Issue: December 2010 (from Post Magazine)

Review: Pixel Farm's PFMatchit


PRODUCT: Pixel Farm’s PFMatchit

WEBSITE: www.thepixelfarm.co.uk

PRICING: Node-locked license, US $700; PFMatchit annual support and maintenance, US $140 - 64 bit node-based architecture - scriptable, allowing for workflow customization - feature rich and low cost - GPU-accelerated optical flow tracker

Tracking/matchmoving applications have come a long way in the past decade, from internal proprietary tools at major visual effects shops to cost-effective solutions that even the one-man shop can run on his desktop or laptop. SIGGRAPH this year brought us a sneak peak at a new matchmoving solution called PFMatchit from The Pixel Farm, who offer visual effects, DI and restoration solutions in the form of PFTrack and PFClean, to name a few.

I personally have been using PFTrack for the past few years and was eager to take a look at the new, lower-priced but feature-packed PFMatchit.

A NEW NODAL APPROACH
When you launch PFMatchit one of the first things you will notice is the node-based flowgraph architecture, a new way of approaching matchmoving from other packages and even the current version of PFTrack. If you are used to using a nodal-based compositor like The Foundry’s Nuke or Autodesk’s Flame you should be right at home and up and running in no time with this new approach to tracking. I have favored working in the nodal UI ever since learning Shake years ago. A nodal tree view is much easier to get the full picture of what is going on in your comps or projects. You can see the logical order and connections to the different nodes and what is affecting your images.

SPEED, SPEED, SPEED
Both 64-bit and GPU acceleration are being offered by makers of software and hardware recently, which is why it is no surprise that The Pixel Farm has made PFMatchit 64-bit native on Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. For the initial tests of PFMatchit, I was running on a Mac Pro dual 2.8 8 core with an Nvidia GTX 285 and 16GB of RAM running OS X 10.6 in 64-bit (previous Mac’s did not boot into 64-bit natively while running OS X 10.6). Setting up some footage to track was extremely easy with a few tracking markers in the scene. While allowing the software to analyze and solve, I kept a close eye on my system resources with some processing monitors and PFMatchit was saturating as much of the cores and GPU as I could throw at it. Anyone who does tracking will tell you, depending on the scene loaded, the solve can take quite a while. PFMatchit was cranking through my tracking duties with quick turn around and solid camera solves.

THE TOOLSET
Besides the new node-based architecture in PFMatchit, you can see some of The Pixels Farm’s deep understanding of its user base and cutting edge technologies being implemented into this new tracking tool in the form of a solid and flexible camera solver. If you have ever used PFTrack you will know exactly how solid the solves are with Pixel Farm’s underlying algorithms.

Matchmovers everywhere need to have manual control over certain aspects of the package they are using. In this case the new Edit Camera Node has been my absolute favorite feature of PFMatchit. It allows manual control over camera settings letting you tweak your animation path of the camera while being able to use the intuitive hints as to how the camera moves. This can be really helpful when tracking shots with troublesome issues or even in the case of having no tracking markers in the scene at all.

The 2D tracker has totally been re-written using the new GPU-accelerated optical flow tracker. I tend to let PFMatchit auto track first, then go back in, depending on the solve, and manually edit parameters or then keyframe/hand track.

Some of the other notable tools are the built-in rolling shutter correction, which plagues all CMOS-based cameras we see in post and visual effects with the labeled “jello cam footage.” For me, being a long time Red camera user, getting access to Red RAW without having to transcode is a very big feature. This allows for the utmost highest quality being fed to the tracker.

Stereoscopic review tools and lens distortion tools play hand in hand in PFMatchit. When you have monocular discrepancies (issues differing between eyes like distortion, dust or scratches on the lens) it is great to not have to jump to another package to deal with these issues. This ties into PFMatchit’s Matte and Roto tools for removal of said lens issues in 2D and 3D stereoscopic.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Pixel Farm has taken some big strides with approaching tracking/matchmoving in a new and exciting way. The performance increase and stability that PFMatchit delivers makes it stand alone not only in its feature set but also in the price point — $700. I can see this being a must have for all studios, boutiques and freelancers doing any type of visual effects and 3D animation work needing tracking/ matchmoving with quick turnarounds and solid results.
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