Article Focus: In this article, CreativeCOW's Jim Harvey takes a look at royalty free stock footage... with a twist... pre-keyed alpha stock footage from All Bets Are Off Productions.
The idea of “off the shelf” images isn’t new, but a new company is updating the idea and making it affordable for everyone. ALL BETS ARE OFF PRODUCTIONS is a website/company that specializes in Pre Keyed Alpha footage that can be used in comps, advertisements, promotions and even print ads. The hook here is that all the clips are completely keyed and have perfect transparency for compositing work. This in and of itself is groundbreaking for the average compositor who no longer has to work like a dog to key out shots with the inevitable imperfect lighting, imprecise camera moves and all the other pitfalls that wind up making Rogaine® and Maalox® so popular with people working under a deadline.
Through what could only be described as a massive effort, All Bets Are Off has compiled a huge library of clips that run the gamut from kids, to adults, sports, fashion, fun, fantasy and almost anything that you might require to create that perfect comp. The keying is the best I’ve ever encountered with even the finest strands of hair perfectly keyed.
Fig 1. Precise Alpha Channels allows for perfect keying. Composite with no drama.
Fig.2 Drop in your background (which can be a video or a still) and your actors are right in the scene.
Before now, compositing crowd scenes was a thankless job taking hours of footage, keying out bad spots, fiddling here and there to sell the shot and generally a pain in the nether regions. In addition, you had to deal with cranky actors, pay and feed them, and you still might come up with a day’s worth of saran wrap rather than usable footage. With ALL BETS ARE OFF CROWD CONTROL, putting your crowd scene together is a breeze (even if you only need one actor/actress in your crowd.
Once you are at the website, you can sign up for a free account. Register and set up a username and password and you can browse the over 45,000 clips that are in the ALL BETS ARE OFF library. There is a search function that has enough choices to satisfy the most particular clip hunter. There are literally hundreds of choices that you can specify in order to find that “just right’ clip. Of course you can overdo it and choke the system so it’s best to start out generalizing and selectively refine your search when you get in the ball park. The choices are so all encompassing, that you should really take some time to just look them over. I was very impressed with the choices that I had before me and spent a considerable amount of time searching different era, genre, situations and activities. This is one full featured databank.
Once the search engine returns some choices, you simply hover your mouse over the thumbnails and they self automate. If you like a particular clip, you can save it to favorites for later review or examine it in larger scale with the ability to change backgrounds to see how the footage might look in your project.
Fig. 3 Search returns 12 live clips per page that can be added to favorites (star) or examined more closely (magnifying glass)
Fig. 4 The download screen lets you test the clip against different color backgrounds and gives a great deal of information about the shot and actor.
On the download page, you will find the clip name (number), the Actor featured (this is helpful if you want to see all clips from that particular actor) and other information such as clip duration, aspect ratio, shot speed etc. There is also a long list of keywords that will assist you in choosing similar clips.
Now that you’ve found the clip that you want, you proceed to download the exact size that will work for your project. This is a particularly nice feature and can really add up to some significant savings depending on the size of the clip you want to use. Even at the highest resolution 1920x1080 clips are remarkably affordable ($50.00). I say this with authority after having paid up to $400.00 for a stock shot for a client and that was a STILL!
Once you have downloaded your clips, you work with them directly in your compositing program. They are complete and scalable and fit seamlessly into any project that you are working on.
There are also some tutorials on the site that will help you get the most from this product. Additionally, you can “try before you buy” in silhouette form and import your own background footage to see how placement will work. This is a real breakthrough in footage library design and once you get comfortable with the interface, you will really come to appreciate the effort that went into producing this endeavor. And of course, you’ll love the money that you will save on actor salaries, roto time and greenscreen woes.
Just so that you know this isn’t an anorexic data bank with a couple of stock shots and scenarios, I’d like to show you the search engine page. Take a look at the choices that you are presented with to find that “just right” piece of footage;
Fig.5 The search criteria page has numerous choices that you can select to really zero in on the clip you are looking for.
Fig.6 The list covers virtually every conceivable scenario that you might come up against; Chances are good that you’ll find just the clip you’re looking for. (The above two images are only a portion of the complete search page)
While the interface can be a bit daunting at first, you just need to wade right in and start playing with it and in short order you will become quite comfortable with the layout. There were some features that I would have liked to see handled a bit differently, such as static images rather than live clips, but as this is a fairly new site evolution is still possible. The best way to insure that the site evolves is to use it and provide feedback. The people who run ALL BETS ARE OFF are actively involved in our industry so they know what you as a designer/compositor/content creator are looking for. They speak our language and understand what we do. That alone is something pretty refreshing.
My quick little composition went together seamlessly and with absolutely zero hang-ups. I could mock up the idea for the client and send it to them in less time that it would have taken to take out the ad in the trades for actors. As a matter of fact, this might be a secret gem to use for concept work using live actors rather than storyboards. Think about that one, you get a call from a client who wants to promote their surfing safari’s or their financial services and you can provide them with a live comp to illustrate your concept. You can deliver the finished project on time and on budget with far less headaches and delays then by previous means.
The finished project:
ALL BETS ARE OFF PRODUCTIONS pretty much thought of everything when the put the site together. Before you buy a single clip from them, you can choose the clips that you like, save them to your favorites folder (you need to be registered, and remember, that is free) and work with them online. The real gem of this site, not counting the 45,000 clips, the excellent pricing or the perfect keys, is the COMPOSITOR. This little gadget allows you to put your background footage or still into it and then, by taking the clips that you THINK you might want to use from your favorites file place them into your composition and see exactly how the placement and timing will work for you. The clips are lower resolution than the ones that you’ll pay for, but they are still perfectly fine for spec’ing out a comp.
Fig. 7 Using my background plate, I can import into the compositor and work up my timing and placements.
In the image above, I have a clean plate of a car in a gas station. I want people to be sitting and leaning on the car so I search for some “sitting” and “leaning” clips and save them to my favorite’s folder. I can place the clips into the frame and manipulate them as to scale, rotation, mirror and placement and see how they fit with my idea. If I like what I see but want to check with the client, I can save the comp to ALL BETS ARE OFF PRODUCTIONS server. Comps will stay on the server for 14 days and then be deleted so it is a wise idea to do a screen grab for your own records if you think it will take longer than that to make a decision.
Fig. 8 All my actors in place, I can move them or scale them to fit my vision.
The toolbar on the left side allows you to play the whole comp with all layers active. The play button on the lower right plays only the chosen layer. You can pick from your favorite’s folder or use images or video clips from your own harddrive. This really streamlines the process and gives the compositor (YOU) a quick method to bang a comp together in very little time. It’s nice to be able to visualize your work BEFORE you commit to purchasing a clip.
I think that with time, ALL BETS ARE OFF PRODUCTIONS will be supplying a greater portion of our industry with clips that cover many aspects of society that we deal with in our production work. Just to have the ability to construct at a moments notice, a professional quality very affordably is a tool that we all need to keep in our kit.
Initially, I was going to say 4 cows because of some of the things I wanted to see but didn’t. Then I realized that despite the fact that their search engine wasn’t configured just the way I liked it didn’t mean that it wasn’t an effective search engine. It’s a little more work (for me anyway) but in the end, the results that I achieved far outweighed the small learning curve that I needed to master. I realized that “a little more work” was a pretty lame excuse on my part when the site saved me a week’s worth of work with shooting greenscreen and all the other delights that I detailed above?
So I have revised my rating and now I’ll say 5 cows because I have worked with the footage, gotten fantastic results, pleased my clients and made money. The people behind ALL BETS ARE OFF PRODUCTIONS are talented and way ahead of the curve on this one. This is a winner for everyone who works with composited footage.
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