I'm doing it wrong: camera orbiting

Har Posts: 401 Enthusiast
edited January 2015 in Post-production techniques
OK, I'm guessing this is just me simply not getting it; :))  I've searched through the tutorial videos and reference documentation and I've not found the answer yet...so hoping someone can help.

What I'd like to do is something that's been fairly straightforward to accomplish in other software I've used that uses keyframeable camera motion: have the camera orbit around an object or point in 3D space whilst always aiming at the same point on the object. In other words: like a dolly shot on a curved track, with the camera keeping the target object centered as it moves around it.

Other software I've used in the past with 3D keyframable camera position usually has a setting to force the camera to always aim at a specific object or point; you could then grab and drag the camera around, and it will smoothly pivot and remain aimed at the desired target object. Conversely, you could also grab the target object itself and move it, and the camera will then track its position, as if it was sitting on a tripod and tracking it.

So, let's say I import a 3D object into Hitfilm - a car, for example. I'm starting out at 00:00 on the timeline in a composite shot with the camera looking straight at the car's windshield over the front hood, and what I'd like to do is simply have the camera move about 90 degress of arc, traveling to the right side of the car while continuously aiming at that one point on the car, the windshield. While doing so, perhaps I'd like to also slightly elevate the camera by a foot or so between the start and end points.

Why, all of this sounds exactly like what the Orbit Tool does, right? And using the Orbit Tool while looking at the Active Camera view displays EXACTLY the camera motion I'm looking for, and is appearing to change the various positional values for the camera under its Transform parameters - so I figured: perfect, keyframing should also snag those value changes! Yay!


So, at 00:00 on the timeline I start off by setting keyframes for Position, Y Axis rotation (yaw) and X Axis rotation (pitch) to allow for all of the intended motions, at its starting position. I then click on the car to set it as the center point for the Orbit Tool, move the playhead forward to the 5 second point, and then use the Orbit Tool to move the camera around the car to the right, whilst still aiming right at the car's windshield where I want through the Active Camera view properly; this places the second end-point keyframe. So far so good.


But then: I rewind back to zero, start playing, and...whaaa?  :wacko: Rather than smoothly following the curved path the camera appeared to go through using the Orbit Tool...it instead starts off now aiming somewhere totally away from where I originally aimed it at 00:00, and then does this bizarre kind of back-flip slewing along what looks like the X, Y and Z axis...but then finally ending up at the correct end point after tumbling around in space.

Soooo....my guess therefore is that you shouldn't try to use the Orbit Tool to accomplish a keyframed orbit?  :))

To finally get the desired effect, I wound up having to first set the starting keyframes, then reposition the camera to the end position (but still facing straight ahead, so not at the car anymore) and THEN rotate along the Y/yaw axis to swing it back around to face the car again....only then would the START point back at 00:00 remain where I intended, and the camera would move in a fairly smooth arc during playback, always facing the car. This seems kinda counter-intuitive to me, especially since the Orbit Tool would seem perfect for this: set your starting keyframes, click on the point of the car you want the camera to remain aimed, then drag to move the camera with it continuously aimed at the desired target to set the ending keyframes.

Is there some other way I should be doing this? I tried parenting the camera to the car, but all that does is make the camera move relative to the car...if I move the car! It doesn't keep the camera AIMED at the car if I move the camera's position relative to it. I thought perhaps I could try create a new Point, parenting that to the car object, and then have the camera parented to the new Point...but I figured that would just do the same thing as if I parented it to the car object itself.

Thanks in advance for any help!  :)


  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Posts: 5,259 Staff
    Create a point at the location you want the camera to be focused on.  Point the camera toward it, and parent the camera to the point.  Now, animate the rotation of the point, and the camera will orbit it.
  • Har
    Har Posts: 401 Enthusiast
    edited June 2013
    Ah, good idea....thanks Axel, I knew it was something simple that I just wasn't thinking of!  :) 
    Now, if I were to parent the point to the object I want to orbit, and the camera is parented to the point - I could then have the object itself in motion, and the camera would still stay centered on it as the point itself rotated, yes? I figure by parenting the point to the object instead of vice-versa, the point's own rotation wouldn't spin the object  with it.
    Basically what I'm trying to achieve with all of this, is having the camera orbit around an object "in flight" with its own motion - an aircraft, missile, etc, and still keep the flying object remaining fairly centered in the camera's view without having to go crazy with a bunch of additional keyframes to try to keep everything centered.
  • Super helpful! I'm sort of migrating from AE to HitFilm. There are a few things (like camera "point at", like in this case) which I miss. When I do my comps in AE, I can just move stuff around, and then keyframe "point at" which makes the camera direction easy. But this isn't a bad solution. Thanks!

  • StormyKnight
    StormyKnight Posts: 2,722 Ambassador

    aschwabe - Check out this thread from Triem23. He has links to view some camera rigs that are very helpful. You can open the files and take a look at how the rigs work.


  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,574 Ambassador

    Look at Simon's most recent tutorial from the current blog. He builds the exact camera rig you want, and a Simon video is probably easier to follow than my rambling text. 

  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Posts: 4,448 Enthusiast

    For convenience:

  • aschwabe
    aschwabe Posts: 5

    Thanks Triem23 and Simon. Very helpful! I'm finding I can be more productive in HitFilm, if only because there are more useable plugins. Furthermore, they integrate into Vegas so well, that most of my projects just roll along. I do miss some of AE's features (like "point at"). But, it's not like the problems are insurmountable.

    Thanks again!