Advanced Stabilization

The SmoothCam filter in FCP does a decent job of smoothing out jerky camera moves. However, it won’t completely stabilize a shot so that it doesn’t move; it’ll just smooth out motion. If you need smoother stabilization, or a rock solid frame, you can get better results by manually telling Motion which points in the frame to track.

This won’t work if the shutter speed was unusually slow, or there’s a ton of camera movement—the motion blur will cause weird streaking. You also need to find an object in the frame that’s visible during the entire shot, if something crosses the frame things get more complicated. As a final word of caution, this process works by blowing up the frame and cropping the edge so that you can’t see the effect of the stabilizer shifting the frame around. Extreme camera movements may require more crop than is ideal.

These instructions are for FCP 6/7, but the process is similar for FCP X. FCP X users will need Motion, which is now sold separately from FCP for $50 from the Mac App Store.

1. Apply the Effects > Video Filters > Video > Smoothcam filter in FCP
2. Double click the clip and adjust the position, scale and rotate smoothness settings
3. If you aren’t getting satisfactory results, select the clip and choose File > Send To > Motion Project
4. Save to your project folder
5. Select Window > Layers
6. Press shift-Z to zoom to fit
7. Click the disclosure triangle next to Group 1, then next to your video clip, then select the Stabilize behavior
8. In the leftmost window, select Inspector > Behaviors
9. Find two high contrast details on opposite sides of the frame which stay in frame for the entire shot and aren’t obscured by something crossing in front of them. You need two points for motion to be able to recognize horizon tilt, if any.
10. Go to the first frame of the clip
11. Click the Tracker > Add button
12. Drag the tracker to the first detail you want motion to track
13. Click the Tracker > Add button
14. Drag the new tracker to the second detail you want motion to track
15. Click the Analyze button
16. Pick Smooth or Stabilize from the Method menu. Smooth retains some camera movement, Stabilize attempts to tune it out completely.
17. Turn on the desired buttons for translation, scale and rotation
18. Save, then File > Export using the same settings as your sequence in FCP (check sequence settings if you’re not sure).
19. Replace the clip in FCP with the one you just exported.

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