On the Right Track: Taking FCP’s Object Tracker Off Road
I love Apple’s Final Cut Pro for editing—in fact I wrote a piece on how to edit faster in FCP a while back—but I’ve always sent my edits over to DaVinci Resolve for color grading. The tracking, masking, and color selection tools in Resolve have always impressed me.
But Final Cut Pro recently introduced some advanced tracking, masking, and color grading tools, so I wanted to see how well they worked when combined with a difficult color adjustment. And I had just the thing.
Recently, I went on an offroading adventure with some buddies and a fellow post-production pro brought along his Jeep. So, of course, I shot some video of him zooming around a corner with my iPhone 14 Pro Max. Handheld.
It’s no Ford Bronco commercial, but it’ll serve as a pretty good “torture test” of FCP’s color grading tools. Compressed iPhone footage, high-motion, and with objects passing in front of the subject. (Hopefully, most of your shots will be a bit more forgiving.) But after a couple of attempts, I felt like I’d got the hang of the new features in FCP and I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Follow along and see what you think.
Find a frame to begin your tracking
Our objective for this challenge is to change the color of this Jeep from red to green. A quick skim of the footage reveals that most of this is obscured or even totally outside of the frame. So I’ve identified a frame where it is clearly in view and unobstructed.
Additionally, there isn’t much motion blur on this particular frame, so it’ll make a good starting point. I put a marker on it (M is the shortcut) so that I’ll know where to find this reference frame later.
Attach the tracker
With the clip selected, we can head down to the last section in the Inspector where you’ll find “Object Track”. Clicking on the icon adds a tracking grid to the viewer, which we can then drag over the object we want to track (the Jeep), resizing it with the handles.
You’ll see an Analysis Method drop down menu with the options Automatic, Combined, Machine Learning and Point Cloud. In this instance, I chose Machine Learning before clicking on Analyze (in the top left of the viewer). There are buttons to analyze just going forward or backward, but the default is both.
Point Cloud works well if the object doesn’t get obscured, but in this case it does. I tried both the Combined and Automatic options, too, but the grid got confused. Machine Learning, however, was surprisingly accurate. So I’d recommend trying each option and seeing what works best for you.
Early in this clip there are a couple instances where the Jeep is partially or entirely offscreen, so I marked those frames and added a keyframe for the position of the tracker. To do this, you just click the keyframe button (shown in yellow) and move the tracker in the viewer to the right spot. If you have ever used Apple Motion, this will all feel very familiar.
Caption: Choosing the Machine Learning option in the Object Track panel.
When the Jeep was off-screen I just dragged the tracking grid off-screen as well (see below). The two icons to the left of the keyframe icon allow you to quickly navigate to next/previous keyframes. This is helpful as a sanity check in case you are seeing odd behavior with your tracking.
Adjust the Color with a Mask
Now that we have a good tracker, we need to identify the portion of the vehicle that we want affected by our color treatment. We’ll use the color curves to accomplish this.
In the effect panel select the Color section and scroll down until you find the Hue/Saturation Curves option. Double-clicking this will apply it to the currently selected clip, and you can click the color spectrum icon (shown in the image below) to see the curves. In the same image, you’ll also note that I’ve previously applied the HDR Tools effect and set the Mode to “HLG to Rec. 709 SDR.” This maps the HDR iPhone footage over to a “normal” working color space.
In the top line of the Hue/Saturation Curves Inspector you’ll see an icon for a mask (shown below). When you click on this , it reveals options for shape and color masks. For this example, we want to limit the color correction to the Jeep we are tracking, so I’ve selected Add Shape Mask to change the shape of the tracker to a circle.
You can adjust the shape of the mask in the viewer and that will limit the area of the color correction. But we need to link the mask we created to the tracker, or it won’t move with it.
In this shot I’ve zoomed in and adjusted the shape of the shape mask. The next step is to select Tracker from the top of the viewer. This allows you to attach the mask to your tracker—ours is labeled with the default name “Object Track.” Now our mask will follow the Jeep, which is reflected in the default option Pin to Tracker. You can also play with the shape and softness of the mask in the viewer if you feel it needs refining.
Selecting the colors
Our next step is to define the color(s) that we want to change inside of the mask. We want to shift the red to green, but there’s a wide range of red tones on the Jeep, which makes things more challenging. Using the eyedropper tool on the subject will let you select your starting point. Then you can drag the tool to reveal a circle that lets you expand the tonal range to be adjusted.
When you click on a color, a dot appears in the Hue vs Hue curve. You can see that dot in red, in the red section of the color curve—which is actually a straight line at the moment, as you can see in the image below. Hue vs Hue indicates that we’ll be selecting a particular hue (color), and then adjusting it by adding to or removing from that hue.
Since we want to make our red Jeep green, I’ll be removing the red by dragging the red dot downward.
Great! Now we have a green Jeep, but the leaves have become far too vibrant. It’s okay, though. So let’s narrow our color selection and reduce the effect our color alternation will have on the surrounding foliage.
By refining the portion of the Hue vs Hue color range, we’ve reduced the effect on the surrounding areas. But we’re still seeing weird blue in the foliage (image below). Time to refine our selection even further.
At the top of the Inspector, we can select the Mask icon and then Add Color Mask.
This adds a new mask in the Mask section of the Inspector. This can be combined with our Shape Mask to create a selection that tracks with the Jeep (Object Tracker), limits the portion of the screen affected (Shape Mask), and then further limits the correction to a specific range of Hue, Saturation and Lightness (the HSL check boxes).
Basically it is a systematic approach to narrowing the portion of the shot affected by our color grade.
When you use the Color Mask’s eye dropper, Final Cut will automatically change the view to show you exactly what is being selected. Drag the eyedropper to expand or narrow your range of selection. Additionally, you can drag the marker triangles in the Inspector to adjust the range of hue, saturation or lightness, and the softness of each.
With some fine tuning, we’ve got ourselves a decent key. The Jeep looks good, and the foliage isn’t being affected. Now the reality is that you can fine tune this grade until the cows come home. But I think this represents tremendous progress on the tracking/masking/grading front for FCP.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve had good/bad experiences with this feature, or if there are other Final Cut Pro tools you’d like us to take a closer look at. And if you’re still keen to learn more, check out this article on FCP’s audio tools, or maybe my post on speeding up your work with Final Cut Pro metadata. It’s more interesting than it sounds!