In visual effects, match moving is a technique that allows the insertion of computer graphics into live-action footage with correct position, scale, orientation, and motion relative to the photographed objects in the shot. The term is used loosely to describe several different methods of extracting camera motion information from a motion picture. Sometimes referred to as motion tracking or camera solving, match moving is related to rotoscoping and photogrammetry. Match moving is sometimes confused with motion capture, which records the motion of objects, often human actors, rather than the camera. Typically, motion capture requires special cameras and sensors and a controlled environment (although recent developments such as the Kinect camera and Apple's FaceID have begun to change this). Match moving is also distinct from motion control photography, which uses mechanical hardware to execute multiple identical camera moves. Match moving, by contrast, is typically a software-based technology, applied after the fact to normal footage recorded in uncontrolled environments with an ordinary camera.
Match moving is primarily used to track the movement of a camera through a shot so that an identical virtual camera move can be reproduced in a 3D animation program. When new animated elements are composited back into the original live-action shot, they will appear in a perfectly matched perspective and therefore appear seamless.
As it is mostly software-based, match moving has become increasingly affordable as the cost of computer power has declined; it is now an established visual-effects tool and is even used in live television broadcasts as part of providing effects such as the yellow virtual down-line in American football.
There are two methods by which motion information can be extracted from an image. Interactive tracking sometimes referred to as "supervised tracking", relies on the user to follow features through a scene. Automatic tracking relies on computer algorithms to identify and track features through a shot. The tracked points movements are then used to calculate a "solution". This solution is composed of all the camera's information such as the motion, focal length, and lens distortion.
The advantage of automatic tracking is that the computer can create many points faster than a human can. A large number of points can be analyzed with statistics to determine the most reliable data. The disadvantage of automatic tracking is that, depending on the algorithm, the computer can be easily confused as it tracks objects through the scene. Automatic tracking methods are particularly ineffective in shots involving fast camera motion such as that seen with hand-held camera work and in shots with repetitive subject matter like small tiles or any sort of regular pattern where one area is not very distinct. This tracking method also suffers when a shot contains a large amount of motion blur, making the small details it needs harder to distinguish.
The advantage of interactive tracking is that a human user can follow features through an entire scene and will not be confused by features that are not rigid. A human user can also determine where features are in a shot that suffers from motion blur; it is extremely difficult for an automatic tracker to correctly find features with high amounts of motion blur. The disadvantage of interactive tracking is that the user will inevitably introduce small errors as they follow objects through the scene, which can lead to what is called "drift".
Professional-level motion tracking is usually achieved using a combination of interactive and automatic techniques. An artist can remove points that are clearly anomalous and use "tracking mattes" to block confusing information out of the automatic tracking process. Tracking mattes are also employed to cover areas of the shot which contain moving elements such as an actor or a spinning ceiling fan.
A tracking matte is similar in concept to a garbage matte used in traveling matte compositing. However, the purpose of a tracking matte is to prevent tracking algorithms from using unreliable, irrelevant, or non-rigid tracking points. For example, in a scene where an actor walks in front of a background, the tracking artist will want to use only the background to track the camera through the scene, knowing that the motion of the actor will throw off the calculations. In this case, the artist will construct a tracking matte to follow the actor through the scene, blocking that information from the tracking process.
Since there are often multiple possible solutions to the calibration process and a significant amount of error can accumulate, the final step to match moving often involves refining the solution by hand. This could mean altering the camera motion itself or giving hints to the calibration mechanism. This interactive calibration is referred to as "refining".
Most match moving applications are based on similar algorithms for tracking and calibration. Often, the initial results obtained are similar. However, each program has different refining capabilities.
On-set, real-time camera tracking is becoming more widely used in feature film production to allow elements that will be inserted in post-production to be visualized live on-set. This has the benefit of helping the director and actors improve performances by actually seeing set extensions or CGI characters whilst (or shortly after) they do a take. No longer do they need to perform to green/blue screens and have no feedback of the end result. Eye-line references, actor positioning, and CGI interaction can now be done live on-set giving everyone confidence that the shot is correct and going to work in the final composite.
To achieve this, a number of components from hardware to software need to be combined. Software collects all of the 6 degrees of freedom movement of the camera as well as metadata such as zoom, focus, iris and shutter elements from many different types of hardware devices, ranging from motion capture systems such as active LED marker-based system from PhaseSpace, passive systems such as Motion Analysis or Vicon, to rotary encoders fitted to camera cranes and dollies such as Technocranes and Fisher Dollies, or inertia & gyroscopic sensors mounted directly to the camera. There are also laser-based tracking systems that can be attached to anything, including Steadicams, to track cameras outside in the rain at distances of up to 30 meters.
Motion control cameras can also be used as a source or destination for 3D camera data. Camera moves can be pre-visualised in advance and then converted into motion control data that drives a camera crane along precisely the same path as the 3D camera. Encoders on the crane can also be used in real-time on-set to reverse this process to generate live 3D cameras. The data can be sent to any number of different 3D applications, allowing 3D artists to modify their CGI elements live on set as well. The main advantage being that set design issues that would be time-consuming and costly issues later down the line can be sorted out during the shooting process, ensuring that the actors "fit" within each environment for each shot whilst they do their performances.
Real-time motion capture systems can also be mixed within camera data stream allowing virtual characters to be inserted into live shots on-set. This dramatically improves the interaction between real and non-real MoCap driven characters as both plate and CG performances can be choreographed together.