The 6 Types of Motion Tracking in After Effects – 2021 Guide

Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman

4/30/21

Motion tracking is one of the most-used features in After Effects, and for good reason. This feature allows you to place new elements in a scene, and have them behave as if they were there all along and the camera simply exists around them. It is the key feature that allows us to blend fantasy with reality.

So, what is motion tracking and how can you use it in your next project? Check out our guide to the 6 main types of motion tracking in After Effects and how you can use them in your next creative journey.

What is Motion Tracking in After Effects?

Motion tracking is simply your ability to track the motion of a particular shot, and then apply the same motion to added elements in your footage. This allows visual effects artists, animators, and other digital artists to apply visual elements to a scene that look like they exist in a certain space and the camera moves around them.

The 6 Types of Motion Tracking Available in Adobe After Effects

Single-Point Tracking

This beginner-friendly motion tracking technique is perfect for getting your feet wet in the world of motion tracking. A single-point tracker refers to tracking an object using a single point of reference within a composition.

How it works

In single-point tracking, the motion tracking software is given a single point in a clip to focus on and tracks the movement of the camera around that single point.

What it's best for

This form of tracking is best used for objects moving in a single direction, such as a shot of a flower vase on a table that the camera slowly dollies past.

How to do it in After Effects

This is a beginner-friendly technique that only requires basic understanding of the After Effects motion tracking platform to perform. Using this technique will get you familiar with the Tracker Panel, and learn how the Position tracker works.

Check out this tutorial to learn how to single-point track in After Effects:

Two-Point Tracking

Two-point tracking allows you to apply two different points of motion tracking to an image and track more than one type of movement.

How it works

In two-point tracking, you apply two separate tracking points to an image and use each one to track a different type of motion.

What it's best for

Two-point tracking is best used when you need to track motion in an instance where the camera may be moving around an object and zooming in on it simultaneously.

How to do it in After Effects

This is another beginner-friendly technique that will allow you to get more familiar with your Tracker Panel and see how two different types of motion tracking interact simultaneously.

Check out this tutorial to learn how to two-point track in After Effects:

Four-Point Tracking

So, you’ve mastered single-point and two-point tracking, it’s time to move up to something a bit more challenging, but very useful: four-point tracking.

How it works

Also known as “corner pin tracking” or “perspective tracking,” four-point tracking allows you to track each corner of a four-point surface throughout a shot (such as a smartphone screen).

What it's best for

Four-point tracking is the most common type of tracking used for things like screen replacements. It allows you to identify the corners of a screen and track them so you can insert your new image for a seamless effect.

How to do it in After Effects

You’ll need a solid handle on how to insert elements and use tracking pins for this technique, but it isn’t too complex if you have an intermediate-level understanding of motion tracking. With After Effects’ “Perspective Corner Pin” option, it’s easier than ever to use this technique.

Check out this tutorial for how to use four-point tracking in After Effects:

Planar tracking

Ok, strap in folks, because we’re working in advanced technique territory now. Planar tracking is one of the most effective forms of motion tracking, but does require you to be very comfortable with motion tracking tools to be able to use. However, the results speak for themselves as to why this form of tracking is well-worth the effort to learn.

How it works

Planar tracking utilizes the Mocha plug-in (included with After Effects) to track a plane or a flat surface through a motion.

What it's best for

This technique is best used for tracking a plane or a flat surface, such as a table.

How to do it in After Effects

As I mentioned before, you’ll need to utilize the Mocha plug-in to planar track in After Effects. You’ll also need an understanding of the x-spline and surface tools to utilize this method.

Here’s a tutorial for planar motion tracking using Mocha and After Effects:

Spline tracking

We’re deep into advanced technique territory now with spline tracking. This complex motion tracking technique is one of the most accurate of all techniques, but comes with a significant learning curve.

How it works

Spline tracking allows you to trace around an object that you want to track instead of focusing on a single or set of points. This creates a custom 2D object that After Effects will try to track.

What it's best for

This technique is best for complex camera movements or multi-object scenes where other forms of motion tracking just won’t work. It can also be used if you want to ensure the most accurate motion tracking possible.

How to do it in After Effects

Like planar tracking, spline tracking also utilizes the Mocha plug-in with After Effects to create the 2D objects that you’ll then track. You’ll need a solid understanding of motion tracking and your spline tools, but with some practice and handy tutorials, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

Here’s a tutorial video to show you how to spline track in After Effects using Mocha:

3D Camera Tracking

Last, but certainly not least, is 3D camera tracking, a feature of After Effects that has gained mounting popularity by hobbyists and pro-visual effects artists alike.

How it works

The 3D tracking tool automatically generates dozens of possible motion tracking points, then allows the user to select which points they would like to track. This takes a lot of the manual labor out of setting tracking points, but does require quite a bit of time and processing power to use.

What it's best for

Great for compositing images or building in set extensions to a scene.

How to do it in After Effects

3D tracking is fully integrated into After Effects, making it the most powerful native motion tracking tool. You’ll still need an understanding of motion tracking tools to use it, but it will save you significant amounts of time while compositing.

Check out this tutorial to see how to use the 3D tracking tool inside After Effects:

Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman

Website
Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman is a writer based in New York City. After over half a decade in the film industry, she came back to her Journalism roots to write for a variety of media outlets about subjects including technology, business, marketing, and social and environmental justice.

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The 6 Types of Motion Tracking in After Effects – 2021 Guide

Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman

8 min read time

Motion tracking is one of the most-used features in After Effects, and for good reason. This feature allows you to place new elements in a scene, and have them behave as if they were there all along and the camera simply exists around them. It is the key feature that allows us to blend fantasy with reality.

So, what is motion tracking and how can you use it in your next project? Check out our guide to the 6 main types of motion tracking in After Effects and how you can use them in your next creative journey.

What is Motion Tracking in After Effects?

Motion tracking is simply your ability to track the motion of a particular shot, and then apply the same motion to added elements in your footage. This allows visual effects artists, animators, and other digital artists to apply visual elements to a scene that look like they exist in a certain space and the camera moves around them.

The 6 Types of Motion Tracking Available in Adobe After Effects

Single-Point Tracking

This beginner-friendly motion tracking technique is perfect for getting your feet wet in the world of motion tracking. A single-point tracker refers to tracking an object using a single point of reference within a composition.

How it works

In single-point tracking, the motion tracking software is given a single point in a clip to focus on and tracks the movement of the camera around that single point.

What it's best for

This form of tracking is best used for objects moving in a single direction, such as a shot of a flower vase on a table that the camera slowly dollies past.

How to do it in After Effects

This is a beginner-friendly technique that only requires basic understanding of the After Effects motion tracking platform to perform. Using this technique will get you familiar with the Tracker Panel, and learn how the Position tracker works.

Check out this tutorial to learn how to single-point track in After Effects:

Two-Point Tracking

Two-point tracking allows you to apply two different points of motion tracking to an image and track more than one type of movement.

How it works

In two-point tracking, you apply two separate tracking points to an image and use each one to track a different type of motion.

What it's best for

Two-point tracking is best used when you need to track motion in an instance where the camera may be moving around an object and zooming in on it simultaneously.

How to do it in After Effects

This is another beginner-friendly technique that will allow you to get more familiar with your Tracker Panel and see how two different types of motion tracking interact simultaneously.

Check out this tutorial to learn how to two-point track in After Effects:

Four-Point Tracking

So, you’ve mastered single-point and two-point tracking, it’s time to move up to something a bit more challenging, but very useful: four-point tracking.

How it works

Also known as “corner pin tracking” or “perspective tracking,” four-point tracking allows you to track each corner of a four-point surface throughout a shot (such as a smartphone screen).

What it's best for

Four-point tracking is the most common type of tracking used for things like screen replacements. It allows you to identify the corners of a screen and track them so you can insert your new image for a seamless effect.

How to do it in After Effects

You’ll need a solid handle on how to insert elements and use tracking pins for this technique, but it isn’t too complex if you have an intermediate-level understanding of motion tracking. With After Effects’ “Perspective Corner Pin” option, it’s easier than ever to use this technique.

Check out this tutorial for how to use four-point tracking in After Effects:

Planar tracking

Ok, strap in folks, because we’re working in advanced technique territory now. Planar tracking is one of the most effective forms of motion tracking, but does require you to be very comfortable with motion tracking tools to be able to use. However, the results speak for themselves as to why this form of tracking is well-worth the effort to learn.

How it works

Planar tracking utilizes the Mocha plug-in (included with After Effects) to track a plane or a flat surface through a motion.

What it's best for

This technique is best used for tracking a plane or a flat surface, such as a table.

How to do it in After Effects

As I mentioned before, you’ll need to utilize the Mocha plug-in to planar track in After Effects. You’ll also need an understanding of the x-spline and surface tools to utilize this method.

Here’s a tutorial for planar motion tracking using Mocha and After Effects:

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Spline tracking

We’re deep into advanced technique territory now with spline tracking. This complex motion tracking technique is one of the most accurate of all techniques, but comes with a significant learning curve.

How it works

Spline tracking allows you to trace around an object that you want to track instead of focusing on a single or set of points. This creates a custom 2D object that After Effects will try to track.

What it's best for

This technique is best for complex camera movements or multi-object scenes where other forms of motion tracking just won’t work. It can also be used if you want to ensure the most accurate motion tracking possible.

How to do it in After Effects

Like planar tracking, spline tracking also utilizes the Mocha plug-in with After Effects to create the 2D objects that you’ll then track. You’ll need a solid understanding of motion tracking and your spline tools, but with some practice and handy tutorials, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

Here’s a tutorial video to show you how to spline track in After Effects using Mocha:

3D Camera Tracking

Last, but certainly not least, is 3D camera tracking, a feature of After Effects that has gained mounting popularity by hobbyists and pro-visual effects artists alike.

How it works

The 3D tracking tool automatically generates dozens of possible motion tracking points, then allows the user to select which points they would like to track. This takes a lot of the manual labor out of setting tracking points, but does require quite a bit of time and processing power to use.

What it's best for

Great for compositing images or building in set extensions to a scene.

How to do it in After Effects

3D tracking is fully integrated into After Effects, making it the most powerful native motion tracking tool. You’ll still need an understanding of motion tracking tools to use it, but it will save you significant amounts of time while compositing.

Check out this tutorial to see how to use the 3D tracking tool inside After Effects: