Thursday, March 03, 2011

Review: Imagineer Systems Mocha Pro at Microfilmmaker Magazine


mocha pro

Imagineer Systems mocha Pro

Publisher: Imagineer Systems
Website: http://www.imagineersystems.com
Platform: Mac and Windows
Description: Planar tracking & rotoscoping
MSRP: $1,495. Upgrade from Mocha AE $895 Upgrade / Buy here
Download Demo: Click Here
Review Date: March 1, 2011
Reviewed By: Craig Herron

Final Score: 8.5

Reprinted with permission from Microfilmmaker Magazine.



Mocha Pro is the big brother of Mocha AE and, as such, is a full-featured software program for tracking, rotoscoping, inserting, stabilizing and removing items from video clips. While it is a higher price point, it's also more powerful. Let's break down each element for folks knew to Mocha, or for folks who'd just like a refresher!

Tracking
is the process of following around a specific part of your video image, so that you will later be able to stick something else on top of that part. It's used a lot to replace a sign on a moving vehicle or to put something else on a TV or computer screen in a moving camera shot. But it can also be used to replace heads, add wounds to actors, or wings or horns or whatever. Tracking is also great for adding the missing second story to your set while the camera is panning (or even burning down the missing second story in the midst of that pan).

Rotoscoping is sort of like keying out a green screen if someone forgot to shoot the actor in front of a green screen. Rotoscoping strikes fear into the hearts of VFX artists. What happens is: you have to make a mask that has a bunch of points on it. You move thru the clip and adjust the points on the mask to follow whatever it is you are trying to take out, usually a person. Every time you adjust the mask, you create a keyframe. You usually start at the beginning and draw the mask, then skip to the end and move and adjust it. Then jump to the middle and adjust that, then start jumping to the middle of the other keyframes until the mask moves correctly following the action. Sometimes you will adjust the mask on pretty much every frame. Thats 24-30 frames per second. Sometimes you will have a mask for every finger on a hand. You can see how much fun rotoscoping is.

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X spline outlining the plane of the ship for stabilizing in Mocha Pro.

Inserting is placing a picture or a video clip into a frame or other space that you have already tracked and rotoscoped. It is usually done in your compositing software but Mocha Pro can do it inside the tracking software and even render out a video for you.

Stabilizing is taking video that was shot handheld or on a cheap tripod on a vibrating ship and making it look like you shot it correctly, smoothly, and watchably. This is less in demand than it used to be, but I hope it makes a comeback, as I am very tired of watching multi-million dollar films that look like they were shot on miniDV. Stabilizing is very useful if you want to take out the jitter and bounce of a background so that you can put it behind your rotoscoped or keyed out actor. Of course you could also track the jittery background and apply it to the actor and he will jump around just like your background. When it comes to compositing, you might say that tracking is making your foreground elements conform to your background, while stabilization is making your background element conform to your foreground. (That's a bit simplistic and not always the case, but it's a good rule of thumb.)

Removing and making clean plates. A plate is a clip of video, or a still picture that can be your background. Sometimes there are things that you want to cut out of your video and keep (the rotoscoping part) and sometimes you just want to get rid of these things and have a nice clean background. These things might be tourists who wander into your nice background plate/shot of the beach where you are shooting Robinson Crusoe, or they might be tracking markers or unwanted signs, or something modern that is out of place. Sometimes these corrections might be made in Photoshop but if you have something moving, like the water, or the camera, this becomes a problem.

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The corner pin tracking data applied to a null in After Effects to stabilize the ship footage.

Mocha Pro does all these things. It does them in a unique way using something called a planar tracker. A planar tracker tracks planes in an object rather than points/pixels or 3D points. There are all sorts of planes in our world that can be tracked: doors, windows, signs, TVs, and table tops are obvious ones. You can also track faces, and rock formations, and distant mountains. You will find planes everywhere. Mocha Pro asks you to draw a loose mask around the plane you want to track and then you hit the track button and Mocha will work for a few minutes and then give you a very accurate and smooth track. You can then add additional tracks, either forwards or backwards, add a grid to see how it's going and even add a logo or item to see how it tracks. After you get your track right you can export that information to various programs like After Effects, Nuke, and Final Cut Pro where you apply it to your footage. This planar tracking is the heart of Mocha. After you have your track you can tack masks onto to it to speed up your rotoscoping. You can export your roto-masks to After Effects and other programs as well. Say you need to mask a hand with the fingers spread out. You can track the palm of the hand and make a mask for that. You can make a mask for each finger and add that to the track of the hand. This saves huge amounts of mind numbing time over standard rotoscoping. Believe me you really want this.

You can also do a stabilize track, which tracks a plane in the same way but instead of using that track to add something to your plane, the stabilize track moves the background around so that your plane now holds still. This is great for the backgrounds shot from a moving boat or car that you would really prefer that they look like backgrounds and not like an earthquake. (Which leads to the question, since we used to show an earthquake by shaking the camera but now, thanks to Paul Greengrass and his latter Bourne movies, even simple conversations are shot with the camera shaking and wandering like crazy, how do we show an earthquake?)

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A logo tracked onto the side of the ship for positioning in Mocha Pro.


Finally, for rotoscoping, Mocha removes items by once again tracking objects. This time it requires at least two tracks, one for the item you want to remove and one for the background plane where you want Mocha to fill in the hole where the item was removed. Mocha also does some cool stuff with fixing or using lens distortion and inserting pictures into your tracked picture frames, signs, and TVs and rendering out a video clip.

Ease of Use

This is a tricky question to answer as tracking and rotoscoping are very confusing to most people and are fairly hard to do. Mocha Pro is definitely easier to do and to learn than point tracking, where you draw a little box around a few pixels that have a high contrast and a bigger box around that area that you want to search. Point tracking sort of works as long as you have a clear point to track. Of course as the light changes, the perspective changes or the point is blocked by something else, the track will get lost and wander off. 3D tracking looks at the whole video clip and tracks hundreds of points in 3D space and then works backwards to keep the 3D points still but create a moving camera. It does work well but it is very confusing to use as you end up with this 3D cloud of points that you have to figure out what is what. Mocha can track some 3D objects pretty well and is much, much easier to use.

Mocha Pro is a separate program and opens onto one large window, which can be resized and moved around. The controls are laid out very well and once you figure out what the icons mean it is pretty straight forward. One thing that confused me at first is the "x" splines and the b splines. X splines are something new that Mocha has come up with. They work very well, are easy to adjust, and you can even have different feathers/blurs on each of your points. This works great with masks as I have often wanted to have a soft area around the hair in a matte but wanted to keep the features sharp. The points on an "x" spline can also adjust to be sharper, or smoother, and can be adjusted at any time. There is an icon that is sort of an "x+" which adds additional masks/tracking areas to your first x spline. Then there are two icons with a "b" and "b+". These are simply a bezier spline like in Photoshop or Illustrator. Mocha puts them there for your convenience, but advises against using them as they don't work as well with the program as the "x" splines. The "x" splines work great so I just use them.

The tutorials on the website are really well done and offer in-depth lessons on almost all parts of Mocha Pro. The online manual is also really good with step by step instructions with pictures.

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Actress Sara Cole being rotoscoped in Mocha Pro. Although I will key most of this footage out, I may need to rotoscope her blouse as it has a bit to much green in the blue.

Depth of Options

Mocha Pro covers the area of tracking, rotoscoping, stabilizing, cleaning up background footage, and correcting lens distortion extremely well. If you do any sort of visual effects, the day will come when you need this type of software. This is the only software I have used which has all these tools in one place. It is very fast and fairly easy to use. I will be using Mocha Pro on my current short movie: Bermuda Triangle ― A Love Story. The 18 minute short is being produced with the backgrounds shot first on location on a cruise ship and in Bermuda and the actors added via green screen. This means that nearly every scene will include VFX. There are a lot of backgrounds shot with an inexpensive Sony HDV camera on a moving ship or ferry boat that contain jitter and outright bumps. Mocha Pro will be used in some cases to stabilize the background footage shot on the vibrating and windy decks of the cruise ship, and to track the actors into the moving and pitching high speed ferry boat. There are also a number of logos on the ship as well as on the docks as the ferry is coming in that will need to be tracked and replaced with original logos. I'm sure somewhere along the way I'm going to need that lens distortion tool as the backgrounds were shot with a consumer HDV video camera, a point and shoot Canon, and a Canon T2i HDSLR (both as stills and HD video). The actors will be shot against green screen with the HDSLR so I'm hoping to keep the rotoscoping to a minimum. But a lot of the backgrounds may be rotoscoped to allow for 3D camera moves.

Performance

Mocha Pro is very hardy and moves pretty quickly through HD files and comes back with amazing tracks. It takes a few minutes to make the tracks depending on how complex and long they are. It is not a speed demon, but tracking is very slow to do in all software that I have used. Mocha is faster than others I have used. The way it can make roto-masks and track them is where it really shines and huge gains in the speed of rotoscoping are made. I'm talking cutting times in half and, sometimes, even cutting the time to 10%. We're talking of saving hours of time on each rotoscope job.

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Back in After Effects with the fake logo of the Bermuda Star cruise line tracked over the real logo of the ship. This was a tricky shot as the camera was on a bouncing high speed ferry moving away from the ship at an angle. Mocha Pro did a great job.

Value

At $895 upgrade from MochaAE, and $1495 to buy it from scratch, Mocha Pro is not an inexpensive program, especially for indie movie makers. But we are talking saving huge amounts of time and aggravation. Tracking and rotoscoping and cleaning up backgrounds takes enormous amounts of time, talent and sanity. It takes pretty high grade tracking/roto/cleaning software to pull this off, which is what you get with Mocha Pro. (To give you an idea, Mocha Pro was used to track in the feathers growing on Natalie Portman's arms in Black Swan. Great video on the Mocha web site. )

Final Comments

I was thrilled to get ahold of this software. I have been using Mocha AE which is very useful but doesn't have the stabilizing, lens correction, advanced rotoscoping, and cleaning up backgrounds that Mocha Pro has. It took me a couple of tries to get the hang of Mocha but now I see how it can improve the quality and speed of my visual effects. I will also be able to do more complicated shots for less money which will make my VFX customers happy.

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