Basic premise

In after effects the basic order of operation for motion tracking with the built-in motion tracking module (as opposed to an after market solution like the Mocha plug-in) will follow these steps.

  1. Use the track menu to define what footage to track using a "Tracker" effect on the *moving* footage.
  2. Modify the tracking frames accordingly.
  3. Apply the movement of the tracker effect to a different layer to match it to the in-footage movement of the original layer.

Let's look at it more in-depth.

The Process

The window for the built-in motion tracking controls for Adobe After Effects can be found in the lower right corner tab group by default. If it is not there or not currently hightlighted in that group you can simply go to "Window > Tracker" in the main menu.

So the more in-depth steps for a basic footage / object match will be as follows.

  1. Make sure both the footage to be tracked and the element/layer to be matched to that footage are both in the current composition.
  2. Double Left-Click the layer of the footage to be tracked to open a footage monitor for it.
  3. Within the "Tracker" options menu double check that the intended footage layer is slected in the "Motion Source" dropdown.
  4. Select "Track Motion". A new group called "Motion Trackers" will be added beneath the currently selected layer.
    • The "Position" option should be enabled by default. If you also need to track Rotation or Scale you may check those boxes as well.
  5. Left-Click and Drag to move the tracking selector within the footage monitor to the a good reference point within the scene.
  6. At this time double check that the position in the timeline is where you want to begin the motion tracking. It also helps to expand the "Motion Tracking" group under the footage layer to see the keyframes that will be created during the tracking process.
  7. Press the "Play" icon to begin the motion tracking (it will change to a "stop" icon). After Effects will immediately begin playing the footage back and will automatically attemp to change the position of the reference point to stay matched to where you placed it. This in itself is an interactive process as the program does not "pause" while working.
    • The tracking process will last until either the work area / footage ends or until you press the "stop" icon.
    • If stopped you can use the incremental forward and backward buttons to apply tracking to the next or previous frames.
    • If the tracking de-syncs from the intended reference point while in the tracking process then follow these steps.
      1. Press the "stop" icon.
      2. Frame-step back to the last *good* frame where the tracking point still matched the reference point in the footage.
      3. Select and delete the frames from the timeline after that point that contain bad matches.
      4. Either readjust the size / scale of the tracking point before hitting play again or just define a new reference point within the footage entirely before hitting play again. There's no reason you can't move the tracking point to a new reference point should the old reference point become hidden or go out of frame either.
      5. Press the "play" icon again. Repeat until you have the desired amount of tracked footage.

Once you have the desired amount of tracked footage you can transfeer the positional data from the "Track Point" group at any time in just two more steps.

  1. In the middle of the Tracker options menu you should see the line "Motion Target". If it already has the name of the element that will be tracked to the footage you can skip this step. Otherwise press the "Edit Target..." button and select the element to be tracked manually.
  2. At this point you can simply hit the "Apply" button from the Tracker menu and the positional data will be transferred to your target object.

You can now rewind and replay your footage (in the composition monitor) to see if the motion tracker has done its job.