In Depth: Motion Stabilization Options, Part 2 of 2

Sometimes using a tripod is not an option and you’re forced to shoot hand-held. Maybe you’re shooting in an amusement park, botanical gardens, or a concert and tripods are not allowed in. Unless you have the ability to stand perfectly still, you will likely need to stabilize the footage in postproduction. Motion stabilization is used to smooth footage and remove camera shake.

part 2

In part 2 of this series, I focus on 4 motion stabilization tools:

  • CoreMelt Lock & Load X  
  • Imagineer mocha
  • CHV MotionTracker-collection (FxScript)
  • proDad Mercalli Pro

I am a perfectionist who can't type. After publishing last weeks article, In Depth: Motion Stabilization Options, Part 1, I reworked the article by a new section, General Tips for Stabilizing Footage, I rewrote a portion of the section on Boris Continuum Complete BCC Optical Stabilizer, adding new example videos. I also added several tutorials and resources for the Warp Stabilizer in After Effects and Premiere Pro, as well as BCC Optical Stabilizer. I also spell-checked wink Be sure to have a look!

A special thanks goes out to my sister, Kari, who is letting me use some video that I shot in examples. 

CoreMelt Lock and Load X

Toolfarm Price: $199, MSRP: $399 (50% off!). Download a free demo

Hosts Full System Requirements

  • Apple Final Cut Pro 6/7 or X
  • Apple Motion 4 or 5
  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 or later
  • Adobe After Effects CS3 or later

CoreMelt Lock and Load X is a plug-in that does a pretty good job of stabilizing most footage and compensating for the wobbly distortion of rolling shutter,. It works in After Effects, Premiere Pro Final Cut Pro and Motion (Mac only). It's faster than After Effects Warp Stabilizer but not as fast as proDAD Mercalli PRO, which is featured later in  this article.

Here are the basics on how to use Lock and Load X.

  1. Apply CoreMelt Lock and Load to the footage layer (Effects  > C2 Lock and Load > Lock and Load X).

    Lock & Load Interface

  2. In the Effect Controls panel under Motion Tracking, there is a pull down menu for Operation Mode. Choose Stabilize Only, Stabilize and Shutter Reduction or Shutter Reduction Only.
  3. Click the Track Motion button. A popup window with a progress bar will alert you that Lock & Load is doing it's thing. After it finishes running the other options in the Effect Controls panel will no longer be grayed out. The Track Motion button will say “No Tracking Data” in small red letters but as soon as you change a parameter, that will disappear.
  4. RAM Preview the comp at full resolution to see how the clip looks.
  5. For rolling shutter issues, under Shutter Presets, select your camera from the pull down menu. Alternatively,  the menu default of Custom Coefficient allows users to set the coefficient manually. 
    Shutter Presets
  6. Under Stabilization Mode, the options are Smooth, Single Shot; Smooth, Multi Shot; and Lock Down.
  7. There are also options for the zoom which are pretty self-explanatory.

I had pretty good luck with Lock and Load X. The shots of my sisters wedding and my daughter on the balance beam turned out quite nice. However, the swimming shots were a little tougher. There are options to isolate the tracking area under Tracking Area Properties. This will allow you to select a smaller portion of the screen to track, avoiding elements such as moving water. I isolated the area on the shore by adjusting the Width (%) and Height (%) and moving the Position cross hair to the center of the area I wanted to isolate. After this I needed to click the Track Motion button once again. This helped quite a bit but did not entirely fix the wobble that was mostly present in the trees. It did do a better job than some of the other stabilizers though.

One bug I found was that after setting up the Tracking Area Properties to isolate an area to track, I'd get flashes of the preview box and a message to track the footage during RAM Preview.

Overall, Lock and Load did a very good job, but it was not the best tool. You'll have to keep reading to find out which was the best motion stabilizer I tested! I know the suspense is killing you.

CoreMelt Lock & Load X Tutorials

Lock & Load X Step by Step Tutorial

Lock & Load X for FCP X

Imagineer mocha


Imagineer mocha planar tracker but it's also a great tool for motion stabilization (and rotoscoping, but that's another article). Imagineer is great for keeping up with the needs of VFX artists by adding new features and hosts. They also have immense an number of tutorial videos, so you should have no trouble finding learning resources..

mocha is a standalone application, not a plug-in. mocha AE comes with Adobe After Effects but can also be purchased separately if you are running an older version of AE. mocha Pro allows the user to output to many different hosts, so if you're using Avid, Nuke, Final Cut Pro or something else, you'll want to use mocha Pro. mocha Pro exports data that your host NLE can import and use.

  1. To bring your clip into mocha AE, select your clip in the After Effects Timeline. In the top menu, choose Animation > Track in mocha AE. The full clip will open in mocha AE. It's a good idea  to set the Frame Range in the Options. Your clip duration will be represented by red brackets in the timeline in mocha.
    mocha AE interface
  2. Use the X-Spline to isolate an area of the shot that will stay constant and not move, like a rock or tree trunk. Don't choose a person, moving water or trees waving in the breeze. The movement will be picked up and your shot will not stabilize properly. Since mocha is a planar tracker, not a point tracker, choose areas with texture in your X-Spline. 
  3. Under Motion on the Track Tab, deselect Scale, Rotation and Shear. Only Translation should be selected because just the X and Y data is needed.
  4. Track forward, backward, whatever you need to do by clicking the play buttons for Track.
  5. Play the clip in mocha to make sure that the X-Spline area looks like it tracked properly to the area in your X-Spline.
  6. If it looks wrong, move your X-Spline and retrack. If it looks good, click Export Tracking Data. Choose Format: After Effects Transform Data [anchor point, position, scale and rotation] (*.txt). Click Save or Copy to Clipboard.
  7. Back in After Effects, go to the first frame of the clip you just tracked and select the footage. Paste, if you Copied to Clipboard, or open the text file you just saved, copy the entire document to your clipboard and then paste. Keyframes will be pasted for Anchor Point, Position, Scale and Rotation. Delete keyframes for Position, Scale and Rotation.
  8. There are some tricks with pans and smoothing that you can do as well and they're in the tutorial video below.

mocha is pretty fast and does a nice job, but for ease of use, I prefer to use a plug-in that is more automated. I just prefer less steps.

Motion Stabilization in mocha AE & mocha Pro Tutorial

For more help see After Effects Help / Tracking and stabilizing motion

CHV MotionTracker-collection (FxScript)

Toolfarm Price: $65.55. (MSRP: $69). Download a free demo

[[Examples and more info coming Friday]]


  • Compatible with compatible with Final Cut Pro 2-7
  • Final Cut Express

CHV MotionTracker-collection uses a single selected point to either lock your footage to s specific point or use the anti-shake feature to remove camera shake.

CHV MotionTracker interface

proDAD Mercalli PRO

Toolfarm Price: $189.05 (MSRP: $199). Download a free demo

Host Support Windows:

  • Adobe Premiere Elements (all versions)
  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS3/CS4/CS5/CS6
  • Adobe After Effects CS3/CS4/CS5/CS6
  • AVID/Pinnacle Studio 14 (includes unlocked plug-in)
  • Magix Video Deluxe 16/17
  • Magix Video Pro 2/2.5
  • Sony Vegas/Pro 7/8/9/10 (32 & 64 bit versions)
  • Thomson Grass Valley Canopus Edius NEO 2/3
  • Thomson Grass Valley Canopus Edius 5/6

Host Support Macintosh:

  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, CS6 Mac
  • Adobe After Effects CS5, CS6 Mac
  • Apple Final Cut Pro 7.0.3
  • Apple Motion 4.0.3

I guess I've saved the best for last this time. This one really impressed me. I did several tests on all kinds of footage and I had very fantastic results with every shot. Mercalli PRO worked well on the swimming shots that have been difficult for other motion stabilizers to fix. It did as well or better than Adobe CS6 Warp Stabilizer, with the added benefit of being much, much faster. It did great on shots that dolly in, too.

Mercalli PRO uses 3D video stabilization, which independently stabilizes the X, Y, and Z camera axis. 

Mercalli PRO Interface

To get to Mercalli PRO's interface, where all of the options of the filter live, click Options in either the Timeline or in the Effect Controls. The interface has several options, but I like to start with the Virtual Stabi-Cam pull down window in the upper right corner. Glide Camera worked great with shots that pan or dolly in. Universal Camera worked well with shots that are shaky. Rock-Steady is meant to be used when a shot needs to be locked down. This worked well on shots with not a lot of movement, otherwise, with Best Border selected under Border Handling, the clip will be zoomed in. It's hidden in the image above, but there's a checkbox for Rolling-Shutter Compensation under the menu in the upper right corner. I kept this checked for most of the shots I stabilized, since most were shot on iPhone or other CMOS camera. Rolling Shutter Compensation helped to remove the “Jell-o-vision” and skew from videos during the stabilization process. Turning on Roll Compensation, Horizontal Tilt Compensation and Vertical Tilt Compensation also helped for shots with a lot of wobble. Pan Shot Smoothing really helped steady the shaky shots.

As for as border handling, I prefer to keep Avoid Border checked.  Under Border Handling, there are also options for Best Stabilization, which will reveal the edges of the footage, and Fix Borders. When the borders are created, especially on very shaky footage, the edges reflect and repeat. I didn't think it looked very good, so I keep Avoid Border checked and zoom it in. As long as the shot isn't moving too erratically, I had good results and the footage did not get too soft.

Once settings are made, Mercalli PRO analyzes the footage in another pop up window. Preview the shot, see how it looks and tweak settings if needed. It will run the Analyze again, but it's very fast so it's not a problem.

Mercalli Analysis window

One little bug I noticed was that I would occasionally need to re-run the analysis right after I had just run it. I had moved to another point in the Timeline and suddenly the stabilized footage had an error telling me to re-analyze. Again Mercalli is fast, so it was not a big deal.

Overall, Mercalli Pro was the best of the bunch and I highly recommend picking it up. It's not expensive, it works in a slew of hosts and it just works! What's not to love? Und wenn Sie Deutsch sprechen, haben sie Dokumentation in deutscher und englischer Sprache!

Videos and Manuals

proDAD Mercalli Pro 2 promo video

Mercalli PRO 2 for Sony Vegas Pro

The interface looks quite a bit different but it looks like it gives the same results.

Posted by Michele Yamazaki