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mocha Pro v3 - A Process of Guided Evolution

COW Library : Adobe After Effects : Andrew Devis : mocha Pro v3 - A Process of Guided Evolution
CreativeCOW presents mocha Pro v3 - A Process of Guided Evolution -- Adobe After Effects Review All rights reserved.

Back in April 2012, Imagineer Systems released the latest version (version 3) of their increasingly popular and useful mocha product range. The mocha range ships in 3 variations:

mocha AE CS6: a product bundled with the ever popular Adobe After Effects (and becoming a lot more discoverable inside CS6 since becoming an option found in the 'Animation' menu)

After Effects Animation Menu

mocha AE v3:

mocha AE v3 box

An upgrade to the mocha AE CS6 product that gives additional functionality including some extremely valuable work-flow enhancement tools and the powerful new '3D camera solver' module. (As well as outputting data to Adobe After Effects CS4 -- CS6 this product also outputs data to Apple's Motion and Final Cut Pro as well as some integration with Boris FX (BCC).)


mocha Pro v3:

mocha Pro v3 box

This is a truly stand-alone product that will output data to a large range of applications including:
  • Autodesk's Flame & Smoke
  • Apple Final Cut Pro 6 -- 7
  • Apple Shake
  • Apple Motion
  • Boris FX (BCC) -- To give Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro users access to planer tracking data in their timelines
  • Avid|DS
  • Quantel
  • Eyeon Fusion
  • The Foundry's Nuke and Nuke X
  • as well as After Effects CS3 -- CS6
In fact, such a long list that when it comes time to chose your application it can almost seem too much! (Maybe needing an option in preferences to select which ones to show and which to hide?)

As well as being a sublime tracking application, mocha Pro v3 includes a whole range of modules that turns a really useful application into an essential tool which will earn its value back in no time at all for studios large and small as well as individuals who need to get complex shots shorted out in the fastest and most efficient way. In addition to the standard 'Clip', 'Track' & 'AdjustTrack' modules in all mocha products the additional mocha Pro modules include:

  • The new 3D 'Camera Solver' (new to version 3 and also in mocha AE v3) -- A quick and easy way to extract camera data from your shot which can then be exported to After Effects and in the FBX format to use in applications such as Autodesk Maya, Maxon Cinema 4D etc. as well as another FBX variant specifically for The Foundry's Nuke. Once extracted and imported into your host application this camera data can be used to composite other 3D elements into the shot be that simple 3D text or some raging monster bent on destroying the world (yet again).

  • A 'Lens' module to identify the lens distortion in a shot to either correct it or composite elements into the shot that 'respect' that lens distortion -- a real life saver for shots that include any wide angle lenses!

  • The 'Insert' module allow for quick comping of elements into your tracked scene directly inside mocha Pro. A nice feature is the 'warp' mesh which gives you the ability to distort comped elements onto footage using a mesh to give more realistic results and then being able to render and export directly from mocha Pro.

  • The 'Remove' module which I have heard described as 'being about as close to black magic as you can get from a software application' -- which is truly excellent at removing items big and small and filling in the removed area with a clean plate that can be made from a frame (or frames) exported from mocha Pro to Photoshop and then saved back into mocha Pro -- a very fast and efficient work-flow.

  • And the 'Stabilize' module -- which does what it says -- allowing you to stabilize a shot not just with a general stabilize function but even allowing you to stabilize based on any of your tracks of the footage which means that you can have a far greater creative input into the stabilization process than may be the case with other applications. The module also includes a powerful smart fill option which mocha Pro calls 'Auto Fill' to deal with the inevitable black lines that appear when stabilizing footage. This work-flow can save you from having to lower the quality of your footage because of forced scaling to remove black edges.

Here is a shot from the Imagineer Systems website showing the difference between the 3 products in the range.

Product differences

But I'm rushing ahead of myself as there are going to be different categories of people who read this mocha Pro v3 review -- from users who are already familiar with the product through to some who are wondering what mocha is.

So, for those who don't know, let's start by covering what mocha is.

Imagineer Systems' mocha is, at its heart, an advanced tracking system which uses a method to track footage called 'Planar Tracking'. In essence, rather than just tracking a point as you would in many other applications, such as Adobe After Effects, mocha looks at all the pixels on a plane -- which could, for example, be the side of a building, or the windscreen of a car, or the face of a computer screen, or ... -- and then analyses how those pixels are moving and changing in respect to each other and the other pixels around them. From this, using all kinds of clever and complex algorithms, mocha can work out how that plane is moving, including complex movement, such as tracking shear and perspective movement, whilst at the same time taking into account variations in things like luminance so that a 'rock solid' track can be made where other trackers would struggle or fail.

Well, once you have 'rock solid' tracking data, it opens up a whole world of solutions and options for how that data can be used when it comes to dealing with complex, repetitious, or problematic shots (as well as how it can save VFX artists shed-loads of time!).

Let me give you a brief example. Say I wanted to track the movement of the eyes of a person so that I could maybe add a distort tool to make their eyes look far wider or bigger than they really are (such as was done with Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter character in Alice In Wonderland). Then I would need to get a really good track of each eye and use that tracking data in my compositing application to parent some kind of distort tool. With a point tracker the first issue is where would I track -- as eyes have a habit of moving and which point would I choose? While with mocha, I simple track the whole eye area and don't worry about the movement of the iris or pupil. Then I could either use that tracking data to control the centre point of a distort tool, or else I could look at creating shapes or mattes to work with. The key is that I have options -- quick and simple solutions to what could have been a really difficult task -- and that is where mocha Pro is at its strongest!

Another way that mocha has really made a name for itself is with rotoscoping (cutting items out of their original environment to composite them in a new environment). In version 2, mocha added the ability to create shapes that could be linked to tracking data and exported. And so, rather than taking hours to do rotoscoping work, users would track each of the planes of the item they wanted to rotoscope and link those tracks to shapes that could be outputted to their compositor.

So, say for example, it was a car to be cut out from its background. Each of the planes of the car would be tracked -- the grill, the bonnet, the windscreen, the front side, the roof etc. Then, once a plain had been tracked, a shape would be drawn that exactly covered the part of the car to be cut out which would then be linked to the appropriate track for that part of the car so that the shape now moved with the tracking data cutting out the area simply and quickly without the need for hundreds of keyframes and hundreds of hours of painstaking work. And that was pretty much all that needed to be done apart from a little cleaning up! An amazingly robust solution because of the strength of mocha's tracking capabilities.

Car Being Tracked

Shape Linked To Bumper Track

Needless to say, the list of modules above for mocha Pro v3 show the range of work that can be done with mocha Pro and helps to show just how important top quality tracking is for VFX work.

My guess is that many people are wondering, 'should I buy or upgrade to mocha Pro v3'? Of course, the answer to that question should really be defined by your work-flow and you VFX needs. That said, I think it is also worth having a closer look at the enhancements that Imagineer Systems have added to mocha Pro v3, which are aimed to make the product sit even more comfortably into your work-flow.

For me, v2 was an essential tool but always felt a little spiky to use -- powerful, essential, and yet a little awkward. All that has changed in v3 because Imagineer Systems have gone out of their way to listen to their customers, which has resulted in a much more usable (maybe even comfortable?) product making it a tool you will want to reach for.

For me, even though there are some big ticket items like the '3D Camera Solver' which is a really quick and powerful way to solve cameras from you footage to add additional items into your scenes. It is the usability improvements that make this upgrade so significant and valuable. So rather than spending time talking about the excellent '3D Camera Solver' (a quick and simple solution for most shots) I want to go over the small changes that all add up to make one great big improvement.

By listening to their customers who use these tools on a daily basis Imagineer Systems have tried to identify where problems lie with previous releases of mocha Pro and what needs to be done to solve those problems. And, the problems that seem to have caused the most issues (judging by the changes that have taken place) are in the area of UI, layer management, rotoscoping work-flow, keyframe management and multi-user/multi-artist management. So let's have a look at what changes Imagineer Systems have made in these areas -- the area, let's face it, that we spend a great deal of our time working with and which need to work to the point where they become almost invisible to us rather than being a source of constant frustration!

I have to confess that the mocha UI has been a major bug-bear of mine in the past. For my work I have sometime had to work on smaller screens than I would like and the panels just didn't sit right and it wasn't possible to change viewer sizes as I am use to doing in other applications.

Well, for v3, Imagineer Systems have made sure that the basic UI is the same throughout all three versions (except of course for the additional modules you get with the more powerful versions). And, while a big screen is always valuable -- at least now there is the ability to re-size panels as needed (although I would still like to see this improve in future upgrades so that we can have the ability to focus on just the footage window by maximising or floating the viewer).

When working with mocha you can create lots of layers very quickly both as tracking layers and as shape layers. In previous versions of mocha it wasn't possible to do anything other than create and re-order layers which makes for poor project management. Not only that, it can also lead to very real frustration and confusion when you return to your project a few weeks later or pass it on to another artist and then having to spend a great deal of time trying to work out what you did and why you did it!

In this new release the layer panel has been completely remade and now offers some really helpful improvements. For example, a simple thing but so helpful, you can select multiple layers with the shift key to select ranges and the control/command key to select/deselect specific layers. Then, once you've selected the layers you want you can right click on them and GROUP them! Yes, we now have grouping to help us organise our layer panel :o)

Right Click Layer Menu

Not only can you group layers you can also change the spline or the fill colour of the group simply and easily to give real definition and separation to the layers. Layer groups can be named as you wish so that you can then see very quickly what each group contains and expand or collapse each group to get into its contents.

Color Selection for Splines

Other layers can also be dragged into or out of a group as needed and groups re-ordered as you would any other layer.

This may sound like a very simple change, but if you spend any time using mocha you'll soon realise that it's the little things that make or break a program. If the little organisational things aren't right, you are less likely to want to reach for that tool. Whereas if they are right, they become invisible and allow you to focus on the work and not the process. By dealing with these issues, I believe Imagineer Systems have really increased the usability and thus the value of mocha Pro v3 because it leads to an improved work-flow which saves time and as we all know -- 'Time is Money!'

Please note that these layer functions are NOT found in the mocha AE CS6 product -- to get to these really useful and powerful features you will need to upgrade to at least mocha AE v3 or mocha Pro.

Another really nice little feature that has been added for mocha Pro v3, which seems so small, but is such a great help is the ability to nudge your layers around with the arrow keys. Select a layer (or layers) and use the up/down/right/left arrows to move them around. Holding the shift key will move them further. Not only that, but if you have a number pad on your keyboard, then using the 7, 9, 1 & 3 keys will move the layers diagonally whilst 2, 4, 6 & 8 act in the same way as the normal arrow keys -- nice touch.


Transform Tool
Another new feature that you won't find in mocha AE CS6 but you will find in mocha AE v3 and mocha Pro v3 is a wonderful new tool to help with rotoscoping called the 'Transform Tool'.

In previous releases of mocha, transforming your splines could only be done on a vertex basis. You could select multiple vertexes (or all your vertexes) and transform them with the tool bar tools -- scale, rotate and move. However, you couldn't get to multiple layers at once and it made for a slow selection and transformation work-flow. What was needed was the ability to select your splines with all the vertexes and transform them together in one simple function, including perspective warping as well as standard transforms. Also, what was needed was the ability to get to multiple layers at once and transform them together as an ad-hoc (or real) group.

So, to meet this very real need, Imagineer Systems have come up with the transform tool. At first sight, once again it doesn't seem much, but once it is activated by checking the box at the top of the UI, a bounding box appears around the layers that have been selected, allowing the user to transform the whole spline as a single item. You can even do a perspective type of transform by holding the Control/Command key and pulling at any of the handles. Additionally, the scale, rotate and move options appear automatically near the edges and handles of the bounding box again saving time as you no longer need to go and select tools to do the work.

Not only that, when you select multiple layers they are all selected within a single bounding box such that any change you make to the bounding box will affect all the layers inside. This means that for the most part you don't have to go to the vertexes at all, instead 'distorting' or 'transforming' the whole shape as needed. Again, this is a huge time saver and will lead to much smoother and more predictable results when rotoscoping.

With the 'Join Tool' improvements there is even more good news for rotoscope artists (again in mocha AE v3 and mocha Pro but not in the basic edition that ships with Adobe After Effects).

mocha v3 have also dealt with the issue of how vertexes from different splines link to each other. In previous versions, when two vertexes were linked together, they were linked at that one frame only -- which was a real pain to manage. However, with this release when you link vertexes from different splines, they are linked for the duration, and can be moved as a single item (and unlinked again with a right-click option on the parent mask which is shown with a new triangular keyframes).

Parent Spline Triangular Vertex

What this means, is that if you link two adjacent vertexes on two separate splines, then the spline length in the middle joining those vertexes will be completely linked with the adjacent spline, so that (and here's the key) there are absolutely NO GAPS!

In the previous version, it was possible to get close but not quite close enough so that when you outputted your work you noticed holes that shouldn't be there. Now with V3 that is a thing of the past, which again saves time and builds confidence.

This one is just for mocha Pro and it's a really nice touch (and worth mentioning even though it actually came in with mocha Pro v2.5). mocha Pro gives us the ability to render mattes with motion blur -- which means that we end up with more realistic work without having to go around the block to add motion blur in some other application. Another time saving feature.

Another little feature that seems to have slipped in with little fanfare is increased keyboard short-cuts available.

Viewer Keyboard Short-cuts

For example, I can now turn off the zoom viewers with ALT/OPT 8 -- quick and simple. Interestingly, the best place to find these new short-cuts is through the help menu. There is a list of keyboard short-cuts found in the preferences (File>Preferences -- then make sure you use the little side arrows at the top right to scroll across to the keyboard short-cuts -- which is somewhat hidden if you don't know to look for them there) but these are for the various modules and not for tool selection and viewers etc! Why, aren't they all there? I have no idea as it doesn't really make sense to make keyboard short-cuts discoverable! Maybe Imagineer Systems would like to think about a tool tip option that can be turned off once the user is use to the short-cuts available?

Another really helpful update to mocha Pro v3 is the addition of a 'Dope Sheet' panel, in addition to the present 'Curve Editor'. Why is this important? Again, it's about saving time and a smoother work-flow. The problem with the curve editor was that it took too long to select, move, copy and even find keyframes, and the whole process was taking a lot more time than it should. So, once again because of listening to their customers, Imagineer Systems have addressed this problem giving us a really easy method to find and work with keyframes.

Alongside all the little organisational extras Imagineer Systems have stuffed into mocha Pro v3 one of these is a nod to the bigger studios that require multiple artists to work on any given shot at one time. With the new 'Merge Projects' menu option.

Merge Projects Menu Option

This means that with a little planning and organisation various artists can take a shot and work on different aspects of the shot, save their project and then a master project can be created using the 'Merge Projects' option saving a huge amount of time and frustration. This is a really nice touch and can't really be underestimated in its value.

Even for a single user this is a powerful tool because it gives you the ability to work on different aspects of a shot as individual projects which can make the process much easier as masks won't get in the way of each other as you concentrate on just one aspect at a time. Then, when you have finished doing all the pieces of a complex shot you simply merge them all together to form your final project -- again, a really nice feature.

What all these apparently small changes mean for the user of mocha Pro v3 is that their work-flow will be speeded up, and the level of frustration and repetition will be reduced so that you can concentrate on the work itself rather than spending time on the mechanics of how the application organises itself.

These 'smaller' changes shouldn't be underestimated, as they really will save you both time and money -- very quickly recouping any investment you may make in paying for an upgrade, and especially so if buying the program for the first time. Trying to do what mocha can do in any other way will cost you a great deal of time, money, frustration and almost certainly lead to poor results in comparison to what can quickly and easily be producer in mocha Pro v3.

As I stated above, that question should be answered based on your work-flow and your VFX needs. My guess is that anyone working in VFX will have a need for this type of product and if you don't already have it, you will already have more than covered the cost of mocha Pro by way of the hours spent on projects that could have been done so much quicker in mocha Pro.

As for upgrading, when all the 'small' work-flow enhancements are taken into account, mocha Pro v3 is a very significant upgrade. By listening to their customers and addressing the issues those customers face day in and day out, Imagineer Systems have significantly increased the usability of mocha Pro, and that will very quickly earn its cost back for any user who has more than just a passing need for this product -- and in the end lead to real long term savings.

With a complex and powerful application like mocha Pro v3, time and word count won't allow sufficient space to tell in detail all that this product can offer a VFX artist.

So, is this version 3 a good update? In my opinion, this update is a major milestone for mocha Pro, making it a tool that VFX artists are going to instinctively reach for -- not so much for the 'major' additions -- which are excellent tools to have in the toolbox -- but much more because of the so called 'minor' changes that have made mocha Pro so much more easy to work with, easy to organise, and easy to collaborate with.

Are there still some things that need sorting -- of course! But, if Imagineer Systems continues listening to and respond to their customers in the way they have obviously been doing, mocha Pro will become one of those tools you simply can't imaging being without.

Andrew Devis

Final Note on Learning mocha
As you know, we love training here at Creative COW and it is worth noting that as well as several tutorials showing how to use mocha right here on Creative COW, the Imagineer Systems website is stocked full of free learning tutorials and other learning resources for all the modules of mocha. If you are a new user, you may well find the "Learn mocha" training with Steve Wright series a great place to start.

Once learned, this is one product that will keep paying back.

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