Continuing my love of tracking, I had watched a tutorial video that covered a lot of effects, including one where an actor, portraying an “android”, had an embedded battery meter at the base of his neck. I thought it would be a lot cooler to have an embedded display in one’s forearm. You may be aware of the Justin Timberlake movie In Time, which features such an effect. My take on it here isn’t as production-worthy as it could be (there’s some obvious tracking “float” of the display going on) but it took all of about 15 minutes to make, most of which was devoted to figuring out how to get After Effects to render an actual time value.

Relevant Websites

I mentioned that I was watching a tutorial video, but since I am writing this about a week after I made the effect, I can’t for the life of me remember which video that was. I’ve watched a lot of tutorial videos over the past month, believe me.

Relevant Resources

None, aside from my very own arm. Again, I used my Pixel 3 to record the footage, 1080p at 29.97fps.

Technical Details

I had it in my head to skip the Mocha CC and work just with the native point tracking in this case, so I started by drawing on my arm. You can see two tracking points in the video which I later tried to buff out but figured “nah”…that wasn’t the point of this video.

I used these two tracking points as well as two other natural freckles on my arm for a four-point track which worked pretty well. I then added a new Solid layer to which I added the Numbers effect. This is an interesting little effect which has almost no practical use that I can think of. You can have it print out the timecode of the clip if you want, or some random numbers, but it also has a setting for displaying the current time and date in various formats. Unfortunately, the time display didn’t include seconds, or a blinking “:” which would have been a nice animated inclusion. I added another Numbers effect and had to spit out the “short date” value. These were parented to the Null that contains the tracking data, so they would (supposedly) move with my arm. I also set the layer’s Opacity to quickly fade in after I rotated my arm. I figured that a real embed wouldn’t be displaying 24/7, but only when it detects that you’re looking at it.

I set the text layers to 3D because I had to finesse them a bit so they looked like they were laying naturally along the curved surface of my arm. The time should tilt back a bit, as it’s on the “top” part of the forearm, while the date should tilt forward a bit, as it’s on the “bottom” part of the forearm. I am not sure how to/if it’s possible to actually wrap these values around what is essentially a cylinder, so this was my attempt to make the text conform as best as possible.

The text layers were faded a bit with a slight Glow effect applied so that we had the impression that the display was under the skin. I duplicated the arm video and put it on top of the display layer, setting the Blend mode to…eh…Multiply, I think? I don’t have the comp in front of me right now, but the Blend mode made the arm actually look better than it originally did — the actual video made my arm look rather pale, but the addition of the blended layer darkened things up a bit, and helped the display look even more “under the skin”.

As stated, if you look closely you’ll notice that the display doesn’t quite keep up with the slight camera shake, especially near the end of the video. I have purposefully been keeping camera jitter in these videos because it’s more difficult to track that way; if I can get a good result with a bit of jumpiness, then doing the same thing on more stable footage would be a relative breeze.


After posting this I went back to YouTube because I wanted to watch a video I had bookmarked the night before on a totally different subject, but when I was trying to locate that video I stumbled upon a video by AE master Ignace Aleya in which he creates the same embedded display.

So now I have watched this video, and overall I think I prefer my result mainly because I like the more subtle look of the white display over the jumps-out-at-you green that Ignace uses. However, I like his approach on several points, such as the use of keyframed sliders to set the value of the numbers. I had tried a similar approach that I had found elsewhere but abandoned it as it wasn’t working quite as well as this one did. I also think his tracking is better, so I might re-try my effect using Mocha CC.

One thing I’m not doing, which I should, is the post-processing to make these videos more “cinematic”. My goal first and foremost is to get the effect, well, effective. However I think that the extra mile of laying on the LUTs and other effects such as the film grain could go a long way towards covering up inadequacies that might present themselves.


Owner and author.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *