Matchmoving by Hand

Today we’re going to take a quick look at matchmoving objects – but not by tracking multiple features and solving for the camera and object. Basically, not the normal way you would expect. This is how to hack and cheat matchmoving things that have no markers.

3D matchmoving is an absolutely essential aspect of visual effects . Ideally you’ll have some tracking markers and camera information, but if not, don’t fear – visual effects is all about cheating! And you can absolutely cheat an object matchmove. I’ve used this technique for years on TV shows like Gotham, Pennyworth, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Swamp Thing.

Here’s a couple examples of what we’re doing. These two videos each have slightly different effect elements added, but are both based off the same tracks.

For a real world example, in the show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a character named Hellfire can charge things with energy and turn them into bombs. (I did not work on the shot below. Notice even his fingers have energy in them.)

You can also see it starting at 1:30 in this scene, and at about 17 seconds into this shot. And below is a still image I found online from one of the shots I worked on where Hellfire charges up a martini shaker.

More often than not, I don’t do anything to the default camera when I use this technique (other than roughly lining up the ground plane). However, you could be a bit more accurate by first using fSpy to calculate the camera position and focal length, and then using the manual techniques from there.

I created the electricity bolts for the bottle in Natron, and am including the Natron project in the Projects download if you want to take a look. I’d be happy to make a quick tutorial on it if anyone’s interested, just leave a comment below or message me HERE. (Edit: I went ahead and made the tutorial, it’s Part 4 below)

I’ve also demonstrated this technique a couple times during World Blender Meetup Day. In 2017 I did a quick walk-through of another Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shot, which you can see HERE, and then in 2019 I used the same footage I shot for this tutorial, which you can see HERE.

One of the most powerful things you can do with simple face tracking is blemish clean up and de-aging (making an actor appear younger or older). You could also add things like heat ripple, other kinds of particles, or cool sci-fi stuff like subdermal glowing veins or a HUD like in Iron Man. If your manual track is good enough, you could add makeup fx like the Joker, or even remove chunks of the person! Although, keep in mind that if you do try a digital makeup effect, manual tracking is not ideal for that. It’s more useful for things that don’t need to stick 100%.

Another thing I use this technique for a lot is gunshot woulds to the head, complete with chunks and blood mist blowing out. But that’s a tutorial for the future (I have big plans for that one!)

In the commercial software world, Nuke has a great plugin called GeoTracker that does an amazing job of automating this process. I also know of a tool in Syntheyes called GeoH that does the same thing, although I have never used that tool. There’s also a pretty cool tool called Character Face Gen. None of these options are free and open source, however, so hopefully this tutorial can fill the gap.

Actor – Stephan Singh

Assets required:

Pre-rendered elements:

Tutorial 1 – Modeling & matchmoving the canteen.

Tutorial 2 – Matchmoving the face

Tutorial 3 – Adding the cool elements!

Tutorial 4 – Creating the electricity element in Natron


    1. Thanks, Igor! Head over to the Contact Me page and send me a message telling me some details about what this Natron fire/ice tutorial is that you’d like to see!

  1. Good to see you back, Sean. Great stuff. That sphere idea – so simple and yet I needed that in a past project where I had things spinning. One effect, that I’d be curious to see how you approach it, is where there is something crawling under the skin, you know, the alien creature inside the body thing!

    1. Ah, yes, that’s a popular effect. I remember seeing Andrew Kramer do it over on Videocopilot years ago, and honestly, I’m not sure I’d do it any differently than he does there. It’s definitely something I’ve done at work a couple times over the years!

      1. thanks for your fast reply.
        At least in my browsers (Chrome/Firefox), I can choose up to 1080p but it only works on max 360p. After that there is only a spinning wheel on black background.
        But never mind. If you say its in full HD I will try it on another pc in a few days.
        Maybe youtube doesnt like some of my adblockers.

        The tutorials are great, even though I cant see all of the details, your discription is very good.
        I hope to see some more of them in the next time 🙂

      2. Yeah, very strange. For me here on my laptop, it loads up by default at 720p. Keep me posted if you find that keeps happening on another computer. Glad you like the tutorials!

    1. Thanks for checking out the tutorial! And yes, I do think Natron could have a future, if there was a person or group interested in picking it up and continuing development. 3D compositing is not necessary for a compositing program, even though compositors are coming to rely on it more and more. There’s a ton of other things I use Natron for that can’t be done yet in other open source software.

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