This week we test drive visual effects stock footage and explain what to expect and examine how useful it really can be.

One of Artbeat's classic fx clips

The promise is definitely appealing, – for a fraction of the price you would spend to make it, or film it yourself – you can get big budget effects in your project by buying royalty free visual effects footage. The reality of how viable it is to use that footage in production is the basis of this week’s story. We test-drive material from two of the most interesting suppliers Artbeats and Finalight, one amazingly established, the other relatively new.


Most of Artbeats clips are excellent live action

For a long time Artbeats has been providing visual effects stock footage, in recent times the companies portfolio has expanded to cover non effects footage. While most is filmed live action, they do have entire collections such as

there are 61 collections listed as “effects footage” from cloud tanks to explosions and fire – which would be two of the most popular collections in the libraries of post houses around the world. The company has done a great job in the last few years in producing new HD versions collections.

Some of our favorite effects collections are :

Mayhem : Falling debris, breaking glass, bust storms & more

Any of the REEL explosions collections Vol 1,2,3, 4, HD 1 or HD2

The Zero G explosions are good, and most – but not all – avoid breaking frame – thus making them easier to composite where you want.

Any of the REEL Fire collections Vol 1,2,3 HD1, HD2 or HD3

Especially REEL fire 1 for its mortar fire balls.

For Design projects:

Film Clutter 1 & 2, and HD1 or HD2 provide telecine film visual elements, camera stops and light leaks that in valuable in your next “Seven” title design style job.

Artbeats Mayhem collection

The latest effects footage from Artbeats is a set of lightning effects such as lightning Strikes , Lightning arcs etc which include real live action electric bolts – arcing and striking both set pieces such as telephone poles – as well as some some stunt man in a remarkable thin looking safety suit!

The clips in the HD collections are progressive – either shot on 35mm film or HD camera, which is interesting as extremely high voltage Tesla coils as used in the production of these effects produce high voltage radio Frequency broadcast interference (RF) which can play havoc with things like broadcast gear and HD cameras.
The HD is 30P 1920×1080, some with Mattes, and in some collections there are clips that work as clean loops or “Seamless” clips.

These and other high voltage collections are to be released soon by Artbeats and are made in cooperation with kVA effects. You may have seen kVA work on shows such as Fear Factor or on the Discovery Channel, they have even consulted on films such as XXX to Digital Domain. Most of these effects are achieved by the use of Tesla Coil Setups, which is familiar to any who studied senior high school science.

In the simplest terms Artbeats newest effects relies on the inventions of Nikola Tesla’s (1856-1943). The Tesla coil is an air cored resonant transformer. The first step in the system is a step up transformer. This transformer takes the line current like the power coming out of your wall socket and steps it up to several thousand volts. Most people use similar transformers every day in Neon signs ( A Neon Sign Transformer (NST), or in a Microwave (Microwave Oven Transformer (MOT)). The next step for the now high voltage is a capacitor, which acts as a sort of storage battery, for short term current storage.

The next component is a spark gap. This acts as a switch to turn on and off the power as it charges the capacitor. Once the capacitor is charged, the spark gap fires, releasing all of the stored energy in a very brief powerful burst. From the spark gap, the current flows to the primary coil, and then a secondary coil. The final part of the tesla coil is the distinctive top of a Tesla Coil (usually a torrid or sphere), which serves as a capacitor (storage area) for the electricity before discharge This is where all the action takes place.

The air ionizes and begins conducting, – sparks emanates, as does a beautiful corona discharge. Artbeats filmed these, so you can make lightning strike wherever you want, for between $599 – $899 (SD- HD).

Artbeats footage is only ever 8 bit and rarely above HD resolution. Artbeats transfer from film using a Philips Spirit datacine connected via SDI-HD to a Desktop HD system for a frame for frame transfer. The PAL clips are not standards converted. Footage that is not Film or 30P HD originated is sold via the V-line brand – this footage is video sourced and thus not as ‘clean’ as the standard Artbeats collection.

The footage is design for use in TVC, episodic but not feature film use. The theory is feature film shots are so specific and the budgets so large that there is little need for stock footage. While this may have been true in the past, many projects total enjoy the benefits of higher bit resolution compositing – even if the final output is HD or video. Furthermore most if not almost all material is delivered as quicktime Photojpeg which can cause issues with keying and grading. this is typical of any stock library delivering footage either by the web or by CD-ROM as Artbeats does.

But without a doubt Artbeats has a vast collection of material and the effects footage is well shot and well packaged.
The Lightning Strikes collection is what ArtBeats does best in visual effects stock footage, real world footage – often shot with specialist equipment, that are cleanly transferred and available to use in a range of projects. Artbeats does have graphical footage that is not live action i.e. Code Storm HD or clips such as the Earth Approaches that are computer generated – but they are a minority of the library footage.


Finalight has a strong collection of CGI footage - unpremultipled

By contrast a much smaller effects library Finalight is dominated by computer generated library material.

Currently Finalight’s material is mostly CG, however some of our new material coming out has been shot on HD. Finalight use a variety of volumetric and compositing packages to create their CGI source material. All of them Windows based.

Finalight is connected with Finalight fx the Simi valley production company, which has done films, games and TVC work. Members of the team have had anywhere from 5-15 years experience doing visual effects for a variety of applications in the industry.

As is standard with online footage libraries almost everything is Photojpeg encoded 8 bit RGB(24bit).This is done to keep file sizes down to a reasonable size and be able to make all material that can be purchased on disc also available via download from the web site. According to Brian DeMetz, Production Director at Final Light Productions, they have no plans to offer their CG effects at higher bit depth but the company also offers a custom service – for producing specialist requests and this service is hoping to soon “start offering CG effects as open exr in the future on a custom order basis” he explains.

The highest resolution is currently 1500 x 1333, we asked DeMetz why not just produce HD 1920 x 1080 ? “Since most of our visual effects clips are meant to be composited into shots rather than just played full screen like stock footage backgrounds, we basically create them cropped to the size of the source material, removing any unnecessary resolution”.

Not all of Finalight's clips are CGI, some are live action with more coming.

One of the primary aspects about Finalight’s clips is that they are not just clips but effects “toolkits” “We have chosen the word toolkit to describe our material since a given effects clip is better controlled with a variety of passes such as diffuse, shadow, masks, etc. We tried to offer layers that we so often in the industry find ourselves without when using stock footage that are really a must when trying to seamlessly blend a clip into a shot” explains DeMetz

One of the great strengths of the collection is that it is multi-layered and an effects such as a nuclear blast is provided from alternative camera angles. The foregrounds are correctly unpremultiplied and the mattes are very accurate as you would expect. We asked DeMetz if Finalight had considered full multi-pass renders – such as Spec, diffuse, ambient occlusion, Shadow, fresnel, etc ?
“That is a great question. At this point in time with the material that is currently available, we made the decision to offer the primary layers that an end user would need to have control that is usually omitted with standard effects clips that only come with a diffuse and mask layer. We had to consider file sizes and also whether specific control passes would really be a necessity with organic visual effects. If we were supplying passes for a cg car for example, we would definitely provide a collection of passes that would be required to carefully dial-in such an element. In the case of say CG smoke, we felt that extra layers comprising all aspects of the effect might not be necessary and would certainly create cumbersome downloads not to mention drive the costs up”.

A quick comp of some of the Finalight elements

As mentioned the company has a custom service which has provided a wide range of custom effects. Some were closely related to the type of material currently available for toolkit purchase such as smoke and explosions. Other material has consisted of water splashes, fluid effects, light effects, and particle effects. “Some of this material may be available in one form or another in toolkits in the future. Other material was created and is proprietary to the client. Additionally, we also work on projects that cover the wide array of general 3d work such as cars, environments, interiors, compositing, logos, etc.” DeMetz explains.

So just how easy is it to use these effects in production?

Price: You can download many clips – prices seem to sit between $199- $300 (SD-HD) while an entire collection would be $599 – $799 repectively.

Downloads: We have had no problems with either buying or downloading clips, the clips download directly once purchased via a creditcard, as a quicktime, since most ARTBEATS are single clips

As you can see by click on the frames below – the quality is very high. The matte – especially on the older Fire collections are not very good, they will work for many projects but you may find the need to do your own. Keying fire is extremely tricky at times but the flames are on black which of course helps.

movielink(stock/, 25M quick overview of Artbeat’s quality, for vfx work)

Price: You can buy a toolkit which is normally a collection of clips and layers ( smaller perhaps in range than Artbeats) for much less than Artbeats – prices are typically around $100- $150. You can also by individual clips for as low as $19.

Downloads: We have had some problems with downloading clips, it may be a mac problem but some files did not unzip as the files are a zip of multiple clips. When the files did unzip, they require a password which was emailed and in everycase this worked fine, but it should be noted that the downloading/passwords expire in 7 days so if you buy any – download and save them immediately.

As the examples we downloaded are all computer generated you get excellent keys and foreground. We have done a test composite below to show some samples in action.

movielink(stock/, 25M quick overview of Finalight’s quality, for vfx work)

Artbeats will be at NAB with a booth showing clips from the range, Finalight will not have a booth at NAB, but both operate primarily via their respective websites