A Perfect Matchmove: How axisVFX Employ PFTrack for High-End VFX


Matchmoving software that is both flexible and reliable is essential for VFX companies to get the job done on time, inside budget and with incredible results. That’s why axisVFX use PFTrack.

In 2013, when the award-winning axis animation studio teamed up with key VFX industry veterans Howard Jones, Grant Hewlett and Richard Scott, axisVFX was born. Since its birth, the visual effects studio has gone on to produce outstanding visual effects and CG for the small and big screen, including Doctor Who, Shaun the Sheep Movie, Red Dwarf XI, Our Girl, and many more.

Howard Jones and Grant Hewlett are axisVFX’s 2D and 3D visual effects supervisors. We spoke with Howard, who tells us how important PFTrack’s role has been for himself, Grant and the rest of the axisVFX team since the very start of the company.

“Having a reliable and flexible tracker is essential these days,” Howard explains. “After looking at a number of 3D tracking solutions, we found that PFTrack offered the most tools and had a great workflow.”

Howard gives us insight into axisVFX’s catalogue of high-end work and tells us how PFTrack’s reliable tracking technology and extensive range of tools has helped the studio to produce incredible results from project to project.

Out of this World Tracking

For the hugely popular Doctor Who TV series, PFTrack played a vital role in axisVFX’s visual effects pipeline and for the the show’s VFX supervisor, Grant Hewlett. The studio were tasked with creating a brand new alien race called the “Boneless” in series 8’s “Flatline”, as well as the villainous cyborg, King Hydroflax in Doctor Who’s 2015 Christmas special, “Husbands of River Song”.

The Christmas special in particular, offered axisVFX one of their biggest challenges to date. Howard explains, “this was a fast turn around project and needed a decent 3D tracker in the pipeline.”

Using PFTrack’s renowned geometry tracking tools, axisVFX could transform actor Greg Davies into the cyborg, King Hydroflax. Howard explains, “we had a scene where Greg Davies, who plays a robot with a human head, takes his head off and places it on the table.”

Adopting photogrammetry techniques, axisVFX were able to create an accurate 3D model of Greg Davies’ head. “Then using PFTrack’s object tracking,” Howard says, “we created a 3D scene that allowed us to then animate the robot’s arm onto his head as it is taken off.”

With help from PFTrack’s geometry tracking, axisVFX were able to accommodate to the quick turnaround of the Doctor Who Christmas special, and deliver the show’s futuristic vision on time.

Since their success with Doctor Who, axisVFX have adopted PFTrack’s geometry tracking toolset into many more of their projects and were able to give us an exclusive insight into one of their latest top-secret productions, for which geometry tracking is being used to replace fur on the main animal characters.

Like many VFX supervisors, Howard knows all too well that hair and fur are notoriously complex to create in visual effects, often requiring laborious attention to CG to generate the desired results, which can be a time-consuming and expensive process. But by using PFTrack’s geometry tracking with rough geometry of the animal in question, the time in creating the fur was dramatically reduced, and therefore brought the project within budget.

Howard explains, “once we had a good solve in PFTrack, we could then take this into compositing. Projecting onto the geometry through the solved camera, we were able to UV unwrap the areas of concern, apply any final 2D stabilisation, then clone over the surrounding fur, giving us the right lighting and hair type, all at the same time.”   

“This saved us creating CG hair for matted, wet and dry looks,” Howard adds, “and brought the sequences within the project’s budget.”

Versatile Tools Aid an Action Packed Mission

This year the studio also took on the BBC drama, Our Girl. The show, full of action-packed visuals, follows an army medic on a humanitarian aid mission in Kenya. The task offered a different challenge for VFX supervisor Grant and the axisVFX team, one where PFTrack’s flexibility and versatile toolset were crucial.

“In Our Girl there is a daring rescue sequence where the heroine is winched to safety by a helicopter,” states Howard, for which, axisVFX provided CG helicopters for the wide angle shots and in place of a static platform.

Using PFTrack’s Make Object node, axisVFX could track both the movement of the camera with a static platform (as it would have been filmed), and also reverse the track so they had a static camera and moving platform. By doing so, Howard explains, “the moving helicopter reacted more realistically to the lighting setup.” With help from PFTrack’s versatile toolset, axisVFX were able to deliver a lifelike helicopter, ready for Our Girl’s action-packed mission.

Always Keeping on Track

Since adopting PFTrack from the very start of the company, PFTrack has played an integral role in axisVFX’s visual effects pipeline.

“Although a number of packages come with their own tracking solution, these often fall short outside of the package itself,” Howard affirms. “With PFTrack’s range of tools including planar constraints, survey data, object tracking we are able to achieve good, reliable solves that just work.”

On top of this, Howard adds, “PFTrack works well with a whole range of software through its comprehensive range of export templates, which means we can easily share the same solve through 3D and 2D.”

axisVFX prove, no matter what project a VFX studio is tasked with, PFTrack’s reliable and flexible tracking technology can help studio’s deliver a wide spectrum of visual effects with results of the highest quality.

axisVFX website: www.axis-vfx.com

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