boujou 5 Review: Matchmoving Enters its Maturity

David Sudd takes us through Vicon's latest version of boujou to see how it tracks.

boujou 5 features a new Automatic Sequential Solver, allowing you to track a single frame at a time. All images courtesy of Vicon.

Developed for film and television post and VFX facilities, boujou has long been the industry standard for matchmoving, allowing users to add computer-generated effects seamlessly into film or video footage. When boujou was first introduced in 2001, it provided a completely different approach to motion tracking. Before boujou, matchmoving was an expensive and highly skilled process, adding significantly to post-production costs. Everything had to be done by hand in key-frame animation, or with laborious point-based camera tracking. boujou, with its ability to track hundreds, if not thousands, of points automatically, changed all that.

Despite its groundbreaking status, boujou was still very much a hit-or-miss proposition when it first came out. It either worked, or it didn't. An artist would bring in the background plate to be tracked, enter the lens data and hit feature track, and boujou would try to come up with a solution. When it worked, it worked well, and when it didn't, it was often easier to move to a manual solution. As the versions have progressed, boujou has added more and more functionality, giving users the means for increased refinements. It started out as very easy to learn, with just a couple of buttons to push. Now it still has that basic functionality, but it's been expanded with a lot more depth. Advanced users can do a lot more with it and take shots further than ever before without moving to a separate package.

Vicon recently released boujou 5, with a host of new features and improved functionality that will help the software continue to earn its reputation as the industry's leading matchmoving solution. Overall, I'm happy to see the changes in boujou 5. I've used pretty much every major matchmoving program that's come out over the last 13 years, and one of the great things about boujou is that it tries to exploit processing power and nicely crafted algorithms, and utilizes a large data set to come up with the perfect camera solve. With each version of boujou I'm finding fewer reasons to have to go to external tools, and boujou 5 is no exception.

There's always room for improvement with any software tool, and there are a few things I imagine will be incorporated into boujou in the future, but boujou 5 does just about everything I could wish for right now. This latest release represents the fulfillment of some of the most frequently requested features from boujou users, including an Automatic Sequential Solver, Reference Frames, a new Target Tracker and a fully functional Graph Editor, and they've been addressed quite well.

boujou 5 now handles everything a manual tracking program will do, and still burns through automated tasks.

The Automatic Sequential Solver now available in boujou is a huge time-saver. Previous versions of boujou took the entire shot into account before delivering a solve. boujou 5 has the ability to look at a single frame at a time, enabling the user to intervene as needed and making the entire process significantly faster. This is perfect for users who want to sift through a problem area one frame at a time without having to create a solve for the entire shot.

Another useful feature in boujou 5 is Reference Frames, which enables users to import still images taken with any camera and use them to assist in a solve. Reference photos taken on set, on location, or even capturing different sequences during a shot can be used to give more spatial information to a shot than what already exists in camera. In the past, one of the problems with matchmoving was that you couldn't find an accurate camera solution without a certain depth of information. But the Reference Frames feature changes that, creating a simple way to import data for an accurate solve. Other packages have had similar functionality, so this represents a huge move forward for boujou.

The beauty of Reference Frames is that it's not complicated to use. Basically, you shoot a bunch of still pictures from different angles during a shoot, and if you run into a situation where you don't have enough camera data, you can add the information from the still images and come up with a solve. It's a very simple workflow that adds an enormous amount of additional functionality. Even a novice learning from tutorials will be able to use the Reference Frames feature, which means that beginning users of boujou 5 will be able to get a lot more out of it than with previous versions.

boujou has always had a solid Target Tracker for tracking individual features or points on a green screen that was accurate and easy to use, but it was also slow and a little cumbersome. In boujou 5, the Target Tracker has been completely rewritten so it provides a much faster workflow, and instead of tracking one point at a time, users can now specify a pattern on a single frame as well as tracking multiple patterns simultaneously. Users can also nudge points around and refine them—another big plus.

There is also a fully functional Graph Editor, which allows you to manually adjust the camera data and, if necessary, resolve.

Another one of the new features in boujou 5, the Graph Editor, allows users to manually tweak camera data and, if necessary, re-solve it. boujou 5 also provides the ability to lock valid sections of solve data, or sections known to be correct, which can then be used to improve other areas.

A lot of what has been added into boujou 5, such as the Graph Editor and improved Target Tracker, are features that some of the more target track-driven software already had. But because boujou approaches matchmoving from a different angle than other solutions, its main focus has been on automated functionality, at which it really excels. With version 5, boujou has added more manual functionality and the controls to refine them, making it a more complete package.

It used to be that boujou handled automatic tasks really well, letting you blast through something quickly with results that even manually you'd have a hard time achieving, but that you would have to use a different package for manual controls. boujou 5 now handles everything a manual tracking program will do, and still burns through automated tasks.

The interface has also been refined in boujou 5. The way users look at the zooming window and target tracks has been revamped, and there is a lot more hot-key support, which creates a much faster workflow.

Each iteration of boujou has represented a major leap forward, and boujou 5 is no exception. The first version was a one-button solution that either worked or didn't. Version two gave boujou increased functionality, opening it up to use on a wider range of shots. By version three, boujou was able to set things up from within a shot, and version four brought in survey data and object tracking. boujou 5 has been greatly expanded from version four, and from what I can see it will only help to speed up workflows. There were times using version four when I would hit a brick wall and have to move to other solutions, but with boujou 5 I just push right through.

David Sudd is matchmoving supervisor at CafeFX. He previously was a matchmove supervisor and artist at MPC, where he worked on Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Sunshine, X-Men: The Last Stand and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, among others.