Written by: Ian Sandall, Focus Magazine, February 2015
For a good part of my working life I survived without knowing how a single piece of broadcast software worked. This all changed when I got my first NLE and from those early Speed Razor days to now I’ve got pretty reasonable on editing software and especially the fascinating plugins that we all need to get the latest effects. I now have a favourite NLE for commercials and high production value work (Premiere Pro) as well as a favourite for speedy cut’n’shuts (that would be Avid) as well as a choice if I just want to have a laugh and see how badly wrong they got it. I’ll leave you to work that one out.
But the elephant in the room has proved to be After Effects. I know what it does and what it’s good at but even after some hours have never actually managed to make it do anything that looks vaguely professional – something that a skilled person could do easily. So I normally just walk away. And I think part of the problem for me is that everything takes so long! So for now I’m content to know what AE does (which is useful from a production point of view) but get other people to do my ‘dirty work’.
So when I was asked to review the latest version of Imagineer System’s mocha, something – that to my eyes at least – appeared to have some of the elements and work methods of After Effects, I was initially less than enthusiastic. How wrong I was – and how pleased I am to have reviewed it. My mind was changed in two stages. First, when I spoke to a few GFX wizards who told me how amazing mocha was and second when I saw just how quickly and just how brilliantly it works.
mocha is available in (pardon the pun) various flavours and a basic version is bundled with After Effects CC already. One notch up from that is mocha Plus at $245 which works with After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut, Motion, and Boris FX; above that is mocha Pro at (gulp) $1495 which works with just about any video software out there including some very esoteric ones.
At its heart, mocha is basically very clever planar tracking* technology. So clever that they’ve licensed the technology to loads of other companies in the FX business. And won an Academy Award. To stabilize anything, remove things from shots, add elements that track with your shot, rotoscope or basically match anything into existing scenes, you need to know where everything is first. You need to track it. Everywhere you look there are flat planes. On any given shot you may have a wall, a floor or any number of them. By tracking a plane as opposed to ‘point tracking’ (which is how simpler tracking technology works) you get far more accurate results and are much less likely to run into problems with motion blur, noise, things in the way or lighting changes.
And problems mean duff effects and basically scenes that don’t quite look right – which would never do! So you need to get it right first time. And mocha delivers. Anyone who’s marvelled at some of the effects in the Harry Potter movies, The Hobbit, Black Swan, The Amazing Spiderman or The Wolf of Wall Street will have seen (or not seen as the case may be) mocha at its best. So how’s it going to be useful to those of us with rather lower budgets who are (to put it politely) a few steps further down the production food-chain?
Well, actually quite a lot. But before we talk about the possibilities for corporates, lower-end commercials and web promos, I’m going to hand over to a multi-talented editor and AE person, Matt Thompson …’‘From now on I will only be using mocha for tracking! In the past I used AE which did a good job, but before I even started projects I would advise producers how things should be shot in order to get a good track when in post. There is no need for me to do that anymore as mocha will cope with anything!
mocha is very easy to use and considerably more accurate. This is because its engine is intelligent enough to figure out tracking data without using tracking points so it can be used effectively on pretty much any type of shot you want.
Tracking is considered by some to be a very tricky and complex technique that requires lots of prep, skill and hours; if the footage isn’t quite right the tracking probably won’t be either. On a certain level that is still true, but using mocha has really changed my mind. Within minutes I was getting perfect tracks on footage I wouldn’t have considered trying to track in AE! Not only was the tracking and stabilization more accurate, it was much quicker. It really made me change the way I looked at footage. I used to have a good Idea of what I was capable of with regards to things like this, but mocha has expanded my horizons and got me looking at things differently.
mocha Plus’s integration with Premiere is a perfect example because if you aren’t necessarily up to speed on AE/ Nuke/etc. (he means me I think ….) you still have opportunity of taking advantage of some of its great features.
Filmmakers, videographers, don’t be scared! Have a try as it really is simple to use. mocha’s website has loads of video tutorials that can help you get to grips with the program so whether you are trying it for the first time or if you are an experienced Motion Graphics artist, there is something there for you.
As someone who is familiar with After Effects, I found the integration mocha has with it to be one of the best features. Exporting the information to subsequently copy into AE was something I found very easy. This software is fantastic!’
It’s unfortunate that both Matt and I did not have more time to really push mocha as whatever we threw at it, it just worked. The final clincher (for me) was seeing how fast mocha worked. Admittedly it was running on a fast Macbook Pro with SSDs but even so I was blown away. Inevitably we were just putting HD into it so cannot judge what 4k or higher will do.
A few of our tests are here and thanks to Matt for editing these:
So what’s it going to be useful for (and do you need the Pro version when the Plus version is much more justifiable?)
And finally for adding titles that ‘track’ with the action this software is just phenomenal. But that is all really the tip of the iceberg. Drill down and mocha does far more as a cursory look round the Imagineer site will prove.
So is it worth spending $1495 for mocha Pro? Certainly if you’re going to use it every day. Nothing else comes close. It’ll speed up workflows no end; for any type of Motion Graphics setup or AE station in a facility house, it’s a no-brainer. For rather less frequent use, the ‘stripped out’ mocha Plus will probably do. It doesn’t have so many features (but are you going to use the extensive 3D features of Pro? I didn’t think so) but the features it does have are really useful.
For years we’ve been saying ‘we’ll sort it out in post’ and finally here’s a tool that actually WILL! But more than that, having its capabilities means that we can now plan shots and effects to take advantage of the great things that mocha can do. So it’s not just become a filmmaker’s servant, it’s become a true part of the creative toolkit. And it’s rare that you can say that about software.
*To find out more about planar tracking, Imagineer have a good video here:
I’m indebted to Matt Thompson for his cheerful help and input on the preparation of this review.
The Imagineer website has loads of how-to videos showing the various features of the software in use. Check
these out first and also note you can download demo versions before you purchase.