Vastly improved workflow and layer and spline manipulation as in a vector drawing app: Imagineer Systems presents mocha Pro 3.0.0

Every developer of software will at least try to match his product to what customers want. Their success often depends on more than skills and investments; it may also depend upon company policies. When Adobe or Microsoft upgrade their software, customers are often not getting what they want because of the company’s quasi-monopoly. In rare cases, a company with a strong market position will listen to its users and upgrade accordingly. It looks like Imagineer Systems, the developer of tracking and rotoscoping software mocha Pro, has listened to its users when they started working on version 3.

mocha Pro 3.0.0 will have a load of new features that will make many users happy when it gets released on April 14th. Version 3 meets their demands in important areas:

  • On the management side a layer tree system with layer grouping in folders and project merging capabilities
  • In the tools department the ability to quickly change a group of splines using a bounding box, the ability to select and modify multiple splines, an enhanced link tool to join points of separate layers, and a dope sheet for key manipulation
  • And finally better zooming and 3D camera solvers for After Effects and support for Maya, Nuke, and C4D through FBX export.
IT Enquirer rating

9/10
URL: imagineersystems.com

Pros
  • layer groups
  • bounding box
  • join tool
Cons
  • none
Price (approx.): €1125.00

mocha Pro v.3 still is the planar tracker and rotoscoping tool that has been popular with rotoscoping artists. The features that were added in the new version expand and build further on mocha’s ease-of-use and supremacy over point trackers like the one you’ll find in Apple Motion 5.

In terms of workflow, mocha Pro 3 hasn’t changed from the previous version. It still is a planar tracker/rotoscoping tool and the way you set up your tracks, create or import your mattes, etc., hasn’t changed, but if you’re part of a workgroup, there is one huge improvement in the way you set up a project: you can now delegate parts of the job to others and when the job has finished, merge their tracks and mattes back into your project.

Mocha Pro 3 interface

Merging projects

Grouping and merging are quite flexible. The key point is that new layers in an existing group merge back to the same group. One possible workflow would be:

  1. Supervisor makes the initial project and sets up all the right footage settings such as frame rate and aspect ratio.
  2. She can then make groups for different objects in the scene, maybe put a single layer in each group with a rough shape showing the objects of interest for that group.
  3. She saves the project file.
  4. Each artist in the team makes new layers to create his roto in an existing group; artist can hide the layer drawn by the supervisor or delete it.
  5. Each artist saves his own copy of the project with a new name.
  6. The supervisor merges each artists work back into the master project when the work is done. The work comes back into the same groups she created.

This is just one approach, however. I tested it by creating multiple projects on the same footage, then merging between projects. The only constraints were that the footage must be the same dimensions, length and aspect ratio across all projects being merged.

There shouldn’t be a problem with duplicate layers after merging either — it seems that the Imagineer Systems engineers disambiguate internally using a numeric ID. The one problem that I see is that having identical layer names coming from all over the place could instigate confusion over who has done what exactly.

Despite potential confusion about layer naming, this is a big improvement for workgroups. Artists who work on their own will relate more to working with layers and splines, and that too has become much more efficient. First of all, the ability to colorize individual layers and corresponding splines as well as mattes improves the workflow because it makes it so much easier to quickly see which splines or mattes belong together.

Layer groups

With the introduction of layer groups, Imagineer Systems also enabled this feature on a group level, so that all layers and mattes of one group can get an identical colour with one click. I never quite understood why there was no grouping capability in mocha Pro 2.x, and even imagined rotoscoping artists perhaps didn’t have a need for many layers until I saw a project with a dazzling array of them. Since that day I was really puzzled over the lack of grouping in mocha Pro 2.x.

The addition of layer groups — folders, really — therefore is a welcome improvement, but perhaps for managing many layers effectively, a “smart group” feature would have made this more complete.

Groups do enable you to lock all layers in them with one click. In fact, all actions you can take on a layer are also possible on a group, affecting all the layers in that group in one fell swoop.

Creating a spline in mocha Pro has always been as easy as creating a Bezier curve in Adobe Illustrator, but in mocha Pro you could’t change more than one point on that curve at a time. Worse yet, you could’t select multiple layers. In that respect, version 3 is a dream come true. You can select multiple points on the same layer, as well as on different layers — even if those are not adjacent to each other. And it gets better.

When you now draw a spline a white dotted rectangle will appear when you close the spline. This rectangle is a bounding box and it allows you to reposition the entire spline, rotate it, scale it or change its entire aspect ratio. The bounding box also works on points of a spline. Just drag over a range of points and you’ll be able to work with these points simultaneously. This is an improvement that is bound to save a lot of time.

A spline colored orange

Another improvement — and one that allows you to avoid gaps between adjacent spline shapes — is the Join tool. The way it works is that you select a point on one spline, then select the tool, then drag the point over to a point on an adjacent spline that you want to join with the first one.

The result is that both splines are now joined on that one point — the first one being the parent of the second one. Any action you take on the joined point affects both splines in that specific area.

It’s easy to break the parent/child relationship as well, using the context menu when selecting the joined point.

In the area of keyframing, the Dope sheet shows a lot of promise, but is currently limited with regards to what you can do with it. You can move group keys, and all layer keys will move with it, and you can copy and paste keys. The Dope Sheet timeline can be scaled, just as the Curve Editor that’s still there.

3D cameras

The last set of new features in version 3.0.0 are related to 3D cameras in Adobe After Effects, Maya, Nuke, and Cinema 4D. To support 3D cameras mocha Pro 3 has a new tab “Camera Solve”. This new camera solver uses planar tracking information to define a camera, then allows for an export of a camera with null objects to assist the placement in a scene. In order to benefit from this new feature in After Effects, users must have the “mocha 3D track importer for AE plugin” installed in the right folder of their After Effects installation.

The 3D camera solver has three different tracking modes:

  • Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) camera tracking, which has to be used when the camera itself doesn’t move around the scene. In this scenario there is no parallax problem to solve.
  • Small parallax tracking is used when the camera itself is moving and objects are not at close range but neither at great distance. Camera focus is usually long.
  • Large parallax tracking is for when the camera is moving, camera focus is anything from long to short, and objects can be up close or far away.

Lacking the After Effects plugin, I am not capable of saying much useful about this new feature except that judging from a demo video it looks like the PTZ mode is quite simple to use, while the parallax modes require more than just basic knowledge about After Effects’ virtual 3D cameras.

Conclusion

So, is mocha Pro 3.0.0. worth the upgrade? Most of version 3’s improvements can be catalogued as either time saving or delivering more ease-of-use. Some of the features may dramatically increase workflow efficiency, especially if you work on large projects in a team. From a pure practical, financial point of view therefore, this upgrade is certainly worth the money.

In terms of new creative capabilities, the camera solver will certainly appeal to After Effects users, and as that group makes out something like 90% of the rotoscoping artist world, well you get the point…

Leaves us with what isn’t in version 3.0.0. One of the features yours truly was hoping for is support for Final Cut Pro X, but that isn’t included with this upgrade nor is it high on Imagineer Systems’ agenda. I can sympathize with the reasons they may have — planar tracking may be easier than point tracking, but it still requires understanding of VFX (Visual Effects) software, which few Final Cut Pro X users care to learn about. Nevertheless, mocha Pro can be used for all sorts of purposes, not just making complicated mattes, so some time investment may prove to be beneficial.

There’s good news for Motion users, though: you can import tracking data into Motion 5.

Upgrade pricing has not yet been announced but when you purchased mocha Pro 2.6 between March 15 and April 15, 2012, you’ll get your upgrade for free.

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