18 July 2012

Sebastian Konig - Track, Match, Blend! - VFX Basics: Camera-Tracking & Match-moving - Training Video Review

Getting a little busy here this week, no sooner had I finished my review of Nathan Vegdahl's Humane Rigging, I decided I had some time to do a review of another Blender Foundation Training DVD.  This time it's "Track, Match, Blend" authored by Sebastian Konig.  A very well known and experienced Blenderhead.  He is currently part of the Blender Mango Open Movie project, working on most of the 3D tracking that is required in that movie.

So given that Sebastian is the go to guy as far as all things camera tracking & object tracking is concerned, it is very handy that he decided to make a set of video tutorials that cover the important topics of tracking in depth.

Track Match Blend

Product Specifications:
  •     Name: Training DVD 9: Track, Match, Blend! - VFX Basics: Camera-Tracking & Match-moving
  •     Author: Sebastian Konig
  •     Price: €27.50 (as of 18th July 2012)
  •     Type: Video Training DVD
  •     Runtime: 10 Hours 54 Min(approximately)

For those that do not know, Camera Tracking is the ability analyze 2D film footage and from that film footage determine where the camera must have been situated when the scene was being filmed.  From calculated camera position it is then possible to place that calculated camera inside Blender and have Blender's 3D camera move in the same way.  This allows you to match movements on film with the movements of the 3D Camera inside Blender so that you can have 3D objects that react as if they were in the filmed scene.

Related to Camera Tracking is Object Tracking, which instead of tracking the camera position, tracks how specific objects move withing a scene.  Being able to match real 2D film footage with 3D generated objects is essential in special effects work, and it is these topics that the DVD most focuses upon.

The first thing to note is that the videos have a runtime of almost 11 hours which seems to be longer than the information provided on the official website of the DVD.  This could just be that I calculated the runtime wrong or extra information was added after the product website was put online.  Either way this DVD is not a quick watch, you will need to set aside a considerable amount of time to take in all the information this DVD presents.

Everything required to follow along with the topics and tutorials discussed in the videos are provided on the DVD.  This includes all the blend files, video footage that camera and object tracks are created from, appropriate versions of Blender, and a copy of vlc media player for windows and mac users, which will allow you to play the videos contained within.

The web browser interface to the DVD is very easy to navigate and is well presented, allowing the user quick access to the videos they are interested in.  If you do not want to use the web browser to access the content of the DVD, then you are not required to as you can directly open all the video tutorial files from the DVD in your operating systems file manager.

The first video on the DVD is an introduction by Sebastian covering what will be taught on the DVD, and giving examples of what will be possible once you have watched the entire DVD.  Sebastian's narration is very clear and well paced throughout the entire DVD.  The videos are very clear and well encoded.

After the introduction, the tutorials are split up into 5 sections and each sub-section covers a specific aspect of camera tracking/motion tracking.

Topics Covered:

  •     Tracking Basics
  •         1 Point Tracking
  •         2 Point Tracking
  •         Stabilization
  •         4 Point Tracking
  •     Camera Tracking
  •         Photogrammetry
  •         The First Shot
  •         Inside The Camera
  •         Setup Tracking Scene
  •         Compositing
  •         Examining The Solution
  •         Feature Detection
  •     Advanced Tracking Techniques
  •         Motion Blur
  •         External Reference
  •         Helper Frames
  •         Creating A Clean Plate
  •     Object Tracking
  •         Head Tracking
  •         Composite Head Track
  •         Object & Camera Track
  •         Composite With Cycles
  •     Extras
  •         Face Deformation
  •         Exporting
  •         Tips For Shooting
  •         Various Tips

The first section "Tracking Basics" covers 2D forms of tracking that can be carried out with Blender, and it also covers the basic parts of the Blender tracking interface that Blender uses.  Single Point, Two Point (covering tracking involving rotations), Stabilization and Four Point (planar) tracking methods are covered.  Each different 2D tracking method is fully explained and their various different uses gone over.  Not only tracking topics are covered but basic uses of compositing are covered so as to allow replacement of certain parts of 2D footage and to add things such as motion blur to more properly integrate additional footage.  On the whole a very simple but clearly explained section of the DVD which aides in slowly working your way into the more advanced 3D tracking topics presented in the next section, as well as presenting very useful information if you ever need to do 2D tracking tasks.

Where as the first section covered 2D tracking and didn't really need the 3D camera to carryout its work, this second section "Camera Tracking" does use Blender's 3D Camera and concerns tracking points on 2D footage so as to convert them into points in a 3D scene.  Sebastian takes a good deal of time explaining how points on 2D film are converted to 3D points using a process called "Photogrammetry", and although this is a complex topic, Sebastian simplifies it making it understandable.  Having gone over the theory of Camera Tracking we get to do our first actual track of a real video shot, with Sebastian slowly and clearly going over the individual steps required to carry out the first track.  Here also more theory is explained, but this time in regards to the various interface settings and their effects on Blender tracking software, again all clearly explained.  Handily the anatomy and terminology used with conventional cameras is covered, things such as focal length, depth of field, and lens distortion are all covered, as is why it is important to understand these concepts while carrying out tracking with Blender.  As a final part to this section descriptions of both what proxies are and how they are used within Blender is covered, as is bringing your tracked shot into the compositor for further post processing work.  Automatic feature detection is covered, but really just as a way to warn you about its current flaws and why you really should not use it unless you have no choice.  Refining camera solves and tracking is covered in some detail, though bear in mind that Blender's refinement feature is more of art than a science, however Sebastian does a good job of explaining the refinement settings included with Blender.  I found this section of the DVD very clear and well laid out.  The explanation of the theory and terminology of both camera settings and tracking was useful to me.  By the end of this section you should be able to do most standard camera tracking tasks without any difficulty (I could by this point).

The third section "Advanced Tracking Techniques" covers topics which are not so easily dealt with automatically by the tracking system and so requires more ingenious tricks and techniques to get the results required.  Specifically adding motion blur to 3D computer generated models which have been added to film footage of a scene which has been tracked.  Other standout parts in this part of the DVD where the methods by which original film footage could be masked out and replaced with 3D models using various Blender modifiers and clean plate techniques.  It is known that Blender's tracker currently does not deal too well with camera shots which only rotate around a fixed point and have very little perspective shift information within a shot.  So Sebastian goes over various ways you can get around these issues to retrieve a successful camera track from a shot that has these problems.  You can think of this section of the DVD as a description of the various edge cases you will encounter in real world production, and as far as possible the solutions that can be thrown at them, to make them work for you.

While the third section covered tracking the motion of a camera in the 3D scene the forth covers tracking the position and movement of objects in film footage.  This is in general much harder to do because there is usually much less perspective information for Blender's solver to work with, but Sebastian again shows the various ways in which you can help Blender give you the best possible chance of getting a good object track.  Having then gotten a successful object track we are then shown how we can do basic compositing on it, integrating various objects that are computer generated into a 2D film scene, using a combination of Blender Internal renderer and Cycles to make the object appear to belong to the scene.  Though this DVD is not about learning to use Cycles, because it only give enough information to start you along the path of using Cycles.

The fifth and final section covered on the DVD is more of a tidy up section, it covers all the topics which Sebastian feels were missed in the previous sections of the DVD or didn't quite fit anywhere else.  Using the tracker to capture face deformation and apply basic digital makeup is covered, as is exporting the tracking data created in Blender to other applications such as Cinema 4D and After Effects.  The last two videos in this section I found really useful as they covered how you can make a tracking shot more likely to be successful and accurate by planning your shot before hand, as well as how to successfully place markers on your 2D film footage to ensure this.

Before I watched this DVD I would say I knew very little about camera tracking and would have found it a chore to get a successful track out of Blender.  After watching it however I feel in a much stronger position with my knowledge of tracking and I think it will greatly improve the level of tracking I will be able to do with Blender.  Having searched around the web for tracking videos for Blender I can say that for now this is the most accurate and clear source of information on Blender's Tracking system.  I especially liked the detailed explanations of the theory behind tracking that will certainly help.

I would say that this DVD will be useful to anyone wanting to learn both the theory and practical side of Match Moving/Camera Tracking in Blender, from beginner to semi-advanced.

So excellent DVD, well worth the money.

Review Score 95%