Company: Ultimatte Corporation
Web site: www.ultimatte.com
Price: $1,495 for Mac/Windows; $495 Photoshop only
Â· Filter to reduce the artifacts found in 4:1:1, DV video image formats
Â· Intuitive new user interface
Â· More efficient rendering scheme
Ultimatte compositing technology has led the way in the blue-/greenscreen industry beginning with its founder Petro Vlahos who first composited elements on the classic film Mary Poppins, which by the way got him his first technical Academy Award for this revolutionary technique. Vlahos' motion-matting products have been used on blockbusters like Titanic and Spiderman, not to mention your favorite meteorologist's nightly-network-newscast. He's since added very popular innovations like Grain Killer and Screen Correction that make his company the Xerox of the keying world. Industry pioneer Vlahos first developed the color-difference bluescreen process for the Motion Picture Research Council, but took his concept and founded Ultimatte Corporation in 1976. Most of us associate the Ultimatte name with pricey realtime hardware solutions, but that will soon change with their release of powerful new software tools like AdvantEdge V.1.5.2, which was released in May 2003.
Until the availability of this new plug-in package, Ultimatte's earlier software efforts left users a bit dizzy with an overly complex GUI that provided abundant control over every aspect of chroma-key plate-making you can imagine, plus a whole bunch that you probably couldn't. This latest version is a huge accomplishment in interface redesign and simplification - without limiting the rich feature-set that has justified multiple technical Oscars.
AdvantEdge is compatible with Adobe's Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere, Discreet Combustion, Avid AVX, Apple's Final Cut Pro and Shake, and Eyeon's Digital Fusion on the desktop. High-end systems include Discreet's Flame, Inferno, Fire, Smoke and Flint. Linux, SGI, Mac (OS X and 9) and Windows are supported.
PUTTING IT TO WORK
When the plug-in is activated, the program takes over your desktop, footage appears in the middle of the screen and the controls are underneath in a dashboard-style layout. Drop-down menus and pop-ups all appear in the lower section of the interface. There are "ergonomically" positioned controls for zoom and hand tools, input and output settings and interlace display options.
Without any instruction or even consulting the PDF manual, I was able to pull a clean key from my pitiful sample footage within five minutes of loading the footage. The basic process of pulling a key is as follows: select a range of pixels in the background.
AdvantEdge takes a few seconds to process the footage, and the result should be that most of your key color is gone (transparent). Areas that are not keyed can be scrubbed (eyedropper selected), the entire image is then analyzed and AdvantEdge automatically calculates optimum settings for several different parameters simultaneously. I was especially impressed with the results because my source footage wasn't great. The background screen wasn't lit evenly and I was using DV 4:1:1 footage, which up until now had been a greenscreen faux pas. Sure, uncompressed 4:4:4 is always preferred, but I wanted to see if AdvantEdge truly had the advantage when it came to its "bad video" (my words) video correction feature (VCF). VCF restores the lost color information in compressed video formats and greatly reduces the blocky artifacts found in most blue-/greenscreen composites using DV footage.
Other mentionables include:
â€¢ Platform protection AdvantEdge users get additional flexibility because it comes ready to work on Windows NT/2000/XP, Mac OS 9/OS X and Red Hat Linux for the same price.
Advanced Spill Suppression and Clean-Up controls automatically remove discoloration of foreground subjects caused by light reflecting from the blue or green stage. Removing excessive backing color spill from the foreground subject has been automated by sampling the contaminated area with the eyedropper cursor and watching AdvantEdge wash away the spill. Also Matte Clean Up now has individual controls for softening and shrinking the matte.
â€¢ Smart Matte Sizing A totally new approach to computing the matte density without allowing the matte to become over dense. Over dense mattes are the most common mistake made in creating traveling mattes.
â€¢ Color Conformance Matches the look of the foreground to the background for absolute realism.
â€¢ External matte Allows overlaying an externally-generated mask to "extend" the blue- or greenscreen so that wide-angle and long shots can be composited even though they overshoot the screen.
The full Ultimatte AdvantEdge plug-in software package features a USB hardware dongle and a dual Mac/PC CD-ROM with all the PC and Mac plug-ins, and with documentation in the form of a PDF file. The AdvantEdge plug-in for Windows/Mac is $1,495, and the Photoshop-only plug-in is $495.
Overall, I was thrilled with the results of my bluescreen keys, which I was only able to achieve with the advanced features included in this software. Typically, I would only expect to find this level of control in high-end hardware systems - including tools like Color Conformance, which matches the tonality of your foreground layer to the background source material. I actually saw this demo'd at NAB this past April on a $24,000 Ultimatte V.10 and was totally impressed, but to have that technology on my desktop? I'm sold.