Match moving is a visual effects technique that has useful and interesting things to offer many forms of content. As usual, however, a special effect or technique can’t be used to replace solid storytelling. It’s vital that we maximize the use of this technique to create great storytelling.
What is Match Moving?
Match moving is a technique that inserts computer graphics into live-action content and vice versa. What’s most interesting, however, is that such insertion is essentially seamless. Match moving is also sometimes called ‘motion tracking’ as well as ‘camera solving’.
The first idea many have when talking about match moving is to confuse it with ‘motion capture’. As we know, motion capture is essentially the capture of the movement of human actors, to be used in the creation of a film or visual content. Such motion capture takes place in a controlled environment and uses technology to track and capture all the movements of the talent. This tracking is later used in processes such as the creation of animated characters, video games, etc.
In the case of match moving, however, there are some similarities and differences to be aware of. First of all, match moving does use software quite extensively as well. Such software, however, is applied to footage that has already been recorded. Elements (in 3D for example) can then be added to already existing images. There are two basic forms: two-dimensional and three-dimensional match moving.
Why Use Match Moving at All?
This is a fair question that content creators must ask themselves before setting out on match moving creations. The idea is that we shouldn’t create match moving as a sort of gimmick. Instead, we want to aspire to use match moving to craft amazing storytelling. Such balance is often a delicate matter, which we’ll analyze in this article.
Examples and Uses of Match Moving
Since it’s really best to just see match moving, instead of explaining it, we’ll see some examples. We’ll also try to analyze them regarding the general principles of visual effects and story.
A simple way to understand match moving is to check out a film like ‘Transformers: Bumblebee’. To be fair though, there really are a plethora of films which use this special effect successfully. CGI is mixed with real actors in ‘Bumblebee’. This way, it’s possible to have a CGI character like Bumblebee interact with people seamlessly and realistically. Note that these film actors were also able to use real-time camera tracking during the film process. This showed them exactly where Bumblebee would appear and thus eased the whole operation.
A very common and simple example of match moving appears in football coverage. Football games on TV will generally have a yellow first-down line which is obviously not painted but is computer-generated instead. This is an example of match moving which is quite useful and yet simple. You’ll note that many sports broadcasts also make use of match moving in one way or another, integrating it to analyze plays and other similar things.
It’s useful to understand that match moving need not be limited to films or television. The technique may also be used successfully in other forms of content. One such example are corporate videos. Imagine, for example, the inclusion of animated graphics in an otherwise live-action documentary-corporate video.
Likewise, advertisements, by their very nature, may be an ideal content for match moving. The use of mascots, for instance, is a natural arena for match moving. Remember that match moving involves the inclusion of CGI in live-action films as well as the opposite, the inclusion of live-action in animated works. You’ll note that in content or commercials geared towards children, such latter approach may work very well.
Individual Special Effects
Match moving, if done well, can be quite a seamless addition to content. Such creations don’t always have to be very large undertakings. In fact, match moving may be as simple as the addition of a special effect in a precise moment. Evidently, this approach works very well in certain genres, such as horror films.
The Scene and Match Moving
As we’ve been able to realize, match moving can be a powerful addition to content. What we must stress, however, is that it shouldn’t be used as a sort of ploy to cover for poor story structure.
At its most basic, most visual content uses traditional structure. Three act structure is often used in most visual content. It certainly is a hallmark of film. Using this traditional structure, a film is divided into three acts. Act 1 finishes with a turning point which propels the action into Act 2. This act is usually the longest one, and it’s often divided into two sections. The middle of this second act is also the middle of the film and it’s usually called the midpoint. Act 2 ends with yet another turning point, which sends the film into Act 3, where the film ends in a climax and resolution.
Such traditional structure features the scene as its most basic unit of action. It’s important to understand that a scene has the same components as the larger story. Robert McKee explains scenes: “A scene is a story in miniature – an action through conflict in a unity or continuity of time and space that turns the value-condition of a character’s life.” It’s very important that we understand the fundamentals of scenes when applying match moving. At the end of the day, scenes must have desire, action, conflict, and change. Match moving will generally not save the day if the scene is already weak.
Covering Up for Weak Scenes
The point of remembering story structure, and particularly the construction of scenes, is to understand that match moving shouldn’t be used as a replacement for story fundamentals. It’s vital that we create a strong story and scenes that work, and that this technique be an added value to an otherwise strong story.
Some creators make the mistake of using match moving, and VFX in general, as a sort of cover for weak stories and weak scenes. This is always a misguided proposition. Instead, we must start by crafting strong characters and stories and let the visual effects be the cherry on top of such content.
Troubleshooting Match Moving
Theme and Relevance
It’s useful to remember that, in general, match moving should be thematically relevant. A film, and indeed most forms of dramatic writing, live or die by their premises. The premise, as taught by Lajos Egri, is really the foundation block of the whole dramatic edifice in a script.
A film such as ‘Scarface’ by Stone/De Palma, may have a premise such as: ‘Greed destroys everything, including one’s own life’ or something like that. The idea is that every moment of the story should serve the premise. This is the best rule of thumb to cut out excess and flab from a script.
When adding match moving, we need to ask ourselves, does this serve the story? This basically means, does this serve the premise? If it doesn’t, then its use is too weak and it should be left out. The temptation to use this effect simply as a gimmick, that may or may not prove to be entertaining, should be avoided.
Too Much Marzipan!
As the Hollywood adage goes, match moving may prove to be ‘too much marzipan’. This usually occurs in certain sci-fi films. An unnecessary but relentless use of this technique in an otherwise weak story is problematic.
This excess in VFX and match moving may have a twofold effect. For one, the audience may soon tire of the effects, as they lose their novelty quickly. More importantly though, excessive and unnecessary use of match moving and other effects may even generate laughter in a work which should be suspenseful or terrifying.
In spite of our best efforts, sometimes content just doesn’t seem to work, even with match moving. When content doesn’t work and we’ve added visual effects, such frustration is greater. It’s always worthy to ask ourselves about story fundamentals to try and figure out where the mishap may be:
- Is the story clear and focused? An excessively convoluted story may be hurting the content. In this case, consider cutting out scenes that don’t move the story forward.
- Does the story respect a three-act structure? Although such a traditional structure is not a straitjacket, it’s usually a sturdy framework from which to tell a story.
- Is the premise interesting enough? As we mentioned earlier, content, whether it’s a film, TV show, short film, commercial or corporate video, hinges on the premise. If the premise is not compelling enough, it’s unlikely that match moving will be able to move an audience. In many cases, such use of VFX may prove to be excessive and often futile.
- Is the protagonist dynamic, with clear needs and desires? Even if the character that we come up with is going to be created in CGI, it can’t just ignore the principles of good storytelling.
Creating Match Moving
A long-form match moving process will generally employ several pros such as a special effects supervisor, a technical director, a match mover, and an animator. Particularly in such long projects, acquiring all the talent in a single place is ideal. To achieve such an end, an online hub like Bunny Studio is great. The process is quite simple. You contact Bunny Studio and send over the project details. The Bunny staff then starts to look for the right talent to fulfill the job. The best part is that the Bunny pros are able to work on the project from start to finish, until completion.
So go to the Bunny Studio website, click on ‘Chat With Us’ and let’s get the ball rolling!