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motion_icon.gifSummary: Motion's Optical Flow-based shot stabilization is easy to use and consistently gives good results.  Tracker-based shot stabilization is a good option for shots with complex motion.

Earlier this week, we published a video blog on stabilizing footage in Apple Motion by using a tracker.  Tracker-based stabilization is an excellent option for footage with complex motion in the frame – say, a shot with actual camera motion AND a moving subject AND camera shake.  By placing and refining the tracker, you can very specifically indicate what portion of the frame should be stabilized.

But it's just the tip of the iceberg: like all of Final Cut Studio, Motion provides tons more ways to accomplish the same task.  One of the best and most reliable is the optical flow-based stabilizer, which works similarly to Final Cut's Smoothcam filter.

Read on for an overview ...

Major Kinds of Stabilization

  • Full-frame Optical Flow stabilization is Motion's default algorithm.  It's the easiest technique to use (just apply the Stabilize behavior and click Analyze in the Inspector!), and generally gives the best results.  It's not fast, but it's not slow; if you have a lot of footage to stabilize on a deadline, consider adjusting the Quality of the analysis in the Inspector.
  • Constrained Optical Flow stabilization is generally the best choice for shots of moving subjects – that is, where the subject is moving in a different way from the background of the shot.  To use it, just apply the Stabilize behavior, and check the "Track Region" box over in the Inspector.  Adjust the red box on your Canvas so that it highlights the feature you want to track, then click Analyze in the Inspector.
  • Trackers are suitable for complex shots, and shots with extreme camera motion.  We teach you how to stabilize using trackers in the video tutorial.  Know, though, that trackers tend to be prima donnas: while Motion's trackers are better than some alternatives, they still require lots of attention with most real-life footage.  If a feature that you're tracking goes out of view for even a frame, it can throw off your track.  And the multitudinous techniques to use trackers effectively are way beyond the scope of this article.

Tips to Improve your Stabilized Shot

  • It might help to think of your shot's motion in terms of "signal" and "noise."  The stabilizer's goal is to preserve the kinds of motion that you want in the shot, while stripping out as much as possible of the noise.
  • True Camera Motion: By default, the stabilizer is assuming that there should be no true camera motion in the shot – so, by extension, it's assuming that any motion in the shot is noise.  If there is actual camera motion in a particular piece of footage, you can tell the stabilizer to look for it by changing Method from "Stabilize" to "Smooth" in the Inspector.
  • Types of Noise: There could be several kinds of motion "noise" in your footage – 
      • Translational noise, as in up-and-down and side-to-side jitter (pitch and yaw, if you're into planes)
      • Rotational noise, as in jitter around whether the camera is level or not (roll, to complete the plane attitude metaphor)
      • Scaling noise, as in fumbly zooms or camera pushes.
  • Motion can correct for all three types of noise.  That's what the "Adjust" set of buttons does in your Inspector.  Notice that only the "Position" button is selected by default.  That means that the stabilizer is only attempting to correct for translational noise, not scale- or rotation-based noise.  The scale-based noise correction is a bit fiddly for reasons that are probably too technical for this piece, but the rotation-based noise correction is effective and useful.
  • Border Control: When you stabilize a shot, you are moving the footage around to cancel out jitter.  That means that only a smaller portion of the stabilized footage will remain in-frame across the entire shot.  If you're using the stabilized shot as a "building block" in a bigger composition, you might want to leave the "Borders" setting at its default ("Normal").  But if you need the stabilized shot to fill the frame (like in Final Cut's Smoothcam), just change the Borders from Normal to Zoom.


All this and much more is part of our Motion two-day class, which we've recently revamped as part of our brand new, affordable, world-class Final Cut Studio line-up.
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