilizer results going forward!

Have any additional questions about working with these tools or stabilizing your footage? Let us know in the comments!