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Syntheyes @ NAB

Affordable tracker does it all, and MORE By Rob Garrott
Two dimensional and three dimensional compositing is becoming more and more popular.  Often we need to extract 3D camera data from scenes that have no 3D meta data at all.  How do you do that?  Well, it's not easy, and for years it's been completely out of reach for most of us because the software has been astronomically expensive - - the software that extrapolates the 3D data has to do a ton of work.  Syntheyes not only makes it easy to do it, but on a Mac or PC.

I've been using Syntheyes for several years now, but if you're a 3D animator or 3D compositor - or even a 2D compositor who uses an application that can host 3D position data (like Adobe's After Effects CS3), this data will add a completely new level of finesse to your composite - and it's going to unlock all kinds of possibilities for you as well.  You're no longer forced to use locked off shots in order to match your 3D animations to the shot footage.

I quickly got a chance to say thanks to Russ at NAB 2007, and fire off some questions that I think that YOU should know (and a couple that I wanted to know too).

I could pose like this... "Ooo I like that"

Why did you add stabilization to SynthEyes - I know it's an awesome addition, but some readers aren't going to understand that this is a great thing.

Several reasons--- people already were using SynthEyes for stabilization, taking advantage of its tracking capabilities both ease of use and accuracy, especially when  3-D tracking is used. I'd long ago added a number of 2-D exports scripts from SynthEyes to compositing packages to facilitate that.  But of course not everyone had a suitable package, especially people starting out, who tended to have the shots that most needed stabilization. Even more crucial, I saw that people were doing stabilization in ways that created some horrible artifacts, and additionally made them unusable for accurate tracking. The optic center of the images were sliding all over the place, so the center of the images would be fine, but the corners would be doing these bad things. And people would want to know why they couldn't get a good 3-D track from them! So I decided to wrap this all up inside of SynthEyes, to make it easy to get extremely accurate and correct results. That went very well, and I was able to add in a layer of user controllability---because I *always* want to give the artist the final say. With those controls, and especially with film source, you can do some really nifty pan and scan sorts of things, reframing shots, while still keeping a proper final image geometry.

Any advice for designers and students who are not VFX artists that want to include tracking into their animations?

Just to take some time to do some different examples. You can read things in the manual and not really understand them until you go do it and then say "Oh, that's what that was for." And take a look at some of the little animations on my Path-ology page ( to see some of the pitfalls when shooting your own footage. It's easy to do something that will be hard to handle when you don't know what makes shots hard or easy.

If price is no concern, why should an artist choose Sytheyes over the competition?

First, let me say that I don't spend any time benchmarking competing software. I am all about getting customers what they need at a price they can afford. It's up to the competitors to explain which of their features is worth an extra $9600.

 Nonetheless, from customer feedback I believe that SynthEyes is widely agreed to be much faster than any of the competitors. Not only are the algorithms that it uses fast, but they are coded to take advantage of the special instruction sets in modern machines, as well as to efficiently use the multiple cores in new machines. Not only are the calculations multithreaded, but image prefetch is also multithreaded, resulting in exceptional performance for customers with RAID drives.

This speed is reflected not only in the ability to get shots out the door, but also in being able to handle long shots at all. SynthEyes has been used on shots with several thousand frames, which I think you'll find difficult elsewhere.

SynthEyes is also used extensively to solve the most difficult shots, ones on which the competing software has failed. SynthEyes's autotracking capabilities were greatly enhanced for the 2007 release so it can nail more shots outright, but the most difficult shots often wind up as supervised tracks, or some combination. For this, SynthEyes has a long and extensive background as an outstanding supervised-tracking application, whereas the competition has only recently been trying to enhance their abilities in this area.

SynthEyes has a very large feature set. You might be able to find some of the features elsewhere as the competitors work to catch up, but SynthEyes has a very extensive set. The exciting new stabilizing features in 2007 1/2 are a tremendous advance that will help both traditional VFX as well as more editing and compositing users. The single-frame alignment will also help many users who have nodal pan (tripod) shots. You've been able to build meshes and do motion capture in SynthEyes since mid-2005, and do object tracking since 2003. SynthEyes also has unique lighting and curve tracking tools.

SynthEyes also exports to a much broader range of applications, and SynthEyes is the only available matchmoving application for some of them.
All of those exporters are included in the base price, and there are no limitations on image resolution --- you can do IMAX features with SynthEyes, as some of our customers have done.

Why do you only charge $400 when your competitors are in the thousands?

If you are selling cars, you have to cover the cost of the steel that goes into them. If you paid by the line of code, an application like Windows or Linux would cost millions. But there is nothing like that in software. Software pricing is more about overheads, market size and positioning. I don't have a big marketing and PR department to feed. With SynthEyes, I'm very focused on efficiently providing the tools people need to solve their problems. I work to keep tech support costs low by making stuff that actually works!

 SynthEyes is priced to be affordable to everyday artists, even in small studios worldwide. That's just my own personal taste---I want to make it possible for more people to do cool stuff. Customers may use SynthEyes to get a specific job they wouldn't otherwise be able to handle, and not use it again for several months. The SynthEyes license can be built into the pricing the artist charges on that first job. That's only possible at SynthEyes's pricing level.

Meanwhile, at mid to large-sized studios, the SynthEyes pricing model allows SynthEyes to be deployed per seat, rather than having a very small number of floating licenses. The per-seat approach provides a substantial advantage to customers: typically a large batch of shots will arrive with a deadline looming. With a few shared licenses, the shots must trickle through that bottleneck. Instead, with a larger number of less-costly SynthEyes licenses, tracking can proceed simultaneously on all those seats, allowing the artists to move very rapidly into the animation and compositing stages, reducing the total time to handle the batch of shots, and making a celebration before the deadline more likely.

The way you draw 3d objects (the 2 click technique) is a lot like lightwave. Do you have a history with that 3D app?

I've more experience with 3ds max, which does the same thing, as do other 2-D and 3-D packages really.

Is there a pure C4D exporter in the works soon?

I've thought about that, but exporting using Lightwave scene files has worked out well. No one has ever said, "you need a custom C4D exporter because we can't do X with the LW approach". So having a C4D one is more about the principle of the thing rather than a need to solve any particular user need, consequently it has ranked low in my planning.

Your interface has been called "quirky" what was the philosophy behind the layout?

Max is quirky to Maya users and vice versa too, a lot of this is just what people are used to. In the course of developing exporters for many different packages, I've found plenty of places where I ask "What were they thinking?"

The SynthEyes interface is basically just the tabbed layout of 3ds max which is really just a standard Windows-type way to organize controls. The basic issue is that there are a lot of controls that have to go somewhere, and you only need to really use a few of them at a time. Some other apps have the idea of "rooms" or environments for doing various things; it's the same idea. In SynthEyes, you can start with the tabs on the left and work your way through them to the right after solving. Depending on the shot you are handling, you may need to use different techniques, and SynthEyes provides the flexibility for many different approaches, rather than forcing you into a single approach.

Are you planning more learning resources?

I add new material all the time as I see what people have questions about. Lately I've been adding more and more video-type tutorials and have been getting very positive feedback on them; there's no question that many VFX artists are very visual and would rather see something than read about it. Fortunately my website ISP has increased the available bandwidth so I can go into topics at greater length and detail in the video format.


editors note: We loved this sequence of Rob - so we had to put it in twice

Syntheyes is not just a tool for high end shops - although it's definitely a high end tool.  Independent shops can afford to put two or three licenses in easily, get up to speed quickly, and start to take advantage of true 3D tracking.  It really does everything you need to lock in your data, get it out to external software, and nail your camera in your composite.

The new 3D tracker is going to let you subtract yet another step from your "per scene" processes and that's gonna save you time, and saved time means you can go out and get a slurpee.... a coke slurpee.

If you're gonna be doing any kind of 3D tracking - or 3D stabilization too now - you're gonna want to get Syntheyes.  It's robust enough to handle the biggest projects* without a bloated price tag, and easy enough to learn.  You can also check out tutorials on Russ' site if you can't make it to my class in California.

Check it out at or if you can't remember that, will redirect you there.  You can contact me through my website here:

*Check out the list of feature films that have completed their effects shots using Syntheyes by checking out the site.  This isn't some low-budget production software.

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Related Keywords:event, nab 2007, syntheyes, 3D tracking, 2D3, 3D compositing


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