Visual effects (VFX)

Matchmove artist

Also known as: 3D tracker, Body tracker, Camera tracker, Matchmover, Tracking artist

Entry level

Matchmove artist

What does a matchmove artist do?

Matchmove artists match computer-generated (CG) scenes with shots from live-action footage so the two can be convincingly combined.

They recreate live-action backgrounds (plates) on a computer in a way that mirrors the camera on the set in every way, including lens distortion. They do this by tracking the camera movements to make sure the real and virtual scenes appear from the same perspective.

Sometimes matchmove artists go to the film set to take measurements and put up tracking markers. Then they use these markers to track the camera movement and work out the relevant coordinates in the 3D scene. They do this using 3D tracking programs like Maya or 3DEqualizer.

Matchmove artists also do body and object tracking, using markers to recreate the movements of people, vehicles or other objects in CG. The motion files created (camera, object or body track) are then passed on to other departments via the VFX pipeline, so that, eventually, they can be seamlessly combined by the compositor.

Matchmove artists are highly accurate and meticulous in their work. It needs to be pixel perfect, so they need an eye for detail. If the CG and live-action movements are not lining up perfectly, they have to find a way to fix this.

Watch

What's a matchmove artist good at?

  • Maths and physics: understand camera motion in virtual 3D space and how to accurately model it to reconstruct a scene
  • Understanding of virtual 3D camera principles: know about filming techniques and lenses, including the principles of distortion, parallax and overscan
  • Software knowledge: be skilled at using a variety of relevant tracking and 3D packages and compositing software
  • Eye for detail: be methodical and highly accurate in your work, paying closing attention to detail and have strong problem-solving skills
  • Communication: communicate well with the VFX departments about schedules and the on-set team filming the shoot

Who does a matchmove artist work with?

Matchmove artists work with the data capture technicians and the live-action production crew to set up markers on set. Matchmove artists’ work is passed on to layout artists, who consider the framing, composition and camera angle of each VFX shot.

How do I become a matchmove artist?

Matchmove artist is an entry level role. It can be a good route into working in another VFX artist role and then becoming a technical director (TD). Matchmove artists often have a degree in computer graphics or a related subject. You also need patience and communication skills as well as software knowledge. You might also get into this role through working as a runner, but you will need to be able to demonstrate some skill using tracking software.

At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in photography, graphic design, graphic communication, computer science, maths or physics. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualification:

  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Computing

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • Aim Awards Diploma/Extended Diploma in Games Animation and VFX
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
  • BTEC National Diploma in 3D Design & Crafts
  • BTEC National Diploma in Graphics
  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography
  • BTEC National Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design)
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • AQA Technical Level IT: Programming
  • OCR Technical Diploma in IT (Digital Software Practitioner)

Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. You might want to enter the VFX industry through an apprenticeship as an assistant technical director or a junior 2D artist. Have a look at NextGen Skills Academy VFX apprenticeships  for school leavers. These involve a lot of learning on the job working in a VFX company.

Check out What’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly. Go to ScreenSkills information on VFX apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in VFX.

If you can’t find an apprenticeship with a VFX company, it might be worth getting an apprenticeship in a related industry, such as games or animation, which could give you some experience to help you find your way into VFX at a later point.

Get a degree:
VFX companies or studios generally prefer it if you have a degree in graphic design, or another VFX-specific course for this role. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in VFX. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the VFX industry.

Watch a lot of films:
As well as technical skill, it’s really important to develop an appreciation for animation and lighting. Make sure you’re familiar with existing VFX work.

Network:
Get to know people in VFX. Check out the events in ScreenSkills training and opportunities directory. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the sector. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to network well to learn how to do this.

Search for jobs:
Look at ScreenSkills list of job boards. Research VFX companies you’d like to work for. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for junior roles the art or pre-production departments. Even if they aren’t, send in your CV and showreel and ask them to bear you in mind for future roles or work experience. Keep looking on job websites too. ScreenSkills offers some advice from professionals on how to approach animation and VFX employers.

You might also be interested in...

Being a roto artist. This is another entry level role which involves tracing areas of each frame within a live-action shot to enable them to be combined with CG elements and generally preparing material to be composited. Or you might be interested in being a data capture technician.

Further resources