Track warping objects and apply warped movement in Adobe After Effects with the Lockdown plugin by Chris Vranos & aescripts + aeplugins .

Over the past decade, the tracking features found within After Effects have become phenomenal. Long gone are the days where you need to manually track a pesky point that After Effects couldn’t correctly pinpoint. Now, for most footage, you can easily 3D camera track most objects within a stable shot, and add your 3D element — text, object, set extension, and so forth — within minutes.

However, tracking warping objects and applying the warped movement to the object was somewhat challenging, or downright impossible to complete, solely by using After Effects and no other software. Now, a new plugin called Lockdown from Chris Vranos & aescripts + aeplugins  seeks to change that.

The plugin, which is compatible with After Effects CC 2019 and 2020, comes with a premium price tag of $249. However, aescripts + aeplugins does run various discount sales throughout the year, so you may be able to grab the plugin at a discounted rate if time is of no importance. Until that time, you can use the trial version of the software to familiarize yourself with its performance. The only limitation of the trial version is that it is watermarked.

So, how practical is the application? Well, first, you should know that it’s not as automated as you might initially think. I did buy the plugin thinking it was going to be a one-and-done click (duh, that’s what demo versions are for). However, there are several steps you need to undertake to initiate the effect. Using a basic implementation of the plugin let’s run you through that process.


The Process

After downloading the plugin, you’re going to need to place the Lockdown.aex into the Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects <version>\Support Files\Plug-ins folder. Then take the LockdownScript.jsxbin file and place it Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects <version>\Support Files\Scripts\Script UI Panels.

With that completed, load up After Effects and, of course, import your clip to a new composition.

The plugin itself has a helpful step-by-step follow guide. But, there’s only so much they can include in the guide, so we will fully explore the steps for applying a graphic to a t-shirt. For the sake of the review, we’re going to pretend that in the following shot from a new video tutorial of mine, I was supposed to be wearing an American flag badge. To make things even more complicated, this specific part of the clip is where I stretch my back so my hoodie folds in on itself.

Lockdown Plugin Review: Track Warping Objects in After Effects — The Process

First, you need to go to Window. Way down the bottom you will find the lockdown script.

Lockdown Plugin Review: Track Warping Objects in After Effects — Lockdown Script

This will open a lockdown panel, which at first will be undocked. But, I think it feels organic when positioned left to the viewer.

Lockdown Plugin Review: Track Warping Objects in After Effects — Lockdown Panel

Step 1

In the lockdown panel, select 1. Pre-compose. This will do two things. It will bring your clip into a new composition, and normalize all of the and effects if added to the clip. For example, if rotated or enlargened, the pre-comp will remove those features for tracking, but keep them active in the original composition. It will also add the Lockdown effect to the clip. No need to apply it from the effects library.

Depending on the content that you’re trying to “lockdown,” it may be advisable to select Step 2 Optional Tracking Filter. This will add a series of effects that will make the edges and contours clearer for the lockdown tracking process.

Lockdown Plugin Review: Track Warping Objects in After Effects — Pre-Compose

Step 3

In step three, with lockdown selected within the effects panel, control-click to add points to your clip. Alternatively, you can hit Ctrl and drag your mouse to create a selection of points across a large area. If you need to remove a point, hit alt-click. These points will be your tracking points. Therefore, you only want to add a tracking point to the part of the image that you intend to manipulate.

Lockdown Plugin Review: Track Warping Objects in After Effects — Add Points to Your Clip

As with standard tracking, you want to make sure a number of points are added to identifiable areas; edges, areas of color, and noticeable dark spots.

Step 4

With the tracking points added, move to step 4 and start tracking your area. It is essential not to move away from the effect panel as it could cause the tracking to stop. Don’t touch that mouse after you hit track!

Step 5

Tick the box for interpolate partial tracks (we’ll link a video that explains why at the bottom). Also review the tracking data. If you feel like at one point the footage blends, add a tracking point to the area and retrack.

Step 6

At step 6, you can either hit Auto Triangulate Mesh, or you can create your own meshes around the primary area where you plan on adding the new element by holding shift and connecting tracking point to tracking point. I have found that I get a slightly better result if I at least pinpoint the important area first, then hit auto triangulate. Likewise, if your mesh is appearing in the regions that you don’t need to respond to the lockdown, you can remove them by selecting holding alt then selecting the mesh line.

Lockdown Plugin Review: Track Warping Objects in After Effects — Auto Triangulate Mesh

Step 7

Apply the mesh onto the frame, and finally, head back to the lockdown panel to finally lock down the area. Again, like step four, it’s important not to touch any other part of After Effects while Lockdown is in motion.

Lockdown Plugin Review: Track Warping Objects in After Effects — Area Lockdown

When lockdown is applied, your locked footage will then move to a new comp called Stabilized. In this composition, you will find the clip that has been locked down and the background. You can now finally apply the graphic element that needs to connect to the subject.

Note: In this composition, you won’t see Lockdown in effect. This is also the composition in which you will need to apply the effects to your graphic/element to match your original footage.

Lockdown Plugin Review: Track Warping Objects in After Effects — Add Your Graphic Element

When we jump back into the original composition, this is the outcome.

To think that the badge moves with the hoodie crease is pretty astounding, given there is no 3D analysis of the scene, just the tracking data from Lockdown. When the plugin was first announced, a lot of people took to online to say it was a game changer, and in truth, it is. We’ve never been able to track and apply elements to warping surfaces so easily before. Of course, it comes with the steep addition of a $249.99 price tag (or $299.99 if you’re in the EU like me because of the digital tax), but yes, it is a game changer.

In fact, the hardest part of using this plugin is then matching the added element to your original composition. Even though I’ve added some blur, grain, and matched the exposure of the badge to the scene, I can still see some form of uncanniness to the badge. I imagine it might be a lack of motion blur, but whatever it is, it’s outside of Lockdown.

However, there are a few elements that I find limiting. Any form of shaky-cam footage and the lockdown tracking has a hard time keeping to its area. Although, I’m sure any form of tracking is going to have a hard time with an obnoxious amount of shake. However, from my tests I do feel like you’re going to want to “lockdown” your shot if you know you plan on adding digital assets. Likewise, the plugin has trouble sticking with points that turn out of frame, such as a man turning his back.

In the introduction, I did specify that this would be implementing a fundamental use of the plugin, and that’s because it is very much at a stage one implementation (1.2.1 ). Although the plugin works fine and I wholeheartedly recommend it,  through the support channels on aescripts + aeplugins, Chris Vranos has stated new features will be continually added. They also recently released an updated version that gave more stable tracking to lower resolution clips. So while use may be currently limited (at the moment, I am seeing a lot of people solely use this plugin to add elements to clothing) I’m sure numerous features and updates will be added in the future.

At one point I mentioned that I would link a more elaborate tutorial at the end of the article. If you’re having trouble in tracking your footage, I recommend watching the following video from aescripts, as Chris Vranos goes in-depth on how you can better your tracking.


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