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April 2014
Issue: November 1, 2007

REVIEW: IMAGINEER SYSTEMS' MOCHA

By: Fred Ruckel

PRODUCT: Imagineer Systems' Mocha

WEBSITE: www.imagineersystems.com

PRICE: $2,995 for node locked; $4,495 for cross-platform floating license

-  Great export utility

- Motor is included for roto work

- Customizable workflow

We put Imagineer Systems' Mocha to the test on a real-world project in need of planar tracking. And for those of you who don't have a full understanding of pixel and planar tracking, here are some basics:

When people need to track and add/replace something on screen, typically you use a pixel tracker. This pixel tracker can log on to a pattern and follow it along across the screen. Pixel tracking fails miserably when you try to track an object that changes perspective, scale or z-depth. Mocha picks up where pixel trackers fail.

This planar tracker allows the user to set a selective plane instead of a point to track its movement, and changes it from frame to frame. Imagine replacing the screen on a cell phone or an iPod that is hand held — that screen is a plane and a plane is a shape that remains constant. Mocha calculates translation so that even if turned sideways, the composite data remains constant. It is actually a mathematical genius at work.

TRIAL BY FIRE

Although it's not always possible or preferred, the best way to test a product is by using it on an actual project, which is exactly what we did. Our experience was a trial by fire with a major deadline looming. The images you see below are from a nationally-televised commercial for Toy Story action figures from NYC's Uproar in which Mocha came to our rescue. We were challenged with adding a Toy Story logo to a door. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. The door swings open with the logo on it, so it's a bit more of a challenge now. But not only does the door swing open, the camera is moving toward it throughout.

So the challenge is to lock the logo to the door, which is moving back in z-space; the door is opening on a hinge and the logo is getting smaller in the distance while remaining constant size on the near edge of the door. On top of that, the camera is on an up angle, being manually pushed on a dolly through the door frame as the door is opening. None of it is motion control — it's all manual movement. The math behind calculating scale, rotation and z-space movement with the camera offset would keep a roomful of mathletes busy for a while. At Stitch, we were using Autodesk Inferno on the spot. We were able to get a decent track with Inferno; we just never got an exact lock on the door.

The pixels change shape, size and position, all simultaneously. After many attempts (and hours) using Inferno's pixel tracker we decided to try out Mocha on a real job. Typically we would never use review software on a real-world project, but we had run out of options. And the clients were due in two hours to see the finished door perfectly tracked. With time against us we started using Mocha, after watching a tutorial provided to us. Within one hour we were done!!! Perfect track, rock solid. Mocha calculated everything perfectly.

We saved out the tracking information and imported it into Inferno. Then in Inferno we applied that data to our bi-linear surface, and it looked great. With some color correction and a few glare layers we made a cartoon-looking painted image on the door. The client approved it on first sight — no revisions. There is no better way to say it: Mocha kicks ass. It made this nightmare of a tracking project happen on time and under budget. Needless to say, we are buying it.

UNDER THE HOOD

Now that I've shared my in-the-trenches  story about how Mocha makes a big difference in workflow, I will get technical about what it actually does. By defining a plane to track, Mocha can take into account scaling, perspective, rotation and environmental variables. Things like grain, motion blur, rain, snow and lighting changes typically throw off trackers and make them swim. Mocha can track perfectly, with all those anomalies. Adjust Track compensates for drift by keyframing, and the four-point surface area makes problem shots much easier to deal with.

Tracking shots that go out of frame are made easy in Mocha. Using planar technology, Mocha can accurately track shots as they move out of frame. Typically that can be a lot of guesswork and trial and error — this product is a real time saver.

There are also many parameter tweaks within the software that allow users to customize their workflow. And it isn't overwhelming like many other programs with daunting menu pages that get a user lost and confused. Another benefit is the export utility. Mocha supports export to Inferno, Flame, Flint, Smoke, Combustion, Avid DS, Quantel generationQ, After Effects, Shake and Fusion.

WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

An added bonus is that Motor — Imagineer's automated rotoscoping tool that saves many hours painting frames — is fully implemented. It has full spline controls to manipulate the masks. It uses the tracking data to create tween frames, which help minimize having too many keyframes in the animation. When the roto is finished you can export the masks and shapes into all of the aforementioned programs. We all know rotosoping can be pure hell at times. The Motor part of Mocha can really help save time creating mattes and leave more time for creativity.

After putting it through its paces, using it in a real-world situation and coming out ahead of the game, we find Mocha to be a great product. Next time you have a shot that's hard to track, go online and download a demo version. Like me, you will become a fan.

Fred Ruckel a Compositor with Stitch in NYC. He can be reached at: fred@stitch.net.