After Effects Tutorials / Video Editing

What Is the Best Motion Tracking in After Effects?

Motion tracking in after effects
Published 20 June 2021

Last updated on 30 June 2021

Adobe After Effects has lots of motion tracking solutions available for you. As you develop your skillset further and further, you will stumble upon the need of accessing these features. You will inevitably want to insert an effect or graphic element into a 2d footage sooner or later. Knowing what is the best motion tracking in After Effects will sure make things easier for you!

To be fair, there is no such thing as the best motion tracking—it all depends on the quality of the footage, the chosen tracking points, and the type of insert you want to make. As you will get more acquainted with the tracking solutions, you will come to the same conclusion as I did. Each type of motion tracking is “the best” when used for what was intended to track.

Before we get started, let’s take a look at what exactly motion tracking is. 

What is Motion Tracking?

Motion tracking is the process of following and recording the movement of an object or a part of an object within a piece of footage. Once the data has been collected from the footage, you can then use it to stabilize the footage or add an effect or graphic 2d or 3d element and make it look like it belongs to the footage. For a more detailed description of motion tracking, head over to Adobe Help where they have all the information you need. 

When tracking in After Effects, you will also find yourself in need to do chroma keys. Therefore, you should also know how to do basic chroma keying.

Types of Motion Tracking in After Effects

Depending on what you want to track, After Effects has different tracking solutions. You can either track points, surfaces, or even in 3D space. Let’s cut to the chase and talk about all the different types of tracking.

Single-Point Tracking

Pros: Works best with simple tracking operations. 
Cons: Needs clear points to be seamless.
Difficulty: Easy.
Usage: Add simple elements to the composition.

As the name suggests, this type of tracking follows a point inside the footage and captures the needed motion data. Afterward, you can then go ahead and apply that data to a null and ultimately link a graphic element to it. For more clarity, go ahead and watch this next video tutorial made by Michael Tierney. In this video, you will understand exactly how to use the Track Motion option within the Tracker panel. Please understand that this tracking option works best with simple tracking operations. For more advanced tracking, you should check out the next tracking solution.

Two-Point Tracking

Pros: Unlike single-point tracking, two-point tracking has scale and rotation properties.
Cons: Needs a clear point and a steady shot to be seamless.
Difficulty: Easy.
Usage: Add simple elements to the composition.

Just like single-point tracking, this type of tracking follows not one but two points inside the footage and captures the motion data. Just like before, you can apply the data to a null and ultimately link a graphic element to it. The difference is that now you have scale and rotation properties. Watch the following video tutorial made by Kelly E and you will see exactly how to use the Two-Point Tracking technique.

Mask Tracking

Pros: Works best with faces and other elements that usually require rotoscoping.
Cons: Niche usage.
Difficulty: Medium.
Usage: Face cosmetics.

This tracking technique does exactly as its name suggests. It enables the mask to follow and auto-adjust its shape to a specific moving element as it suffers changes. You can use this technique to cosmeticize the face of an actor inside any given footage. The mask will follow the outline of the face and after you finish collecting the data, you can go ahead and add smoothing or color effects to the mask. Watch the following video tutorial made by QuickVFX to see exactly how to use this technique. 

Corner Pin Tracking

Pros: Uses corner pins for accuracy.
Cons: All points must be on screen at all times.
Difficulty: Medium.
Usage: Screen replacement.

Corner pin tracking shines whenever you work with rectangular surfaces. Perfect for situations where you want to make a screen replacement inside the footage. Thanks to TipTut, we have this nice video tutorial that explains everything. Go ahead and watch it and learn how to use Corner Pin Tracking.

3D Camera Tracking

Pros: Easy to add objects and 3D elements to 2D footage.
Cons: Can be hard to find good tracking points.
Difficulty: Medium.
Usage: Adding 3D elements and set extensions to 2D footage.

As one of the most powerful options inside After Effects, 3D Camera Tracking can be combined with cinema 4d and Element 3d to create stunning scenes. It analyses the 3D space inside 2D footage and generates lots of tracking points that can be used to add 3D text and elements inside any scene. Jermaine Grant did just that in the following video tutorial. Go ahead and watch it. You’ll learn how to use Element 3D together with 3D camera tracking inside After Effects.

Planar Tracking With Mocha

Pros: Works like a charm.
Cons: Takes long to master.
Difficulty: Hard.
Usage: Advanced tracking solution for flat surfaces.

Mocha AE is a completely different animal than the other tracking tools in After Effects. It offers a good solution for motion tracking in After Effects, for shots close to impossible to track. With it, you can make perfect motion tracking, screen replacements even when not all the corners of the screen are inside the footage, and cut out moving subjects from a shot. Next time, when a stranger walks inside your frame, you can simply cut him out!

You can watch the following video tutorial from Boris FX to learn more about Mocha and get basic training in tracking with Mocha.

There you have it! You can use all this newly acquired knowledge to start tracking like a pro! You now have access to all the tracking solutions available for you inside After Effects! You can now see for sure that there is no such thing as the best tracking in After Effects, all of them are good when used accordingly!

About Author

After spending 6 years in the post-production studio, Mihai decided to share his insights on video editing and computers.