CS3 Production Premium [Part III] : Ultra

November 7, 2007 1:07 am

Adobe Ultra is an application specially developed to help you work with green screen (or blue screen) footage. It's meant to make it easier to key out the green screen of almost any kind of footage, thanks to its toolset and automatic keying. Even though it's included in the Adobe Production Premium CS3, Ultra outputs directly to a finished format (movie or image sequence), so it can be used together with any other compositing application, which also makes it useful in non-Adobe environments.

There are several ways to set up the keying in Ultra. The easiest one is the auto-keying. To use the auto-keying, you must have an empty green screen frame on either the begining or end of the footage. Simply go to that empty frame and use that as keying. Ultra will perform a difference operation to delete the background, leaving your actor or actors alone. For simple footage (no blowing wind or transparent objects), this should either be enough, or yield a very good first step.

If that empty frame is not available, you can also set the keying yourself by sampling different parts of the green screen. Although this method provides a good starting point, it may not be as good as the auto-keying function in some cases. However, the software includes a set of sliders that helps you to get rid of the remaining green and the spill. Spill is always one of the most problematic aspects of chroma keying. However, with only two sliders Ultra lets you get rid of it in no time.

Adobe Ultra also shines when you have to key transparet objects. Having used the color keyers in Combustion and After Effects, I remember how difficult and time consuming it was for me to get a decent keying (not mentioning having to use one filter for the actual chroma keying and another filter for spill suppression, and so on). However, in Ultra I was able not only to get a nice chroma key in less than five minutes, but to actually key some transparent soap bubbles. I can't even begin to imagine how long it would have taken me to get the same result in either Combustion or After Effects.

For another test, I had a video that a friend gave me, and she told me that it had been a nightmare to key out the green of that video because of the motion blur artifacts left by the conversion from 24fps to 30fps (she uses Final Cut Pro for her chroma keying). That was before I began using Ultra, so I was unsure whether I would be able to key it or not. It turned out I could chroma key the video in less than two minutes, which is not bad at all considering that I don't even have experience working with green screens.

The package includes some background images and virtual sets so you can deliver a finished product. The virtual sets are especially useful because they have "panels" (or screens) that can be customized according to your work (for example, if you ust it for a sports presentation, you can put a sports-related image or video on that screen). You can also color-correct your footage to make it match your background better, in case you need it. On top of that, you can even add shadows and reflections to it with only a few clicks.

Besides letting you set a background or virtual set, Ultra lets you create virtual camera moves. Nevertheless, keeping in mind that Ultra is a 2D environment working with 2D sprites, the camera moves are mostly pans and zooms. However, I don't see this as a problem since the complex camera moves are done at shooting time.

As I said before, Ultra can work with any compositing application because it can output to different formats. You can choose either AVI or Quicktime if you want to use video, or you can also use an image sequence if you prefer. Some AVI or Quicktime formats will store the alpha channel, which means they will include that transparency when you bring them into your compositing application. Keep in mind that, if you plan to use Ultra's output for compositing, you will need to save them as uncompressed formats in order to keep the maximum quality, meaning that the files can be really big sometimes.

If you are the kind of person that works with a couple of green screen shots once every two or three months, maybe you won't see Adobe Ultra as a valuable tool. On the other hand, if you work with visual effects, broadcast, or you are constantly working with green screen shots, Ultra will become a must have in your tool set because of its power, ease of use, and because it will let you work faster and better than most any other chroma keying application out there.

For more information, including pricing and system requirements, please visit Adobe's website.

Also, be sure to read the previous reviews in this series:

CS3 Production Premium [Part I]: After Effects
CS3 Production Premium [Part II] : Premiere Pro, Soundbooth and Encore

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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.

November 5, 2007

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