Reviews

Navigating 360° with Mocha VR: A review

Alistair Rankine is a Post Production Manager, Colourist and VFX artist working in both the UAE and the UK.

Mocha VR is the latest iteration of the Mocha family of products. Does it tick all the right boxes? Post-production expert Alistair Rankine finds out.

It’s been a few years now since my last review of Mocha Pro, and a lot has happened to the software in that time. Mocha was originally developed and owned by Imagineer Systems, which sold it as three products: Mocha, Monet and Mokey.

Eventually, all three products were combined as one and Mocha Pro was born. In 2014, Boris FX, one of the industry’s leading developers and distributors of visual effects plugins, acquired Mocha and helped to develop and shape it to become the industry standard go-to planar tracker.

For those who have never used Mocha, it is a planar tracker and object removal tool, vital when carrying out rotoscoping and object removal within a scene. Mocha can handle the most complicated of tracking scenarios with its planar tracker and advanced rotoscoping tools. From my experience, there isn’t anything Mocha can’t handle. It copes perfectly with motion blur, lens distortion and even with tracking objects that go off screen. Unlike most point trackers, Mocha tracks images using pixel patterns.

Now Boris FX has taken the power of Mocha one step further. Earlier this year, it released Mocha VR, a smart move now that virtual reality is becoming more widespread.

So what is Mocha VR? Mocha VR is basically Mocha on steroids. It contains the toolset of Mocha Pro, but now also contains an advanced toolset aimed at users working in a mono or stereo 360° VR environment.

Rotoscoping

If, like me, you are not a fan of rotoscoping, then Mocha is the tool for you. In my opinion, Mocha has the most accurate and user-friendly roto tools available by way of its bezier and X spline tools. I can easily combine any roto work with the planar tracker for quick and efficient output. Mocha also handles motion blur extremely well, something that usually trips me up when tracking and rotoscoping in other software. With Mocha VR, I can now carry out the most advanced roto work in a 360° VR environment.

When I found out Mocha had entered the world of VR, one thing I was curious about was the ability to rotoscope within a stereo working environment. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mocha VR allows the user to work on a single master view. I can basically carry out all of my tracking object removal and roto work on a single eye view, and the corrections will automatically be applied to the other eye. This is not only a huge time saver when working on difficult and complex shots, but also means I don’t have to do all the work twice, on both left and right, ruling out any chance of slight differences or human error.

“Mocha VR allows the user to work on a single master view. I can basically carry out all of my tracking object removal and roto work on a single eye view and the corrections will automatically be applied to the other eye” Alistair Rankine, Post Production Manager, Colourist and VFX artist

As with all new tools and features, there has been a learning curve, especially as I’m also new to working in VR. However, I have always found the Mocha toolset easy to use. It has been vastly streamlined over the years so that each button on the interface does exactly what you need it to, without any extra or hidden stages.

Object removal

Like Mocha Pro, Mocha VR is excellent at handling any necessary object removal, such as painting out cameras, rigs, wires or even just objects within a scene that the director wants to wave goodbye to. From my experience over the years, this always depends on the complexity of the object in question, where it sits within the frame, what kind of background the object is covering and many more factors specific to each shot I’m working on.

If I’m working on a less complex shot, I find that Mocha can easily paint out and remove an object, with very little input from me. As the shots and object removal become more and more complex, I have to put more and more work to it. Although Mocha won’t magically remove objects in more complex environments, it certainly puts end users in the correct ball park, allowing them to complete the shot faster without having to spend as much time finessing the end result.

Now that VR is becoming mainstream, VFX artists will have no option but to use Mocha VR or similar products to remove rigs and objects, as most time cameras, rigs and lights become visible in a 360° shoot. Mocha does this by initially tracking the image and then using the removal module, which takes clean frames from other points in time to rebuild the object pixel by pixel. This works by way of advanced illumination settings to match colour changes in hue, saturation and value.

“Now that VR is becoming embedded in the mainstream, VFX artists will have no option but to use Mocha VR or similar products to remove rigs and objects” Alistair Rankine, Post Production Manager, Colourist and VFX artist

Working with VR footage, Mocha automatically turns the footage into an equirectangular image. This is basically a flat view of a VR 3D projection, allowing the user to see the entire 360° view easily within the software. It is also integral for the end user to be able to move around the scene easily and for the Mocha software to analyse the image easily in order to carry out complex removal and tracking tasks.

As stated earlier, the complexity of the shot and what needs to be removed plays a huge factor in how automatic the process is. From a user perspective, I have always found that Mocha can handle the bulk of the work and I need to refine it afterwards.

Stabilisation

The introduction of working with 360° footage has also introduced many other issues, such as shaky footage. Shaky footage is something we have always had to deal with, but in the 360° environment, it is even more exaggerated, especially when viewed via a VR headset. To overcome this, the footage needs to be stabilised to allow the viewer to feel totally immersed. This is done simply by tracking the horizon and then reorienting the footage. Depending on the complexity of the shot, one or more trackers can be added during the process.

I have always found stabilisation within Mocha second to none, and the same can be said of the VR version. The process itself is easy to understand and perform. As with everything VFX, the process will never be automatic and will always need tweaking. Luckily, the toolset within Mocha has always been intuitive and allows manual adjustments to be made easily without over-complication. Other new features There are many other features available in Mocha VR, such as Lens Workflow for 360° Compositing. This allows you to add titles, logos and non-360°-enabled objects to your scene and see how they look within an equirectangular frame. 360° masking tools are also available within Mocha VR, allowing the user to create masks around people or objects within a scene. These masks can then be exported as mattes to be used in other software, to allow for selective colour grading or be used as inclusion or exclusion mattes within VFX compositing.

Conclusion

Mocha Pro has always been my goto planar tracker and rotoscoping tool. Having used it on a number of projects over many years, it has never let me down. I have always been impressed by its ease of use and how logical the workflow is. Perhaps I like it because it is what I’m used to working with. Although I’m a Flame, Nuke and Fusion user, I find the most complicated tracking tasks are easier and better executed within Mocha.

Mocha Pro and Mocha VR are available either as standalone products or as a plug-in for After Effects, OFX and Avid. I always use the standalone versions, as I prefer the ability to output the scene or information to whatever format I want and to not be contained within the individual software. That’s purely a workflow preference I have, as I work on various systems. If you work in Avid, OFX or After Effects, you can use the plug-in directly inside your software without ever needing to change platform. Mocha VR supports stereo workflows for various 3D 360° cameras such as Z Cam, Vuze and Samsung Round. I imagine support for other cameras will be added as they come on the market.

 

Verdict

The Good: Extremely clever, intuitive and fast, there are very few products on the market that can match Mocha VR. The only other competitor is Cara VR by Foundry, an amazing product which does everything required; however, it costs around $4,600 just for the plugin, and on top of that you must spend a similar amount to obtain the software to run it on. Mocha Pro standalone comes in at $1,695, contains all the toolsets you need and allows you to share information with many other software solutions, such as Nuke and After Effects.

The Bad: Not everything is smooth sailing, as nothing is done automatically. There will always be parameters that need adjusting. But this is to be expected when working on complex tracking, rotoscoping and object removal, especially when it is all done within a 360° environment. I found I did have a small learning curve to overcome with the new VR toolset, but my main learning curve was not with the software but more my understanding of working in a VR environment.

Wishlist: When Boris FX acquired Mocha, I was worried that it might discontinue it or let it fall by the wayside, as often happens in these scenarios. Fortunately, Boris has taken Imagineer’s ethos of building affordable high-end, user-friendly software to the next level and has embraced its work ethic. I hope Boris continues to bring us even more advanced versions of Mocha VR in the future.