Can you use stock footage and create something cinematic?
This post was written by Lion El Aton.
We’re always looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible, so we took on the insane challenge of trying to create a trailer that looks like a real movie using stock footage for every shot.
Here’s how we did it.
With the challenge in mind, we headed over to Artgrid to browse their collection of stock footage for inspiration. After discovering some really majestic shots with a fantastic vibe, we decided to build a world around it.
Giant creatures and colossi, and nomadic warriors who roam the land to fight them. Walk in the old gods.
Point: When you’re severely limited, build around what you have at your disposal, whether it’s accessories that give you high production value, access to certain locations or talents, or, in our case, archival footage.
There are two main ways to approach sound and music when creating a trailer. The first is to build the trailer around a single track or piece of music. You often see it in modern movie trailers where they use a traditional song with lyrics and sometimes remix it to change the tone. They usually do this by slowing it down or adding more dramatic, cinematic effects like reverb or heavy drum hits to give it a different feel.
Point: If you’re creating your trailer, divide it into themes or sections. We gave this trailer two sections with different musical themes, interrupted by small breaks and some dialogue.
The second way to create a trailer is to create a theme based sound design. Instead of creating an entire music track, we created rhythmic and patterned sound design sections using individual sound design elements.
We used our SINGULARITY cinematic sound effects library, but all sound design elements will work. Be sure to leave space around your music and sound design for dialogue if you have any.
Point: When it comes to the aural arrangement of a trailer, rhythm is your secret weapon. Create a rhythm with your sound design, and you’re already halfway there. Most of the best trailers have this, even if they don’t contain a traditional music track.
Visual effects were really the bread and butter of this whole project. Most filmmakers know by now that you want to use CGI to augment practical shots. Full CGI shots can work, but they are often very difficult to pull off and look good. Luckily, since all of our base shots were going to be stock footage, we had a lot of handy stuff to work with.
Point: A simple VFX composition hack is to simply layer additional elements on top of the main element you are composing. It could be clouds, dust, fog, lens flare, light leaks…anything that helps anchor the element you’re composing to the scene.
We use Adobe After Effects for most of our VFX work. We also love using Video Copilot’s amazing Element 3D and Optical Flares plugins in After Effects. As for the items we used, CGTrader is our favorite for finding 3D models. If you want to use 3D models in Element 3D, we recommend filtering your searches to find .obj models.
For the animated dragons, since we didn’t have time to rig and animate a dragon ourselves, we simply purchased stock footage of animated dragons by searching “stock footage of dragons” online. We then composited them into some of the shots by matching their color, motion blur, etc.
Point: If you’re composing something against a clear sky, an easy way to get a good blend into the environment is to simply lower your element’s opacity to make it look like it’s actually in the distance. The lower the opacity, the farther it will appear.
In addition to the VFX assets from our SOL space VFX packs, we also used some amazing VFX assets from ActionVFX, as well as some from Video Copilot’s Action Essentials 2 pack.
Point: Made up of real life elements on top of everything else, like birds for scale and fog for atmosphere. This will help sell the effect. And don’t forget to add motion blur!
Since we already created the base track from individual sound design elements, all we had to do was add the foley and diegetic sounds, and the dialogue/narration. We used our IMMERSION Foley and Diegetic Sound Library for things like wind, environment, and ambient sounds. These added even more realism to the piece.
Point: Diegetic sounds are sounds with an on-screen source. This includes anything that would come from the scene, such as environmental sounds (wind, rain, traffic, etc.) or character action sounds (footsteps, doors opening, gunshots, etc.).
We found these beautiful shots in Artgrid of a woman who looked like a priestess or goddess speaking, so we decided to make her the de facto voice of the narration/dialogue. We went to Splice, which is a royalty-free music software and samples website, and looked for vocals that would match the tone and feel of our track. We dropped them to coincide with the speaking woman’s plans, and were ready to take the final step.
Point: Leaving empty space in your sound design is just as important as having sound. The contrast is what arouses the most interest. The silence before the bang…
The final touch
In the final stages of a project, we always start by making sure we’ve tightened up and perfected our editing. Then we add what we call “sauce”. It’s basically anything that animates or adds texture to the piece.
It can make a huge difference, especially with VFX shots, but don’t get too carried away. Be like a chef: add the right amount of sauce for the dish. Too much can ruin everything.
Point: If you’re not sure what kind of “sauce” to add, consider lens flare, film grain, light leaks, lens dust/debris, vignettes, color overlays, to particles, distortion, film textures…anything that adds visual interest, matches the mood and aesthetic of your scene/project, and that’s not too much.
Once we have all the visuals, we proceed to color grading. We usually color correct each shot, then create an adjustment layer on top of all our shots in a scene and apply some sort of finishing color swatch to the entire footage. Then we usually individually color each shot from there.
In this case, however, since all of these shots were supposed to be disparate shots of an entire movie, we just categorized each shot individually.
Point: Correct color, and so degree of color. Color correction is all about getting the right colors for each of your shots. Color grading is all about adding “sauce” and giving your movie its own unique look, style, and aesthetic.
To create end titles the old gods, we used Element 3D in Adobe After Effects. We just extruded our text in Element 3D and applied a texture to give it weight and detail. Next, we added a simple animation to the text and faded it into the dark by keyframing the text opacity and the brightness of our 3D lights.
Point: Not all fonts are created equal. If you want really cinematic text, try reducing your text size (or really huge in some cases), increasing the kerning (distance between each character), and using all caps (usually all caps have a best appearance as a rule).
And that’s all. We attempted to create an epic fantasy trailer using stock footage for each shot, and here is the finished product.
You’ll have to be the judge of whether or not we succeeded, or at least did something cool for next to no money. Let us know.