• Price When Reviewed: 49 . 69

  • Pros: Brings high-end process within reach of beginners. It’s inexpensive, professional and has a user-friendly look-&-feel, and can handle free motion or nodal pan camera moves.

  • Cons: QuickTime Movie and AVI formats only. Third party application required to create mattes, and the manual is a bit sparse for new users.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

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This application creates camera-tracking data to help match 3D objects into the movement of standard definition (SD) video sequences. The price is attractive to new users, the interface is friendly, and there is a wizard for guiding you through the initial stages. This pops up when you first load some footage and helps set the correct camera parameters, such as aspect ratio, whether or not the footage zooms, and how the camera was moving when the footage was taken.

PFHoe can interpret either Free Motion camera shots (moving horizontally or vertically) such as a dolly shot or a static nodal pan shot (with rotation). The parameters can be set manually or changed using the buttons at the bottom-left of the interface. PFHoe doesn’t allow you to create a matte to cover extraneous parts of the footage, but it’s possible to create one externally and import it using the Load Matte button before tracking.

Another click of a button allows you to compensate quickly for the lens distortion commonly found on consumer DV cameras, and then tracking is automatic once the Track button is pressed. Tracking markers are set in the first frame and continued until the last, but you can set in and out points for restricting tracking to part of a sequence. A graph runs concurrently so that you can view the quality of the tracking – green markers indicate a good track and red indicates poor tracking.

Calibration, where you actually build the virtual camera to be exported, throws up a grid so that you can align the ground plane and x-, y-, and z-axes in order to orient the scene correctly before export. An Orient Scene button toggles between the various options for manipulating the grid. This is important to get right and is the only tricky part of the whole process.

You then export the tracking data to one of the supported applications – plug-ins exist for 3D suites such as Maya, 3DS Max, Softimage XSI, LightWave, and Hash Animation Master, as well as compositing applications such as Combustion and After Effects. The tracking points show up as nulls in the 3D scene along with a camera for rendering that’s based on the tracked movement. You can also export the undistorted footage.

The process is fast, and the price is good considering its professional features. It’s just a component in a bigger chain, but is definitely worth a look if you want to start learning how to bring your video and 3D together.

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