How to Use Motion Tracking in Adobe After Effects

How To 14 min
Watch how to track and attach text to static objects in a moving shot, how to track and attach animated callouts to moving objects, screen replacement in a moving shot, and how to remove tracking points in Adobe After Effects.

You can enhance motion graphics in your videos by using tools available in Adobe After Effects. The motion tracking tool allows you to track the motion of a shot and then apply that motion to any added elements in your scene. For example, tracking static objects can be used for opening credits or to introduce a new location. Tracking and attaching animated call outs to moving objects is popular in commercial and advertising work. 

Follow along with this video by Premier Gal and review the steps below to see how to perform these three techniques. 

Track Text to Static Objects in a Moving Shot

Open the video file you want to add tracking text to. You can download the examples used in this video from Envato, but it requires a paid subscription.

You can also use your own video footage to work with.

  1. Select the "Type" tool or hold down the Ctrl key (or Command key on a Mac) and press the "T" key.
  2. Type out your text using whatever font you choose.
  3. Select the text and rescale it so it expands to the size you want, and place where you need it to rest. Hold the "Shift" key to scale.

  1. Select "Tracker" from the Window menu.
  2. Select the video clip from the composition and move the play head to the beginning of the composition. Tracking should always start at the beginning of the clip.
  3. Select "Track Motion" from the tracking panel.
  4. Alter the zoom of this composition by moving the point in place. Click the inside of the smaller square of the tracker point, then move it to a point on your object that includes both a light and a dark contrast.

  1. Choose a target by selecting "Edit Target" on the Tracker menu. This will open the Motion Target menu. 
  2. Select the text layer, also known as the "Target Layer." 
  3. Select "Analyze Forward" and wait until it tracks through the composition.
  4. When the tracking is complete, select "Apply." This will open the Motion Tracker Apply Options. 
  5. Apply the tracking to both the X and the Y coordinates.

  1. Open the text layer and notice the tracking information was transferred over as keyframes to the position of the text, but in the wrong location. You need to adjust the position of the text. DO NOT alter the current position controls, as it will affect the tracking keyframes. 
  2. Select the Effects and Presets menu on the side panel.
  3. Locate the Effects and Presets search feature and search for an effect called "Transform," located under Distort. Double-click to apply it to the text layer.
  4. From the Effects Controls, move around the X and Y coordinates. This lets you move the text wherever you like without destroying the original tracking data.
  5. Select "Play" or hit the space bar to view the final composition.

Attach Callouts to Moving Objects

Import the video file you want to add an animated call out to and in the Project panel, right-click the video and select New Comp from Selection.

You can use an already created call out or you can make your own. To make your own simple text call out, use the Text tool (Cmd+T or Ctrl+T) to enter text.

  1. Move the play head to the beginning of the comp and select the video clip layer.
  2. Open the Tracker Panel and select "Track Motion." 
  3. Zoom in on the composition and move the tracker point to an area of the moving object with high contrast.
  4. Select "Edit Target" in the Tracker Panel. 
  5. Verify the call-out layer is selected and click "OK."
  6. Select "Analyze Forward" in the Tracker Panel and wait until the composition duration finishes.
  7. Select "Apply" in the Tracker Panel and then "Play." Notice the animated call out is moving with the object.

  1. Open the text layer and notice the tracking information was transferred over as keyframes to the position of the text, but in the wrong location. You need to adjust the position of the text. DO NOT alter the current position controls, as it will affect the tracking keyframes.
  2. Select the Effects and Presets menu on the side panel.
  3. Locate the Effects and Presets search feature and search for an effect called "Transform," located under Distort. Double-click to apply it to the text layer.
  4. From the Effects Controls, move around the X and Y coordinates. This lets you move the text wherever you like without destroying the original tracking data.
  5. Select "Play" or hit the space bar to view the final composition.

Replace & Track a Screen

  1. Open and download the stock video of your choice. In the example downloaded from Envato, notice the black tracking points on the green screen in the video that makes tracking easier. To avoid subscription costs, use your own footage or perform a Google search for free stock video with tracking points. 
  2. Drag and drop the screen replacement of your choice into the composition and name it "Screen Replacement."
  3. Select the stock video clip in the composition and move the play head to the beginning of the composition.

  1. Use the Tracker Panel to select "Track Motion."
  2. Click the "Track Type" dropdown menu and select "Perspective corner pin."

  1. Move each tracker point to the corner tracker points on the computer monitor.
  2. Select "Edit Target," ensure the "Screen Replacement" video option is selected and click "OK."
  3. Select "Analyze Forward" to track the target.
  4. When the tracking is complete, select "Apply." The screen replacement video will morph to the perspective of the screen.

  1. Move the "Replacement" video beneath the "Stock Video" layer. 
  2. Select the Effects & Presets menu and type in "Keylight" in the search box. 
  3. Double-click "Keylight (1.2)" to apply it to the stock video clip.
  4. Use the "Screen Color Dropper" in "Effect Controls" to select the green from the monitor. 
  5. Click the "View" dropdown and select "Screen Matte." 
  6. To remove all the gray, leaving an all-white background, select "Clip White," lowering the value until all gray disappears.
  7. Increase the "Clip Black" until the gray around the corners is eliminated. 
  8. Click the "View" dropdown and select "Final Result."

  1. Select the "Screen Replacement" layer.
  2. Press the "S" key to reveal the Scale property and adjust the value to resize and bring to scale, ensuring the image fills the monitor.

  1. Select the stock layer and open the "Rectangle" tool.
  2. Click and drag to make the first rectangular mask covering the first tracking point. Notice that a "Mask" was created in the composition. 
  3. Click the "Add" dropdown from the mask composition layer and select "Subtract." The chosen tracking point should be removed entirely from the computer monitor. 
  4. To animate the "Mask" path, click on the stopwatch and scrub the playhead forward until the tracking point becomes visible from behind the mask.
  5. Click on the mask and drag it back to cover the target. Notice that a keyframe is now in the composition.
  6. Repeat for every tracking point. Create a new mask for each corner and animate the mask path until complete. Key "V" to move the mask manually.

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