Stabilization is a common post-production task for editors. The process of removing or smoothing out a shot’s camera motion, it’s used to reduce shaky, hand-held camera work, or even to refocus the viewer’s gaze. Understanding different stabilization tools and techniques, like the one below, is a great way to up your post-production IQ.
While Adobe’s Warp Stabilizer (found in both Premiere Pro and After Effects CC) is a powerful and useful tool, there are some shots that it can’t handle easily. For example, in the Pond5 clip below, the heavy snow, combined with the out-of-focus background makes it difficult to stabilize using Adobe’s native tools.
For advanced stabilization, we’ll use Mocha Pro from Boris FX to handle this challenge. Mocha Pro’s workflow is driven by user-defined planar tracking for extra control and flexibility. There are two methods we’ll use here for stabilization: locking a shot down and a more creative look.
Start by applying the Mocha Pro effect to your clip. If you don’t already own Mocha Pro, you can download and install a free 15-day trial from the Boris FX website. Once applied, launch the Mocha interface.
Create Track Layers
To stabilize with Mocha Pro, you need to get a solid planar track. Mocha’s X-spline tool is used to create the search region. Avoid the actor in the center of the frame and focus the tracking area on the house in the background. You can use the X+ button to add a second search area to your layer. You can also apply a garbage matte and track and avoid the actor if necessary. (Make sure your holdout matte for the foreground is above the background track in your layer stack).
For most stabilization shots, you only need to track specific motion parameters. Under the Track tab, select Translation, Scale, and Rotation only, then track forwards.
Select Stabilize Parameters
In Mocha Pro’s Stabilize Module, you can select “Smooth All Motion” to reduce the jitters on all tracked parameters. If you want to lock the shot down as if it was on a tripod, select “Maximum Smoothing.” If you want the image to be centered and scaled to reduce the black borders, you can also select the parameters in the Border tab. At this point, you can play back and preview your stabilized shot.
Render Back to Your Premiere Timeline
If you’re happy with your shot, you can save and exit the Mocha interface. Back in Premiere, simply tell the Mocha plug-in which module you want to render — in this case, it’s the “Stabilize” module.
For a more creative approach to stabilization, you can use the same shot, but instead of stabilizing the background to lock down the camera, stabilize the actor’s motion to create an “Alfred Hitchcock” effect, where the camera appears to be mounted to the the actor. This time, we’ll track the actor’s face using the same Scale, Translation, and Rotation tracking parameters.
Use the same “Smooth All Motion” and “Maximum Smoothing” selections. This will keep the actor’s face locked down and warp and position the rest of the frame to emulate a camera that is actually attached to a moving actor. This kind of creative stabilization is often used to create disorienting or spooky moods.
If you’re looking for more Mocha training, check out these additional blog posts on Pond5 or visit Mocha TV at Boris FX for hundreds of useful tutorials covering planar tracking and advanced rotoscoping.
Have questions about post-production stabilization techniques or working with Mocha Pro? Let us know in the comments!