Uber Eck – mocha for creative animation

Niklaus Hofer is one of the three founders of Uber Eck in Munich, Germany. A pun in German,  (Uber Eck means “Around the corner”) there is nothing flip about the creative work coming from Hofer’s shop. With an impressive background in digital film and animation, Hofer and his team specializes in creating unique pictures for a wide variety of projects. To say they’ve found a sweet spot between graphics and design animation is somewhat of an understatement. For Hofer, everything he does is all about storytelling. Without a good story or concept, says Hofer,  even the most beautiful images are only half as strong as they could be.

Hofer spoke with Imagineer Systems recently and told us about some recent projects that not only pushed the limits of creativity, but also offered up some heft challenges to realizing his vision.

“At the beginning of 2013, I did a music video for Panic Girl. It  was at this moment that I discovered mocha as an important creative tool, not only for just rotoscoping and tracking. I’ve used mocha before on a lot of different projects, mostly for tracking and rotoscoping, mostly on projects where clients would ask, “Can you replace this screen, remove that from there, etc.”

“But on this video for Panic Girl, we had total creative freedom. So we came up with the idea of a man, running from a dark black world and finally jumping into a white nothingness. It had to be abstract, so we began with different styles and ideas. We did a lot of 3D tests before we came up with the idea of a rotoscoped body shape, combined with Trapcode Particular. We were very pleased with the result!”

“For the most recent project, the Alina Bronsky Booktrailer, it was really important for me to convey the atmosphere of the book without biasing the viewers imagination too much. We came up with the idea of a rough, hand drawn look, that leaves as much to the readers imagination as possible but at the same time, really sets the mood for the speakers voice.”

“We had very little time and a relatively small budget, but we were determined to pull it off. We had to find a solution that made it easy for us to generate this look, without having to draw every frame by hand. But we also wanted a unique style that separated it from the standard ‘artsy’ effects created by simply slapping layers on the footage in After Effects. So, again, we turned to mocha. We shot some tests in the kitchen of our studio, with a Canon 5D MarkII. Almost immediately, we knew we had the perfect workflow. Since mocha’s Planar Tracker captures even sensible movement, we didn’t have to worry too much about our footage. Some of the very first tests, like the eyes of the “Guru,” made it into the final animation.”

“In creating the BookTrailer, we started with a simple storyboard, were we layed out the different shots to the spoken text. And there was a lot of improvisation involved!  The prothesis, for example, is actually a simple monopod. After we shot that sequence, we tracked the footage in mocha. The integration with After Effects makes it really easy to layout all the clips, work out the timing, and then simply go “track in mocha.” And all without worrying about the clip names or any of that boring file handling stuff.”

“First we tracked a rough shape of the head, to catch the general movement, and then we started getting into the details like lips, glasses, eyes and so on. One of the key features of mocha, the fact that you can just hook up new shapes to the base track, was abundantly used for this. mocha’s ability to just link a shape to the base track really made our workflow possible in the first place, dramatically reducing the need for individual keyframes. Some shapes didn´t even need adjustments! We just drew them, linked them to the base track and we were done.”

“After that, we imported all the different shapes into After Effects for color and comping. For the final distressed hand drawn look, we did a lot of very rough, frame-by-frame drawings for the backgrounds and on all the edges, which gives the shapes a bit more depth and adds more randomness to the overall piece.”

“All in all, mocha is so versatile, we were able to use it on just about every shot! And since I designed the whole workflow around mocha, I actually have no idea how else I could have tracked or rotoscoped everything, expect withmocha. The tracker, that is built into After Effects is simply not capable enough.”

mocha does exactly what I want and when I need it. It has a very user friendly interface and is well integrated into After Effects. It also performs very well. Zooming, panning around, drawing masks, everything feels very fluid and stable inside mocha. All the things that you need are where you need them. The whole user experience is clearly designed by people who use the software themselves.

“Personally, I like to use software in ways for which it wasn’t intentionally designed. I think especially in motion graphics, the trick to standing out and being truly unique is your ability to take all the software, tools, plug-ins – everything that is available to you – and stretch the boundaries of their original purpose. mocha gives me that kind of flexibility – it’s critical to my workflow and has simply become a part of my overall creative process!”


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