How To Create Advanced Camera Shake In After Effects


Camera shake is an important part of your video.  Whether you have a lot of it, or absolutely none of it, its presence or absence certainly impacts the tone of your production.   Creating camera shake in post production has become a massive part of independent film-making, as it allows a person (for example) to film themselves on a tripod and add camera shake later.  Or, if you're creating a VFX composition, adding camera shake to an entire scene can help to trick your eyes into believing that fake elements belong in the world you're creating.  

This is why it's important for your camera shake to be believable.  There's many different ways you can add fake camera shake, but what we're interesting in showing you today is how to add REAL camera shake.  How?  By transplanting it from one shot into another.  Let's take a look!

Filming Your Camera Shake

The first thing that you want to do is grab a camera.  What we’re going to do first is literally take a sample of the camera shake you want to add.  Find a surface that you can film that is both NOT moving, as well as has areas with lots of contrast.  This will help us track the camera shake later.  If you don’t have anything that works really well for that, you can get by with just taping some small dots or x’s to a wall and filming that.  

You may be able to tell really easily where those markers are, but you want to give your computer the best chance of understanding it.  So it’s hard to beat plain black and white differences.  One last thing to keep in mind is that the larger these tracking points, the more time it will take for your computer to process the track.  So find a nice happy medium between clearly visible, but not too big.  

Once you’ve got 2 areas that you can easily see, turn on your camera, make sure the exposure is decent, and literally just hold and film.  Whatever movement you make while holding the camera will be translated into your new shot.  So if you want just a little bit of camera shake, keep the movement to a minimum, you might not even have to try.  And if you wanted a Jason Borne amount of camera shake…...well, I guess you could do that too.  

When you’re doing this, try to make sure that you film for as long as your clip runs for.  If you need to add camera shake for a 10 second clip, then let it record for at least 10 seconds.  If you need the clip to last 1 minute, then be prepared to stand there for 1 minute.  Just make sure that at all times, the tracking points are visible at least somewhere in the frame.  They don’t have to be in the middle, but they shouldn't leave the frame.  

Tracking Your Camera Shake

Now that you have your footage, upload it to your computer and bring it into After Effects. Trim your clips down to just the amount you want to use, which should hopefully just be a little longer than your intended clip.  You can do this by bringing your play head to the point you want to cut and pressing Ctrl or command + Shift + D.  Delete the sections you don't want.  It can also help to set your in and out points to only the duration of the clip.  To do this, set your in point with B and then set the out point with N.  

Now if your right click here you’ll be able to trim your composition to your work area.   Great, now let’s work on tracking.  If you don’t know how to track footage, we have a great tutorial on that already and it’s this one here:

If aren't comfortable with tracking, this video does a great job of explaining the process, but for us, we’re going to be going through at normal speed.   Highlight the clip you want to track and then go to the tracking window.  And we’re going to be tracking the position, rotation, and scale.  

Now before we do any tracking, we need to create a null layer for all our tracking data to be applied to.  Right click to the left of your composition timeline and select New > Null Object.  We’re just going to hide it for now so it’s not distracting.

Now, highlight the footage layer again and go here to edit target and click it.  This will bring up a window where it asks us what the target is that you want to make sure that it’s set for your null layer and you’re good to go.

From here we’re going to set our tracking markers here over our tracking markers that we put into the shot.  Make sure you do this with the playhead at the beginning of your shot otherwise you’ll have to go back and move it again.  Now let’s click the play button to track!

There we go.  Now if your track didn’t work, you may need to go back and do it again, but ours worked so we’re going to hit apply to our null.

Just a quick side note, you can possibly do this by using elements that are already visible just naturally in your shot.  For example, I have a lightswitch here in this shot and by tracking these two screws at the bottom we can actually get a very decent track.  And becuause the’re small, the track is actually much faster than our previous attempt.

Applying Your Track

Great! Now we can hide this clip here because we’re done with it! We actually don’t need it anymore, so you can kind of see that you don’t need your reference shot to be magical or amazing looking. It just has to produce a decent track.

Now, bring in the footage you actually want to add the shake to.  Now here’s the magic.  We’re going to take this footage and pick whip it to parent it to our null.  What this does is basically tell it to copy what the null layer is doing, which we just applied all of that camera shake data to.  So now when we release it, we can see that our footage takes on the camera shake from the footage that we shot.  Neat right?  

But there’s one problem here. Our footage isn’t big enough.  So we need to adjust the scale and maybe even the positioning.  What’s nice is that because we’re parented to another layer, we can change scale and positioning without interrupting the movement of the camera shake.  So we’re going to scale up our footage a bit and then play it back to see if it’s still leaving gaps on any of the edges.   And sure enough there’s some small ones here.  So we’re going to move our frame to cover them up a bit more and then maybe even scale up our size a bit more.  

And when we play it back once more, we can see that it’s positioned so that all we get is nice, realistic camera shake.  Your milage may vary, but the great part is that once you get this system down, you can add exactly the amount of camera shake that you want!  If you find that it’s too much, go back and try to keep your hands even more stable during the filming, and you’ll get even less camera shake.  It’s a really simple process.  

But in the unfortunate event that you just can’t seem to get a stable or proper track.  We’ll give you one more unorthodox method.  Let’s start from scratch with the same tracking shot that we used before:

An Alternate Method

Now we’re back to the starting point and this time, instead of tracking with the built in tracker, we’re going to search for the effect, 3D camera tracker.  Now drag and drop it onto your footage and make sure that your footage is conformed to the same settings as your composition.  

Make sure that only the amount of footage that you plan to use is on the timeline, otherwise this will take much longer than necessary.  It should start analyzing automatically right away but before it gets too far, try a couple of things to help it along.  Select fixed angle of view unless you've decided to zoom in and out during your shot, which you should probably avoid. And then if you really want a detailed track, choose detailed analysis.

Now when you highlight the 3D tracking effect, you should see markers all around points of interest along your frame.  Choose a selection of solid tracking points that stay throughout the clip duration and then right click them and select create null and camera.

From here you can hide your footage layer and when you scrub through you should be able to see the null object floating around in the same way as your camera shake.  
Now bring in your desired footage.  Make sure that your layers and your composition are set for 3D, and then pick wip your footage to your null layer.  

And there we go! We’ve created a camera that can visually translate the actual camera shake from your sample footage.   It’s an amazingly powerful technique if used correctly and is an awesome skill to be able to have in your arsenal as a content creator.

We hope you found this video helpful.  If you did, we’ve got lots of other tutorials for Premiere Pro, After Effects, and filmmaking in general! If you have any questions, let us know in the comment section below.   Also, check out our other video on creating fake camera shake using Wiggle Expressions.  That video is located here:

 Thank you so much for watching and we hope to see you in the next video!

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