Learn to fix jittery video the easy way, using the standard motion trackers and stabilizers found in common editing software such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects.
With more and more people using smaller and smaller camcorders, shaky footage has become more common than ever before. We all know that it's pretty difficult to get steady footage while holding something the size of a pack of playing cards in your hand. That's why it's important to know what options you have when trying to get rid of shake in your videos. In this sense, we'll be looking at how to use standard motion trackers and how to use stabilizers within common editing software such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects so that your footage can look it's best.
Before we show you how to stabilize your footage, we'll first look at how stabilizing software does its magic. Most stabilizing software will start off by finding several areas in your footage to use as tracking points. Typically these are areas of high brightness or color contrast. In addition, some software will also choose areas that stay static throughout your shot. From there, the software will note how many pixels of change there are in every frame of your video and compensate for that movement by moving your image in the opposite direction. Lastly, in order to avoid black areas around the edge of your frame most software will scale up your image until the edges of the image can't be seen. Otherwise you'd have a whole lot of motion happening on the edges of your scene that could get quite annoying after a short while.
The first and most labor intensive way to stabilize shaky footage is to use a motion tracker. Motion trackers are used to give editors the ability to composite graphics and backgrounds into footage that match the movement of the camcorder. However, they can also be used to stabilize footage which is what we'll be looking at here. To do this, we'll be using Adobe After Effect's tracking tool since it's very similar to how other tracking tools work. Let's first look at our original footage. Since it was shot handheld, you can see how shaky it is. This needs to be fixed. So we'll grab our motion tracking tool by going to the Window option at the top of the screen and choosing "Tracker." With our Tracker tool open, we'll go to the "Motion Source" option and make sure that our footage is selected. This way the effect will be applied to our footage and not another layer by accident. Next we'll go to the "Track Type" option and choose "Stabilize." Since we want to correct for both the change in orientation and the change in angle of our camera, we'll check both the Position and Rotation boxes. This will bring up two different boxes on our footage. These boxes are the tracking points. The outer box represents the area of the footage that will be considered when tracking and the inner box represents the pixels to track in the footage. We're going to use this area of our footage for our tracking point since it is has such a high contrast. So we'll resize our inner box until it encompasses that area. Next, we'll resize the outer box so that it's big enough to find our tracking point. Since there is a lot of motion in the image, we'll want to make our box fairly large. Just remember that the larger our tracking point is, the more time it takes to analyze the footage so we'll want to keep our box at a decent size. The only thing left to do is to let the software analyze our footage by clicking the right arrow here. If you only wish to analyze a portion of the clip, you could just click this arrow here which analyzes your footage one frame at a time. Once the software is done analyzing the clip, you'll want to make sure to apply the tracking data to your footage. To do so, we'll click on the "edit target" button and choose the clip we just finished tracking and hit "Apply." After rendering our video, you can see how much more stable it has become. However, we can still see the edges of our video which can be a bit annoying. So we scaled our footage up to the point where the edges could no longer be seen. We did lose a bit of resolution in doing this, but at least our footage was stable. Here's a side by side comparison of what our final video looked like.
If motion tracking your footage seems overly complex, you can always have your editing software do the work for you. Though it sounds too good to be true, many of today's editing applications like Final Cut Pro X and After Effects 5.5 have tools that allow you to automatically get rid of shake in footage. If you're using Final Cut Pro X, you can simply right-click on your footage in your timeline and choose the "Analyze and Stabilize" option. From there, you can right-click on your footage again and choose "Stabilize." Final Cut Pro will then stabilize your footage in the background while you edit your project. Here's what a comparison between the original and the stabilized footage looked like. Adobe's After Effects also has a new tool in version 5.5 that allows the software to automatically stabilize footage. To use it, find the "Warp Stabilizer" effect in your Effects Panel under "Distort" and drop it onto your footage. In the "Effects Control" window, you'll see some options that you can use to make your tracking go a bit smoother. The first option called "Result" allows you to set whether some ,movement within the frame will be allowed or not. If you choose "No Motion" then the effect will try and get rid of any movement in the frame. If you choose smooth motion, it will allow some movement but it will make the movement happen over a longer period of time. The next option, "Method" allows you to select whether you just want the position data of the clip analyzed, or the position, scale, and rotation, which should give you a better result, or the best method, subspace warp which will do all three plus warp your footage if you have some wobble in your frame. The option that follows is the Borders. This option allows you to adjust how the moving borders are handled in your render. You can turn scaling off which allows you to see the moving borders, or you can select the default of stabilize, crop, and auto-scale which zooms into the image in order to avoid having the borders of the footage visible. Lastly, if you have the render time to spare, you can also check the "Detailed Analysis" box under the Advanced tab in order to force the program to look for more tracking points in your footage. Here's what our final result using the Warp Stabilizing tool looked like compared to the original.
There are few things in the editing world as magical as being able to convincingly fix mistakes in footage. By using regular motion trackers and stabilization tools found in editing software, you'll be able to experience some of the joy of transforming a shaky video into a steady masterpeice.