Tracking Text To An Object in After Effects CC

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Shows today like the Netflix’s Original Series House of Cards and BBC’s Sherlock are using a rather eye catching effects to show text messages on a phone without doing a close up on the phone’s display. Instead, they have the text float over the phone and is motion tracked in such a way that if the character moves, the text will smoothly follow along.

In order to achieve this effect, I will show you how to do it in three simple steps: – Tracking the Footage – Creating the Text – Linking the Text to the Tracking Data

TRACKING THE FOOTAGE

Once you first have your video footage imported into After Effects, create a new composition, and then right click on the source footage and choose TRACK MOTION.

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From here you will have a single tracking point to position on your footage.

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Since this effect will be linking text to a phone – the phone itself becomes the focus for tracking. As such, reposition the tracking point over a significant marking on the phone. I use the term ‘significant’ which simply means “stands out.” In the case of the footage I am using, the pink lock button located on top of the phone stands out well contrasted against the white case, giving me a significant point to track. Other examples of significant points you may want to look for include logos, buttons, or switches.

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Once the tracking point is positioned, go over to your tracking controls in the lower right corner and choose ANALYZE FORWARD.

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At this point, the tracking point will create an anchor point for each frame of the video footage. Once finished, you will be able to see the overall path of motion of that significant point.

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In order to capture this data and make it useful for our effect, you will need to go to LAYER >> NEW >> NULL OBJECT. From there, go back to your tracker controls and choose EDIT TARGET. Set the target  you just created to the NULL OBJECT. To finish hit APPLY.

CREATING THE TEXT

Now that we have the tracked data, the next thing we need is to create the text itself. To do that, go to LAYER >> NEW >> TEXT. This creates a new layer in your layers panel. In order to edit it, you need to go over to your CHARACTER controls and choose the settings to which your text will display.

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In essence this is where you choose items such as font, color, size, and scale. Once your settings fit the desired effect, you can choose your text tool from the tool bar or simply hit CMD+T for the hot key reference. Click into your source footage, and type in the text you want displayed.

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LINKING THE TEXT TO THE TRACKING DATA

You have got your tracking data, and you have got your text. Now, all that is left is to marry the two together. Without linking the text to the tracking the data, when the footage begins to play, the text will stay immobile and the footage moves dynamically away from the text. To pair the two is very simple. In your layers panel, you should have three layers thus far: your source footage, your null object (with the tracking data), and your text layer. Looking at your text layer, you will notice there is a section labeled PARENT, and below it looks like a SWIRL ICON. Click and drag on the SWIRL ICON, and you will notice you are dragging a black line along with you – This action is called PICK WHIPPING.

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So you will want to PICK WHIP the TEXT LAYER to the NULL OBJECT. By doing so, you are telling your text layer to follow the null object’s tracked data, thus making it so that the text follows the phone throughout the source footage.

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