April 7, 2020

Motion Tracking in After Effects | F.I.R.S.T. Quick Tips

Motion tracking helps you bring your compositions to life! Whether you need to make some text look “ingrained” in the environment, stabilize your footage, or match the movement of your greenscreen work, it’s a good skill to have. Our videographer, Gage, walks you through a simple application of this method.


Handheld Movement

We start with some footage that is handheld – the footage rocks and sways naturally. We want to add some text over the footage and have it match the movement, which will make it look like it takes up actual space in the environment.

Gage creates some text using the type tool, and the text sits over top of the image as normal. He creates a null object by selecting Layer > New > Null Object from the toolbar. A null object is an invisible element in your composition that acts as a reference for other elements (more on this later).


Track Motion

Click on your footage layer and go to the toolbar, selecting Animation > Track Motion. A box will appear on the footage, this is your motion tracking point. You can drag the center to move the box, or drag the corners to adjust its size. Choose a point that has easily defined edges, like a corner. This will make it easier for the program to accurately track the motion.

Gage chooses to put his tracking point on the corner of a picture frame, and selects “Edit Target.” He selects the Null Object as his target, so all of the motion keyframes will be applied to that layer on the timeline.

Go to the beginning of your footage and press play in the “Tracker” box. The program will process the motion of your track point (this will take some time). When it’s done, hit “Apply” and make sure the motion is applied to both the X and Y axes.

You can see that the motion keyframes are now applied to the Null Object. Select the pick-whip on your text layer and apply it to the null object. Now it will share the motion.

If you play your footage, you can see that the text is now moving and swaying with the handheld motion, creating a subtle parallax. It’s a great way to make the text pop! This is just one of many applications for motion tracking – can you think of any others?