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Old May 15th, 2014, 10:37 AM   #1
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Film Look - what is it really?

I have read so much about the so-called film-look. Various proponents suggest shooting in 24/25p or color grading to look like some Tarantino film.
IMO the film look is none of these. 24p is a starting point, I guess, but it does not really give you that look that you get when you view a real movie.
Some suggest that making colors washed out or shallow depth (bokeh) makes footage look like film. Again it may do but its not the complete story. As an example, take Bollywood movies (shot on film) and Indian serials off Star India (shot on video) - both have very colourful and well lit scenes with lenses often at wide. In theory there is nothing to separate them. Except when you put them next to each other, you instantly know which is the movie and which is the video.
But what really makes the movie look like a movie? What is the science behind it and why is so difficult to make DSLR footage look like film?
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Old May 15th, 2014, 11:47 AM   #2
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

I'm not an expert, and it's fine to disagree, but it's a combination of so much stuff and there is no one magic bullet.

1) 24p gives a certain look in terms of movement and motion blur, but then you need to keep an eye on shutter speed too.

2) Colour profiles and grading makes a huge difference. It's not just about getting the colour right, or making it more or less saturated etc, it's also how the gamma curves are applied, how different colours saturate differently

3) It's about how a scene was shot in terms of DOF and other aesthetics. Not all films are shot with shallow DOF in all scenes, so some people's idea of the the holy grail of shooting with f1.2 is just crackers

4) It's about lighting of the scene too, which has a massive effect on the final outcome

5) Highlights and shadows can be perceived very differently on film vs digital, so these need to be matched

6) Noise vs Grain. Digital can have a noise that's not very pleasant, but many people either live with it or simply de-noise without adding grain back in to the mix. Film was never 'noise free' because it has the grain element, so using overlays (e.g. RGrain) is one more piece of the puzzle.

There are more things you could add (and hopefully people will jump in and list them), but I really don't think any one thing goes in to it - it's all about refining the recipe to taste.

One more thing.... the film look.... err.... which film stock are we talking about? Since each different film stock type has a different 'look', which one do we use as the baseline by which everything else can be measured? You only need to go to sites like filmconvert.com to see how the various stocks make a huge difference to how your picture can look.
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Old May 15th, 2014, 12:23 PM   #3
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

If one wants a generic film look, they should shoot some film. It might look like garbage and nothing like anything seen in the cinema, but it would indisputably be a "film look". :)

I think you nailed it with your Bollywood example. Film has been used to shoot many different looks. If the goal is to use a digital camera and to make it look like you were using film, one should start with a particular feature film and try to emulate it as a starting point. But because we aren't painting by numbers here, there's nothing wrong with using an example as the base and then adding one's own signature. Unless one is doing a parody, be creative!

Here's a short, certainly incomplete, list of things that go into a "look":
* Frame rate (24 fps for almost all film)
* Aspect ratio (a "wide" variety)
* Resolution (should be high to avoid a quantized look)
* Anti-aliasing (film doesn't alias)
* Graceful white levels (film saturates gradually)
* Depth of field (film can be shallow or deep, but an S35 sensor under typical lighting gets things close - wide shots are deep and closeups are shallow)
* Lighting (can be hard or soft, but should be balanced/artistic)
* Fog and atmospheric effects (you can light the air!)
* Art direction, costumes, makeup and color palette (if it's already the right color, grading is easy)
* Color filters for black and white shooting (Orson Welles liked red filters)
* Diffusion filter (this can give a glossy look and help model older lenses)
* Grading (digital can go way beyond film)
* Noise (you can add film noise, but there is a current trend toward extreme noise reduction. See "300")
* Sharpness (digital is often too sharp/detailed. Note the the R, G & B film planes are separated, so color film is never perfectly sharp. Older lenses were only so sharp as well. Diffusion filters help limit sharpness.)

So about all we can do is shoot at 24 fps, use good filmmaking techniques, use an S35 sensor with sensible lighting and aperture settings, manage the exposure well, and avoid over-sharpening. One can add film grain effects to emulate older stocks, but modern film can be very, very clean.

Frankly, the obsession with the "film look" made a lot of sense when most cameras shot interlace at 30 Hz on small sensors with extreme sharpening and limited dynamic range. This delivered a very different "video look". We sought 24 fps cameras and attached 35mm spinning ground glass adapters in an attempt to avoid a cheap, video look without spending a bomb on short ends and processing fees. Today, we can create beautiful moving, cinematic images with a wide variety of tools.

Again, unless one is doing a parody or period piece, we probably shouldn't worry too much about emulating film. With today's great cameras and lenses, it makes sense to create a great look that supports the story and stimulates the audience.
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Old May 15th, 2014, 12:26 PM   #4
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

Dave and I posted in parallel - and I agree with every word in Dave's post - except where he says he's not an expert. :)
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Old May 15th, 2014, 12:31 PM   #5
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

I think Dave got most of it. I thing lighting is a big part of it. On how you light and the clothing. I call it the cinema look. Here a video with Dave Dugdale talking to Tom Antos about it.
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Old May 15th, 2014, 12:33 PM   #6
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

This demonstrates why there is no one generic film look. :)


For more on the history of experimental film, check this out:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/03/mo...film.html?_r=0
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Old May 15th, 2014, 02:12 PM   #7
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

I always though the 'film' look is frame rate and color profiles. Most of the other things which complement it include careful and deliberate shots, so to speak. I don't mean staging, but just being conscious of and using your lighting, framing, and using DOF as a tool to focus attention, as appropriate. No reframing during a shot. Keeping your shot smooth and stabilized.
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Old May 15th, 2014, 02:26 PM   #8
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Benda View Post
I don't mean staging, but just being conscious of and using your lighting, framing, and using DOF as a tool to focus attention, as appropriate. No reframing during a shot. Keeping your shot smooth and stabilized.
These aren't exclusive to the film look, just good practise for lots of things, including the video look :)
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Old May 15th, 2014, 02:50 PM   #9
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

Incidently one of main gripes with video footage is the 'soap opera' look which I absolutely hate.
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Old May 15th, 2014, 03:04 PM   #10
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Harry Akkers View Post
Incidently one of main gripes with video footage is the 'soap opera' look which I absolutely hate.
What about the soap operas that were shot on film? :) OK - they don't do that now - but they used to. So, what is the 'soap opera look'? Can you be specific?
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Old May 15th, 2014, 04:10 PM   #11
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

Dave & Jon pretty much nailed all the aspects of the term "film look" but if I could simplify it I'd summarise the film look as simply "a visually expensive/calculated look that draws the viewer into another world."
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Old May 15th, 2014, 04:36 PM   #12
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

Thanks Nicolas,

Along the lines of drawing "the viewer into another world", is the concept of carefully manipulating the viewer's gaze. Interestingly, there are abstract filmmakers who feel that this is fascistic and who deliberately use long cuts with no specific point of interest to allow the viewer to gaze around the scene. It can still be on film, but it's definitely not the Hollywood look.

I remember the first showings of NHK's 8K Super Hi-Vision. It included detailed images of Google maps and wide deep focus shots without a particular point of interest. I remember feeling overwhelmed with details. Ironically, it felt a bit oppressive. Filmmakers will need to be especially directive when shooting 8K for 8K display.

A good example of video vs. film is the budget sitcom. You build a set, put an array of lights on scaffolding set up multiple cameras, and rely on the stage view of a master shot. The focus is deep, the lighting flat, and the camera motion minimized. The only thing that directs your gaze is that all the characters turn to the person with the dialog. By the 1940s, Hollywood cinema had generally moved past flat master shot productions. Then again, if you're doing an early 30s period piece...
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Old May 15th, 2014, 05:59 PM   #13
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

This keeps coming up. Insomuch as there is a "film look" it comes from the way the film is projected in a mechanical projector - double flash 24fps with equivalent black. You can't do that with video. Most movies today are shot on video. Reverse telecine video, you get the film look. Telecine film, it becomes video. Lighting, dynamic range, 24p, etc. etc has nothing whatsoever to do with a "generic" film look. If you want the look of a particular film but capture on video, set up frame scans side by side with equivalent video footage, (lens, lighting, composition, AR etc etc) color balance the video until it looks the same, but it still won't look like film until you reverse telecine.
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Old May 16th, 2014, 03:59 AM   #14
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

Yes - TLDR. Sorry....

It's good to revisit this once in a while. As time goes on, it strikes me that my son, almost 10, has never seen projected film. I saw projected film a few months ago at a private cinema, and was surprised at the dirt and the weave. Amazing how we get 'desensitised' or 'habituated' into a look over time.

The UK Netflix service has started showing Sky News as a 'live feed', but at a 25fps 720 stream. It was incredible how 'wrong' news looks at 25p. Compare and contrast to the Hobbit filmed at 48fps and looking like a televised stage play.

It reminds me of this sketch:(Skip to 2:15)

"Gentlemen, I have bad news. This room is... SURROUNDED BY FILM!"

But where it really seems to kick in is in 'Detail Enhancement'. Electronic sharpening. There was a brief scene in one of the Shrek movies - something to do with a pastiche of 'Cop Shows'. For a filmic CGI movie, it seems to capture the video look well - using a synthesised 'high frame rate' and electronic detail enhancement.

You didn't get this on film. You relied on high quality optics and precision mechanics, and even then it wasn't 'perfect'. The thing about a filmic image is that it starts off with so much more information than a video image, albeit in a sort of soggy analogue way. It's often not about what's *in* the picture, but what *isn't*.

Take Star Trek Into Darkness: I sat in the cinema - only watching a 2K release, not 4K, and became absolutely boggle-eyed at the detail in the costumes - the texture of the fabrics. You can see the weave of the fabric in the Cumberbatch character, such is the detail of the digital negative from the camera. And that leads to the concept of musicals "I came out humming the sets" if you see what I mean. Well, remembering fabrics from a sci-fi movie. Hmmmm.

Switching gears, my professional life has been in Corporate video. We were always looking for tricks that added 'production value' - that made videos look more expensively produced. We couldn't shoot on film, we could rarely afford dollies or cranes, but we could light carefully and softly. But it was always the electronic detail circuits that dialled up the 'crunch' factor, and cheaper cameras with their fixed lenses needed more help than the big DigiBetas with 15k lenses (nearly two decades ago - gawd, I feel old). A cinematic image will tend to have, in addition to shallow depth of field, the camera in motion for reframes, longer tracking shots, the equivalent of zooms, and so on. Nature of the beast. Cinema zooms were almost unheard of. You see zooms on the news, you don't see zooms at the flicks. What looks like a cinematic shot? There you go.

There's been a lot of testing and comparisons between high quality 'digital negative' (e.g. Red Raw, Arri Log-C) and actual film, and roughly speaking we're getting there, except for the last few little bits of the way film chemically reacts to light which is different to the way an electronic sensor reads it. If you revisit the Zacuto tests from a few years ago, there's a test with a lightbulb.

Skip to 16 minutes and 14 seconds (!)

The way film sees this clear lightbulb and its filament, versus the electronic cameras... Up to Generation X, we'd swing the vote to film. Gen Y might also lean that way. My 10 year old son will be decidedly 'Meh' about the distinction.

But finally, let me return to the 'desensitised' or 'habituated' problem. We're seeing Directors becoming habituated to the 'Raw' look after days or weeks on set looking at the bare camera image. That grey, ephemeral 'infinitely subtle' (i.e. 'dull') image from the camera that the DoP can take you through every stop of dynamic range is the look that the Director falls in love with, and the concept of looking at it in Rec709 is anathema. Cine films, and I mean films seen in a cinema, digital or not, are seen in perfect conditions for brightness and contrast. Grading suites, similarly. Most of our work here is seen on the web, on a domestic LCD TV set if we're lucky. The infinitely subtle 'raw' looks end up looking grey and washed out in the 'colouring-in book' world of web 4:2:0 8 bit screens, yet that 'flat' look is our new 'shallow depth of field'.

Right... returning you to the original programming, LOL - back to editing.
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Old May 16th, 2014, 08:41 AM   #15
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Re: Film Look - what is it really?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Harry Akkers View Post
why is so difficult to make DSLR footage look like film?
that i can tell you my friend - dynamic range
plus , in order of importance (MHO)
DOP, lighting, color correction
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