Ultimatte: Compositing Death-Defying Scenes

One of the most powerful tools available for filmmakers of all levels is Ultimatte, the compositing tool that seamlessly melds characters with scenes and backgrounds that never existed outside of your imagination. Throughout most of the history of filmmaking, death-defying stunts were indeed death-defying, and the risks unfortunately sometimes took the lives of brave stuntmen. Ultimatte allows filmmakers to put together scenes that otherwise could be dangerously prohibitive.
Step 1: Determine Your Project

You’ll notice particularly dangerous scenes especially in action and adventure films, but they’re present in suspense thrillers, horror, and even drama and romance movies. Think about your genre, and think about your story. There was a day when the only way some filmmakers could indicate some of these scenes was by having off-screen sound effects.

With Ultimatte, you can put these types of scenes into your story. You could have a character above a precipice, or you could have the protagonist being run down by a semi-truck or close to an explosion. You have to determine not only what you want for your scene, you have to consider what (in terms of applicable backgrounds for your scene) is attainable by you. In other words, will you be able to get your background?

Step 2: Find or Create Your “Effect”

There are several ways to get your effect. If you want your character hanging over a cliff, you could find a stock footage shot of a cliff high up overlooking a raging sea. But, you may want to (if you have access) go to an area overlooking an ocean and shoot the shot yourself. What about that shot of the semi that is bearing down on your lead character. Consider going out to a freeway or thoroughfare with your camera and filming it yourself. You may not have the ability to create an explosion, but you may be able to find it in stock footage. Or, you could use Ultimatte to composite an explosion into a background, and then composite your character into that.

Step 3: Design and Shoot Your Live Action

In the event of an explosion, you should examine the footage that you have of the explosion. Which way does the blast go? Does it “throw” your protagonist? Or, does the character dive out of the way in the nick of time? You will need to not only have an adequate blue- or green-screen for the character’s action, you need to shoot it according to the original shot. The original shot determines the context of your character’s action. Be sure to direct your actor so that they will “fit” the effect.

Step 4: Bring Them Together

Ultimatte lets you composite these two separate shots together. Download the shots into Ultimatte, and preview it. Be discriminating when you do this. If it doesn’t work correctly, you should either shift the shot one way or the other, or you should re-shoot it. Check it again. When the timing and the placement work correctly, you’ve got your shot. When you do this right, your audience will be on the edge of their seats!