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What about Ultra?

Production Premium CS3 and Master Collection CS3 for Windows included a program called Ultra CS3, which is used for keying and virtual sets. In fact, Ultra existed as a separate program for many years, made by a small company called Serious Magic. Adobe acquired Serious Magic in 2006.

So, with the announcement of CS4 last week, people have been emailing me, wondering what’s going on with Ultra for CS4. Here’s the scoop:

The short answer is that Adobe still owns the technology, and is looking at ways of better integrating the keying and sets into the overall workflow experience. In CS3, Ultra was still outside the rest of the suite, and was not integrated at all. To do any keying, the user had to leave Premiere Pro or AE, and move into this different program, save clips, and then import the new clips back into AE or Premiere. Plus, the program was heavily tied to Windows-based technologies, like DirectX. This had always prevented creating a Mac version, and made any Mac workflow nearly impossible.

Since CS3 release, the keyer from Ultra was integrated into 2 other Adobe products – Visual Communicator 3, and Premiere Elements.  

Visual Communicator 3, released last fall, has the full vector keyer control of Ultra built into it, along with some simplified virtual sets with 3 camera angles. Visual Communicator 3 also enables the vector keyer for live use, so a single computer can key 3 cameras, match different backgrounds for each camera, and stream the result out live to the internet via Flash.

Premiere Elements 7, just released last month, has a new feature called VideoMerge, which includes the vector keyer from Ultra, along with new use enhancements to make it even easier to key. VideoMerge happens right in the editing process, so there’s no need to leave editing and jump into a separate program or mode.

On the Professional side, we want to integrate the Ultra technology into places like After Effects and Premiere Pro, but with all the other changes happening in CS4, Adobe did not make this happen in this cycle. So, for CS4, the Ultra technology is kind of “sleeping” (but not dead.) There are already meetings happening to plan how to integrate Ultra into the Production Premium applications in the next release.



    Will Ultra be part of AE in the future?

    Thanks for the info Karl. I was reading the Ultra Adobe Forums a few months back after the CS4 announcement and a lot of us were unhappy about no mention of Ultra.

    Thanks. This was really helpful to know about.


    This article suggests ultra is sleeping, and not in CS4… but it also was NOT in CS5, nor CS5.5…

    WTF you tubby bastard ?

    bring it back !

      The ULTRA keying technology IS in fact in CS5, and CS5.5 – If you look inside Premiere Pro, you’ll find an effect called the Ultra Keyer. This is the same keying algorithm found in the ULTRA standalone software. It’s very fast to use, and it’s GPU-accelerated.

      After researching different options on what to do with ULTRA, and discussing with lots of existing users, the decision was made to incorporate the keyer into Premiere Pro, rather than continue offering it in a separate application. The workflow with ULTRA in CS3 could be painful at times – export trimmed clips, import into ULTRA, Import backgrounds into ULTRA, render new files, import new files into Premiere. Plus, ULTRA could only read standard QuickTime and AVI clips. And, it was a Windows-only application, with the majority of the code being written using DirectX API calls. It wasn’t going to be a simple task to make it cross-platform.

      As for the pre-made virtual sets that were part of ULTRA – well, those have gone away for the time being. They were all made at a resolution slightly higher than SD res, and as more and more users are in the HD world, they were looking a little long in the tooth. We did try to do some conversions for HD, but the file sizes spiraled quickly out of control. The existing SD library of sets was approaching 24GB, taking up multiple DVDs for installation. In the HD conversion tests, individual HD sets were reaching 10-16 GB in size, and the format for the tracking scenes was starting to require RAIDs for smooth playback. Again, we asked existing users if they were willing to deal with virtual sets at that size, and they overwhelmingly said no.

      I would love to revisit the virtual sets at some point in the future. For now, if you are an owner of the virtual sets, it is possible to open up the Elements folder within each of the camera angles, and pull out the raw files used. For the static shots, it’s fairly easy to layer them on the Premiere Pro timeline, and recreate the sets. Plus, you can customize the graphics using Photoshop.

      As for the “tubby” comment….I’m hurt.

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