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Understanding The Tracking Options In After Effects


Here’s how to take advantage of all the tracking tools options in After Effects.

Top Image via Shutterstock.

If you’re even a moderate After Effects user, chances are you’ve used the tracking tools. Now, After Effects has multiple options for motion tracking, like using MochaAE and the built-in 3d Camera Tracker. However, many people still opt for the old school tracker that has been in After Effects for as long as I can remember.

It’s fast, it’s versatile, and most importantly of all, it’s pretty easy to understand. However, there are some other features and options that you may not be using. In the video below from Batch Frame,  at around the 9:10 mark, you can see a detailed description of the options. The whole video is really informative and helpful, so if you’re looking to up your tracking game, be sure to watch the whole thing.

Channel Options

Understanding The Tracking Options In After Effects — Motion Tracker Options

On the tracker tab in After Effects, if you click on the options button, you’ll see the dialogue box above. I’m going to be honest here: I’ve never even considered looking at these options until I watched Batch Frame‘s video. At least, if I looked at them, I never considered their differences and advantages. Usually, if I had a bad track, I would just open up a different tracking tool. It never occurred to me that I might just be using the tracker tool incorrectly for that particular footage.

Understanding The Tracking Options In After Effects — Luminance

In the example above from the video, you can see that the luminance of the colors on the screen would be fairly constant, meaning that there isn’t a particularly bright area on the tracking marker for the tracker to look at. Well, the tracker is automatically set to look inside the luminance channel, which is why you’re always trying to look for an area of high contrast.

So, in this case, the luminance channel has little to no value for the tracking software. This is when you’d want to switch over to the RGB channel selection in your options menu. This will make the tracker look for significant differences in color values. Here, the difference between the red and the blue in the tracking marker is exactly what it the program will look for — making this the perfect choice for this particular shot.

Another channel option is saturation. However, to my knowledge, the scenarios when that option will be valuable are pretty scarce. It would require one very saturated color next to a very unsaturated one to work properly. This might be useful at times with certain screen replacements, perhaps with the black or white edge of a phone, but you’d still probably end up with better results using one of the other two channels.

Understanding The Tracking Options In After Effects — Chroma Green
Image via Shutterstock.

A big part of all of this is deciding which type of tracking marker is perfect for your shot. You can go with a blue and red tracking marker like the one used in the Batch Frame video, or you can go with crosshairs, dots, or even a black and white marker like the example above (perfect for the luminance channel option).

Stop Tracking

Understanding The Tracking Options In After Effects — Stop Tracking

In the tracker options window, there is a handy little dropdown menu where you can tell the tracker what to do if it doesn’t know what to do. You can set the confidence percentage wherever you like, which is basically your way of telling the tracker how much you want it to take a wild guess at what it’s supposed to be tracking.

Most importantly, you can set the dropdown to stop tracking and then set the confidence wherever you like. I highly recommend this setting at about 50% confidence. This will mean that if the tracker is less than 50% confident that it’s tracking what you asked it to, it will stop. This will enable you to go in and reset the track point, and try again — or go frame by frame if you need to.

This is a feature that I’m truly amazed I never noticed before. Hitting analyze forward and watching my motion tracks go completely off the map has always been a source of frustration for me. I would go in and delete those frames and reset it by hand, then go frame by frame, moving it along. This makes everything much cleaner and easier, and it keeps the tracker from doing anything that you don’t want it to.

If you’d like to practice these motion tracking options, you can download free watermarked clips at Pond5. All you need is a free account, and you can be editing in minutes.