Sunday, January 17th, 2010
When it comes to the world of chroma key technology, there are many factors that go into a great key. There are specific lighting scenarios, the types of green or blue screens, your camera, the amount of skill you possess, and second most importantly… the software you use. We are going to take a look at nine of the most useful pieces of software out there to make your life that little bit easier when it comes to checking your keys in real time, or checking out the mattes to make sure that the footage you are shooting is going to be the easiest to work with in post.
Ultimatte is one of the heavy hitters in this niche of the market. Lots of new studios and shows like The Soup, Tosh.0, and really any other show that tapes live on television with green screen walls probably uses this software/hardware combo. Ultimatte is the world’s leading live keying hardware and software package that allows you to feed your cameras directly into the Ultimatte box, then out to your control room for further live work. There are a few different Ultimattes to choose from, the latest being the Ultimatte 11 HD/SD which is the most powerful, letting you deal with both SD and HD formats, Enhanced Matte controls and a four input router. They also have three other models, the 500 deals in only SD, but has a lot of the same controls as the 11, the DV obviously deals in only DV, but plugs in directly with firewire, and inputs via S-video, composite or firewire. Although they don’t tell you what the prices are on the website, they are pretty high, and I believe you have to inquire via email to get any hard prices.
BoinxTV is a Mac only platform, but provides an easy to use solution when it comes to live broadcasting, podcasting, or just recording direct to disk, this is an all-in-one package with a moderate budget. Aside from being able to stream to the internet, or output to a projection screen or whatever, BoinxTV lets you do a live chroma key in the process, making your post production duties more minimal. Having the ability to add pictures, video, music or whatever you need to put together a show makes this package a great choice for anyone wanting to experiment with have a live production studio in their office, or on the road. Best thing about this, is the price is only $199 – $499, but you can also use the 30 evaluation version free of charge!
This software is more of a just-for-live-broadcast type of program in which you can hook up multiple camera to switch between them to create polished shows. Although this doesn’t have any hardware that comes with it, you are going to at least have to have firewire-enabled cameras and enough firewire ports on the computer you have the software on, or get analog to digital converter boxes to utilize your non-firewire cameras. This program does support HDV (if you buy the plugin for $100), but doesn’t support capture cards with HDMI, RCA, BNC, Composite, Component SD, or HD SDI, unless you can find a way to convert them to a firewire input. Despite the lack of input capabilities, they make it up in their streaming codecs, being able to hook up directly into sites like Ustream and Justin.tv, and can utilize graphics with alpha channels for things like name keys, overlays, and lower thirds.
This free program was developed by a guy that actually figured he could develop his own program rather than buying something like BoinxTV or Wirecast. The only difference is this is only really to check to see if your actors are positioned correctly on your green screen sets to match up with your premade 3d scenes or matte paintings. What you do, is feed your camera into the firewire port on your laptop with the program running, then pick your chroma key color, and you will see the background of your scene (to be later composited in post) on the screen underneath your actor. Although this program actually doesn’t record your camera, you wouldn’t want to take this harsh chroma key anyways, because it is really bad. The program was written to check your mattes and to help you direct, rather than live keying. You can probably composite a lot better in a program like After Effects anyways, when you have more control over the matte chokers, screen gain, pre-blur and things like that.
I was a little disappointed to see that BlackMagic only has a built in SD keyer. I mean, if that is what you have handy, then perfect, but most of the video world nowadays has made the move to high definition. Also, if you are going to be shelling out $695 for a piece of hardware, I don’t think it is worth it, if that is what you are primarily going to use it for. Now enough of the cons, the fact that DeckLink Studio accepts capturing any kind of HD/SD signal, doesn’t make it completely worthless. You could always download the Chroma Key Live application or use it in conjunction with another program to feed cameras and video inputs into your system and software. It still is a great little piece of hardware to have handy, but the built in SD keyer just isn’t worth the money if that is your only reason for buying this.
This product seems as though its been discontinued by Adobe, at least for the time being, but if you can find a copy on craigslist or Ebay it might be worth the money you throw into it. It provides you with a library of pre-made virtual sets that you can place your actor in, or you can bring in your own matte paintings or virtual sets to work with. The downside of this software, is that it only supports DV input, and not HD. Hopefully down the line Adobe decides to pick the product back up, but until then, we can only really work with what is provided. Good news is, you can get a trial version of the software on Adobe’s website to dink around with to see if it suits your needs.
This is a really cool plugin, especially if you are used to Node Based Compositing. That is probably the biggest aspect of this plugin and why it appeals to so many people. Node Based Compositing is just something that generally isn’t available to After Effects, Motion, and Final Cut Pro users. The way this works as a plugin, is you apply it to a video layer, and then open up the settings of the plugin. There, you can apply your different nodes to get a good key like spill supression, chokers and things like that. One con about this plugin, is it is only for Mac systems, but the major plus about it is the amount of training material that is available on their website.
This is a nice, cheap little solution if you are looking for a way to test out your green screen shots, to make sure the perspective is correct, checking to see if you have your camera move right… that sort of thing. This is a really simple, easy to use keying application that you can plug virtually any camera that has a firewire input into, and key it right there on set. At only $100 this is a good choice if you are looking for a legit piece of software to just check your keys.
First thing to know about this plugin, is it is old, and After Effects was not made to utilize a plugin like this. The way this works, is you apply the plugin to a composition, and every time it redraws a frame, the composition updates and therefore draws a frame from your video camera. Its not exactly live, but close to it. This obviously doesn’t let you capture video into After Effects, but it lets you check your perspective and lighting with whatever you have built directly inside of After Effects.
As you can see, there are many options when it comes to live, on-set keying, some of which cost more than others, some might match your needs better than others, and some might match your budget. Whatever the reason you may choose your product, just make sure you try a trail version before you shell out some money and make sure it does exactly what you want. There are a lot of factors to consider, and testing your software out is probably the best bet when it comes to making an educated decision.