You may not have shot the stock footage you need for your project, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own.
There was a time when stock footage was synonymous with scenes of corporate office workers and happy families eating dinner. However, over the last decade, many companies have sought to change this by offering a wider variety of cinematic stock footage filmed with the same cameras used in film and television production. For example: do you need stock footage of astronaut walking on mars shot with a RED Epic at 8K downscaled to 4K? Well, look no further.
While stock footage is a helpful asset for high-end productions, it can also be an invaluable tool for smaller, DIY productions. Getting aerial footage of a location thousands of miles away or a track-forward shot in a technical facility would normally require clearance and money . . . and plenty of other resources smaller film and video productions usually don’t have. Stock footage opens these doors.
However, what if someone, somewhere has just purchased the same clip that you’re using, and then someone, somewhere, notices.
Despite the very small odds of this happening, it recently happened to me. An actress I know recently attended the first screening of an independent feature directed by a close friend. She uploaded a few phone snaps of the screening, and for a moment, I couldn’t figure out why she had also uploaded a still from the teaser of a web series I’m working on. Then it hit me: we had used the same stock footage. Suddenly, my teaser trailer became less unique.
As the price of 4K stock footage continues to become more and more reasonable, this coincidence is more likely to happen to more people. So, how can you manipulate stock footage with traditional post-production techniques to differentiate it from the original download? Below, I’ve rounded up a variety of different video tutorials that will help you do just that. (To make life simpler, I restricted this round-up to tutorials focused on landscape stock footage.)
Reverse and Flip Footage
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Reversing the speed of your stock footage — or flipping it horizontally — can be quick and easy way to vary it slightly from the original media clip. Of course, you’ll be limited by the footage itself. With landscapes, realistically, you can’t reverse the speed if you have wildlife running or flying through the frame. But for an aerial shot over the mountains, you can give the shot a new perspective.
3D Set Extension/Matte Painting
While 3D set extension sounds like a technique coined within the two last decades, extending studio space with a set extension known as a matte painting is one of the industry’s oldest visual effects. First used in Missions of California (1907), it’s a technique that extends locations either on a sound stage or out in the world. It’s also a common misperception that 3D set extensions are only viable for science fiction and fantasy films. However, you might be surprised to see how often this technique gets used to slightly alter the background of a location, as you can see below in before-and-after stills from Joe Penhall‘s Mindhunter.
Adding a 3D set extension is a surefire way to change the appearance of stock footage; it just requires a little more compositing expertise. It’s important to note that if the stock footage is of a moving shot, it’s going to be inherently more difficult to composite — but not impossible.
While slightly outdated, Andrew Kramer’s tutorial on 3D set extensions is still a perfect example, as the clip he is manipulating is stock footage, and he will show you how far you can push stock footage to make it your own.
- Invisible VFX: The Art of Compositing
- VFX Scenes You Thought Were Real
- Build the Perfect Set with These Matte Painting Tutorials
Sky Replacement and Weather Changes
Even those at the start of their filmmaking (or photography) journeys know how much the sky and its cloud formations can change a scene. A gray cloud formation will look menacing and dramatic, whereas a cloudless sky at golden hour feels warm and romantic. By replacing the sky in your stock footage, you too can create a distinctive mood that differs from the original footage. As I mentioned before, there will be constraints to what you can do, depending on the original footage. If you have harsh shadows and brightly lit foliage, replacing the sky with a dark and dramatic cloud formation will look out of place.
Likewise, changing the dynamics of the weather, such as turning an early-morning forest into an eerie foggy evening, will alter the dynamics of the entire scene. In the tutorial below, Lendon Bracewell explains how to add atmospheric elements to your scene using After Effects.
- Video Tutorial: How to Create Annihilation-Inspired VFX
- How To Recreate the Special Effects From Blade Runner 2049
- How to Instantly Fog or Haze Your Next Outdoor Shot
- VFX Breakdown: Sky Replacements
Digital Props and Set Dressing
If you love to watch visual effects reels, you’re probably familiar with the montage of props and scene objects falling from the top of the frame and completely altering the environment of the location. In the following images from Stargate Studios’ work on the first season of The Walking Dead (video reel here), you can see just how different the location looks with the addition of the barrels and debris.
If your stock footage clip has little movement, it could be as simple as creating and masking the elements in Photoshop, and tracking them into the scene in After Effects. However, if you have a stock footage clip that is moving, the props will have to be 3D objects, which means you’ll have to take a slightly different approach due to reflective lighting change.
So here’s a Video Copilot recommendation for adding a 3D object to a shot. In this tutorial, Andrew composites a truck, but his technique will apply to most set dressing.
- Homemade VFX: Create and Film a DIY Meteor Strike
- 25 Essential After Effects Tutorials for All Skill Levels
- Video Tutorial: Compositing Tips for Adobe After Effects
Cover image via camilkuo.
Looking for more tutorials? Check these out.