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Tracking puppet tool on moving footage

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Alden Ford
Tracking puppet tool on moving footage
on Jun 12, 2020 at 3:46:40 pm

I'm working on a project that involves animating the mouths of live-action animals, in the style of the Babe films. I've got an incredibly clunky workflow which involves a base layer of the footage, top-layer track mask of the animal's snout, and a still image (tracked to the movement of the animal's head) of the animal's open mouth sandwiched between, which I'm manipulating with the puppet tool using mo-cap of an actor performing the lines. Needless to say, it's. . . pretty tedious!

Additionally, this setup doesn't allow me to make do any animation on the top layer - for example, raising the eyebrows, blinking, or manipulating the muzzle at all - so all my animation needs to exist on the still image layer of the lower jaw. And of course, the lower jaw needs to be a screen grab rather than moving footage, which is limiting.

I'm realizing two things as I'm grinding through this project -

1 - it's true what they say about how you should never work with children or animals, and more importantly,

2 - I wish there was a way to track the puppet tool onto moving footage, so that a pin could follow an element through a clip, but only distort the footage if it was moved relative to its tracking point.

If I could do that, not only could I put additional animation on the rest of the animal's face, but I could cut out all my still-image workflow and animate the mo-cap onto the actual footage, which would look a lot more realistic.

Is this something anyone has experience with or insight on? My timeline and budget are limited enough that learning an entirely new piece of software is probably out (I realize that AE is probably not the best choice for what I'm trying to do), but if there's a better workflow, or a plug-in that might streamline this or give me more options, I'd love to get your advice.

Thanks!


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Graham Quince
Re: Tracking puppet tool on moving footage
on Jun 13, 2020 at 1:00:44 pm

You absolutely can link a puppet pin to a Null Object, so there's that. You also have the problem of the head moving and needing the puppet pin to move, but only distort at key points.

So...

How about precomping a copy of footage to stabilise the shot on the animal's head. This will keep it fixed. You can then add the puppet pins to the precomp layer. Each puppet pin will give you an X and a Y coordinate. You could use an expression to drive the distortion of the mouth using audio?

For my tutorial character, I use Adobe Character Animator. I use a basic mouth, drop my audio in, get CA to do the lip sync-ing, then use the Copy Visemes to After Effects option. This gives me a bunch of keyframes I can paste onto a property. In my case, I have a precomp of mouth shapes and paste onto Time Remapping to get the mouth to sync up. But in your case, it might be just as easy to paste onto a slider, then use something like this expression on your pin:


X=value[0];
Y = value[1]-effect("Slider Control")("Slider");
[X,Y];


Now - the other thing you could use Character Animator for is capturing other facial movements. Sit infront of a webcam while playing the audio and CA will give you keyframes for each head tilt etc... you could even use Photoshop to help recreate your animal heads in CA, render everything out there, then bring the animated head into AE for tracking onto the animals.

http://www.YouTube.com/ShiveringCactus - After Effects Tutorials


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Alden Ford
Re: Tracking puppet tool on moving footage
on Jun 14, 2020 at 3:13:11 pm

Thank you Graham! Currently I'm using AE's face tracking on footage of myself and making nulls from that to put on my still image of the mouth. Is CA's face tracking better for this?

I'll try stabilizing the head to add my animation first. Good plan.


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Graham Quince
Re: Tracking puppet tool on moving footage
on Jun 14, 2020 at 5:06:54 pm

CA’s face tracking is designed for capturing while looking directly into a webcam. You position your face in an outline, CA identifies your features then can capture during recording. It can’t handle too much movement, but it does have a cute feature where you can turn off specific feature tracking. I tried reading a script into it and the puppet’s eyes kept looking down. But it’s pretty good for mouth and head movements.

http://www.YouTube.com/ShiveringCactus - After Effects Tutorials


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