Why Face Tracker is the coolest new feature in Adobe After Effects

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Today’s post is about one of the two new features of the latest Adobe After Effects version.
We have already checked the updates regarding the improved previewing and workspace in Adobe After Effects 13.6.1, as well as the first new feature which is Character Animator.

Let’s see more about the Face Tracker, the second new feature released last year.


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I’m going to open up tracker. The way you open up tracker is by going to Window > tracker. If you look at tracker, you can track the camera when you’re trying to simulate a 3D motion.

If you have a camera that’s moving, then you can connect things to that moving camera and make it look like it’s stuck to things inside the video which is really cool. You’ll need a moving camera though to have that really work.

You can track motion within here like I used to track motion click. I’ll put a little point here that I can track, let’s say the motion of his eye, for example.
You can stabilize motions and warp stabilizer as well. A couple of ways if you have a shaky camera, you can stabilize motion.


Those are the typical features that you find inside tracker but there’s a new feature that came out of 13.5 called the face tracker. The way you turn the face tracker over here is to add a mask.

I showed you about adding a mask before when we did the vignette, you do the same process here.

  • You make sure that the layer is active because you want to apply the mask in the layer.
  • You can go over and get the ellipse or rectangle. We’re just going to generically select and say that the thing inside here is a face. So there’s nothing really exact. So I grab the ellipse tool.
  • When I draw a ellipse, I typically start upper left and go lower right, something like that and that draws the ellipse like so. If I don’t let go yet and hold down the spacebar, I can move it around very easily – if you haven’t worked with ellipse before or a shape tool before. Even after that, you can move it around. But that has now told After Effects that this is where the face here, not really define the face but I’m telling it, “Here is where the face is located.”


Once I add the mask, the mask is active, take a look at the tracker. It’s changed dramatically. Although, these four things are gone, these four buttons have disappeared. Now, there’s a dropdown list.

face tracking outlineI want to track the face tracking.
There’s an outline version and a detailed version.
We’ll go to the outline only to begin with now.
I want to track the outline of the face and you may wonder why I do that and I’m going to show you why in a second.

To track the outline of the face, which actually goes relatively quickly, you just click on the track forward button.

You can track forward or backward. We’re going to track forward here. It should, hopefully, take on the shape of the face and it is now tracking that.

Notice how the mask is adjusting for the shape of the face.

Notice, as you see around the points there on the mask changed to accommodate the motion of his face.

points face tracker

It moves along with that.
It’s creating key frames for all these little points.
The way mask works, when you make key frames is that they don’t key frame each point but, they key frame the whole shape at once basically. You can stop this by clicking that track forward button again.

And that actually did most of the clip. Now, you can see it follows his face. It’s pretty amazing actually, notice how it changed the whole shape of the mask as it goes down like that which is pretty cool.

But we don’t want this disembodied head floating around, right? The way you typically work with this, you take the exact same video and put it below that video that’s masked.
Now, I have the masked version on top and the unmasked version down below.
I can apply effects to one or the other and to cause his face to standout.

I’m going to apply a blur to this bottom one.
To show you a way to do this, I’ll type in ‘blur’ in the effects and presets, search.

fast blur in after effects
I’m going to use a blur that – fast blur which allows me to repeat the edge pixels because if you don’t repeat the edge pixels, you get this edge around there like that.

I’m going to blur a little more than it should so you can see what’s going on.
Now, you can see that we blurred the background and his face is obviously looking weird but that’s the beginning of the process. I’m going to keep it really blurred like that on purpose for a moment just to show you how this works.

mask featherI want his face not to be so sharp edged.
One of the cool things about the mask is that you can feather it.
Feather it a little bit so that it blends into the blur a little bit.
We can expand the mask if we want.
This expands it overall uniformly so I can expand a little bit perhaps to take a little bit more around, grab his ears a little bit more like that.

Now, I’ll take the blur so that it’s not so terrible. It’s ridiculous at 48. I can bring it down to maybe 5 or something like that, just a little bit of blur like so. Now, his face has been focused and everything else is blurred. Now it’s probably too much blur. I’ll change that to 6 if you’re trying to be subtle about this. That will be the way to do it.

You also might want to have him pop up the screen a little bit more by adding curves effect to that background. I’ll type in ‘curves’ in the search bar and I’ll apply that to this up in the back as well.

curves effects and presets

I’ll darken it up a little bit like so. That again, gives us a chance to highlight his face versus the background.

That’s one reason you might want to do that. You can also then apply effects to his face.
You might want to warm it up a bit. I’ll just give it an orange feel to it, make it feel a bit warmer, whatever you want.
But now, you separated it out from the background basically and that face tracker did that automatically. I think that’s phenomenal. Feel free to use that little feature.
We will only keep the background video, we’ll delete all the previous work. I’ll turn the visibility on and work on the top layer again.

Now I’m going to add a mask.
Grab the ellipse tool again and we’ll highlight his face again. And we’ll go to the detailed version here.

face tracking detailed
Notice again, once you make the mask, this thing changes. Go to the detailed view like that. I’m going to click on the forward button here. Watch what happens in just a second. It shows all these various points which is remarkable.

detailed face tracker

It’s looking at three parts of each eyebrow – the middle, left and right. It’s looking at three areas in the eye. It’s looking at the pupil, the nose, the mouth; obviously the outline of the face. All sorts of features are being recorded here with key frames, all those things. You may wonder, “Wow, do I really need to key frame all of these things?”

You can use this on an animation on something else besides the video if you want to.
Let’s say you can turn them into more of an animated figure.
There are multiple ways to do that.
Or you can attach things to his face such as let’s say a mask, by mask I mean a mask you’ll wear in Mardi Gras, something like that. It’ll cover up his eyes.

You can put a patch over his eye. You can attach things to his face that way. I’m going to do something that he’s going to hate in just a second.

That has now created these key frames. I’m going to stop now because obviously it’s not done yet. It takes a long time to get this to end.

face track points in after effectsI’ll open the face track points here.

It says six different track points but in fact there are track points inside the track points. So, the left eye there are six different track points within the left eye. It’s insane, really. Amazing, right?

I’m going to show you a little trick here by how you can connect something to a key frame, a set of key frames using an expression. I created a course on expressions on BlueFX so you can always check that out.

What I’m going to do here is a very simple way to do expressions. So, I’m going to put the background here so you can still see the background. We’ll red it. We’re going to work on him and I can soften the mask not as I did before so it’s not terribly obvious.
I’ll go there and we’ll soften the mask a bit. We’ll feather it a bit so it’s not terribly obvious like that.
Now we’re going to go back and we’re going to work only on the left pupil here.
I’m going to add a layer here, right click. Say, new solid.
When you’re going to do the things that I’m about to do, which is work the lens flare effect, you want to make this all black. That’s one little trick we’re going to do here. That’s because we’re going to use a blending mode called Add.

Now, I want to add the lens flare effect. Lens flare effect looks like that.

lens flare effect

The lens flare has a center. You can move the center around to change how the lens flare works.
I want to connect the center to the left pupil key frame. I do that by using what’s called an expression. It’s very simple expression. It’s just connecting one layer to another layer directly.

All I need to do is just turn on expressions. Turn on expression for a particular feature, for a particular option is to just press Alt or Option key and click on the stopwatch there. So Alt or Option click and that turns expression for that particular property and it makes the key frame values or the property values red. It’s not turned on.

add expression

If you look down here in the timeline, you see that you got the same feature up here, the little red things here and this little box opens up.
But what I’m going to do is make connections. Very simple, I don’t need to type in any text here. I don’t need to type in any formula. I use this little guy right there

Pick Whip

which looks like a snail curled up but that’s called a Pick Whip and you’re going to just drag the Pick Whip to the left pupil. So, I drag the Pick Whip down to the left pupil and that puts in this obviously complicated looking thing. Now, I need to say that I’m done so I click away and that accepts that.



blending mode after effectsNow the lens flare will follow his eyeball which you don’t see the eyeball. But the way you can make it visible is basically what’s called the blending mode. Right now it’s the mode. If you don’t see mode, just click on this little switch there and that will go from that view to the mode. It says mode but it’s actually a blending mode.

If you go to this dropdown list, you go to add. What add does is it makes black transparent. So since it was black, now the black is transparent and there is the lens flare on his eyes.

lens flare pupil

I’m going to take the brightness down a little bit so it’s not so obvious giving Burk sort of a black eye or giving him a white eye. That will follow the motion of his eye.
Pretty wild, huh? Not that I will necessarily do this but I just want to show you how you can attach things if you do this kind of detailed face tracking. Alright, that’s face tracking.

Any thoughts to share with us? Drop us a comment, we’ll be happy to reply to you.

Remus Hosu

Remus Hosu

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