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HaZ on tracking

Hasraf 'HaZ' Dulull talks us through how he uses tracking, and his advice for beginners.
Before I do any complicated PF track or 3D equaliser or anything like that, I run a 2D track. Like in After Effects, this is the camera tracker. I just run that. And if the camera tracker can’t run it, then I’ve got issues with the footage. And I then manually look for a corner and I track. To me, whenever I get– whenever I’m on set and I know I’m going to put the CG background in or I’m going to put a CG character in, before I go out and put loads of markers everywhere and go crazy with the markers and get a really good track, I also think, someone’s got to paint out those markers.
And that’s going to be just as painful as tracking a shot. So what I do is I look around and see any corners that I could use. And again, it’s almost like I’m tracking while I’m shooting. And I’m like, I could track that corner there. So if I have my character here, I know my background I’m going to put here on my object, I can track that corner. I don’t need a tracking marker. So that’s one example of how you use your location to justify what needs tracking and to justify where you put your markers. The big advice– I’ll say don’t put markers if you got someone’s hair flapping all over the place.
Because then you have to paint in between the hair. So look at objects. And you need to have a nonstandard tracking as well. I mean, I always advise everyone– just do better tracking. You don’t need to, like, go and do anything like, in Syntheyes or something. But just try and track something. And if you do a bad job of it, even better. Because then you’ll understand how painful it is to make sure that you do have objects on track. When you’re on set, it’s very, very aggressive, especially when you’re making a short film. You literally have a couple hours and you’ve agreed with security that you’re going to be in and out. And you’ve got to honour that.
Because the next time you do want to do reshoots, they’re not going to help you out again. So I had After Effects on my computer. But what I did was– here’s another thing I would advise everyone– is go out and plan. Do some location reccies. So what I did was me and my cinematographer, Adam, Adam who did go out and will shoot some test shots. We needed to see what it would look like in camera before we go and commit to the location, right? And I’ll bring that footage home and I’ll track it. So I already knew that the footage would be trackable or the location would be trackable. Plan.

As a VFX supervisor, there’s nothing HaZ doesn’t know about tracking. Efficiency and speed on set is important to him, and so trying to test the track of your shot whilst you are on set is a useful labour saver in the end.

Tracking can be laborious and before HaZ involves extra complex software like PFTrack or 3D Equalizer he runs an easier 2D track, almost as ‘proof of concept’ checking there’s something there to track. For this he uses Adobe After Effects built in tracker.

As HaZ points out, its also useful to check whether you really need to put markers everywhere anyway, if existing background objects and corners will do the job without them. Thinking ahead, HaZ knows that markers often have to be removed or painted out later on, and that can take time, especially if they are half hidden in someone’s hair!

HaZ has learnt this through experience, and the more tracking you do, the more you get a feel for what you can use that’s already in shot- usually high contrast points with some kind of clear horizontal and vertical properties, like a picture frame or numbers on a clock, although you may be surprised what you can get away with.

For those of you who have used tracking before – we know there are experienced film makers amongst you – what kind of things have you used in the past to track with? If you wish, share with us all in the comments below

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