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Old December 12th, 2011, 03:07 PM   #1
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WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

I'm growing weary of the "HD video look." Even when acquired with DSLR's (and yes, even with shallow DOF) I'm seeing way too much video that looks like...well...video. By that I mean (generally speaking) it's too sharp, too flat, too...blah.

The film look is something sought by many (and I know it's probably been discussed to death around here). I've heard all the usual stuff: shoot with shallow DOF, use this or that plugin, and light your scenes like film---not like video.

While recognizing that sometimes the elusive film look is a combination of many elements (and using them all effectively)...I'm interested to hear what one or two things people believe makes the most difference re: getting away from the video look?

A related question (which may sound blasphemous to some) is...has anyone "modified" the resolution of their HD video (e.g. by adding noise, grain, etc) in an effort to keep it from looking so..."HD video?"

Bear in mind I'm NOT suggesting we all go back to VHS quality video...far from it. I only know that I'm tired of the look that my producers get much of the time (the flat, uninspiring, HD-video look I mentioned above)...and though I know there are no shortcuts...I guess I'm looking for some concrete advice I can give my producers that will at least start to get them away from that look.

Finally, keep in mind too that much of the video we work with is typical ENG-style video (not carefully-lit studio sets). Our environment often requires that we shoot in professors' offices, under fluorescent lights, in hallways, gymnasiums, etc---in other words, in less-than-inspiring locations. So it may simply be the case that there is little we can do to get away from the HD-video look in those settings...in which case I might need to focus more on post-production techniques?

(We also shoot with both high-end broadcast cameras like the Panasonic Varicam as well as DSLRs like the 5D.)

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Old December 12th, 2011, 03:26 PM   #2
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

"Film look" has always been an elusive concept, Scott. I've long felt it was better described as "film feel", which is to say that the viewer will associate the given material as being originated with film without having to exactly duplicate the presentation of film. We cracked the first step ten years ago with 24p in video cameras, and the shallow depth of field of large sensor cameras was another big step (although not as critical as 24p). Grading the material to give it a film-like gamma is another way to approach the desired goal. In between there, however, is a very wide and very important range of possibilities--how one frames and lights the action.

On a more specific level, if one is truly looking to emulate the look of film, it does beg the question--what flavor of film? The grain structure, contrast and latitude changed so much over the years. Today's stocks are much less grainer than what came before, so that is hardly even a factor any more. You can see the difference between film and digital acquisition on the big screen, but it is getting very hard to identify which TV series are shot on film vs digital (less and less each year of the former). And the latitude of HD has finally caught up to film, so the highlight rolloff is no longer a signifying factor.

So, while there may be a few elements of "special sauce" that can be purchased and utilized in the physical workflow, I honestly believe that a large percentage of the "film feel" remains in the skill and eye of the user.
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Old December 12th, 2011, 04:45 PM   #3
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

I've argued for a few years that the "Film Look" all happens outside the camera during production and pre-production. Not just lighting, but set design, costumes, makeup... camera motion and blocking, actor blocking... etc...

The "Film Look" is more about "Mise en Scene" than it is about camera settings or any post production tricks that can be applied. I've seen video that looks brilliant, and 16 and 35mm film that looks like crap. It's not the capture medium, but the care taken with what you're capturing.

At that point, how you capture it starts to play a role. Once that's done, how you treat it in post adds as well, but it begins heavily and primarily in preproduction.
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Old December 12th, 2011, 06:18 PM   #4
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

Charles has it right when he asks, "what flavor of film?"

It's not just about film stock, but also about the set and costume design, lenses, filters, fog/mist, lighting, framing, camera motion, and color timing. So the right question might be, "what film would you like to emulate?"

For some, the film look means "Hitchcock", while for others it means "Star Wars" - many episodes of which weren't even shot on film. Once you've identified your target, it's easier to prioritize what is necessary to achieve that look.

In fact, I recommend shooting your initial test shots as DSLR photos. You can get low noise, RAW captures. Heck, you can even shoot HDR, if you want. You can shoot a long exposure at 100 ISO to virtually eliminate digital noise. And you're getting 5K resolution. Set up your shot, grade, and add grain, and you should be able to create just about any look you want. In fact, you could get an old film camera and actually shoot film. You could crop it to S35, if you want. This is nice in that it eliminates the problem of the camera budget from your test. From there, you can discover which aspects are most important for hitting your target.
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Old April 10th, 2012, 05:29 AM   #5
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

Just for info, I have posted a review of Digital Film Tools - Film Stocks, some may find these plugins are just the thing that they are looking for.

Digital Film Tools -Film Stocks
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Last edited by Vincent Oliver; April 11th, 2012 at 03:00 AM.
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Old April 10th, 2012, 07:30 AM   #6
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

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Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
I'm interested to hear what one or two things people believe makes the most difference re: getting away from the video look?
selective focus and blacks are always black, regardless of the color correction scheme, Kill Bill or Matrix, and maybe 2.35:1, cuz when you flipping channels and you see it - you know this is a movie;
could be good movie, or bad, but that's another topic :))
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Old April 10th, 2012, 11:10 AM   #7
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

Have you tried different filters on the camera itself? Remember the old days when you couldn't do much more than change the contrast and brightness during editing? So we made the look we wanted on the camera end. Maybe that's what you need to look at doing.
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Old April 10th, 2012, 12:24 PM   #8
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

I myself am not wild for 24p, and have greater interest in developing good video imagery than pursuit of making video look like something else. I have zero patience for dust, grain and scratches plugins, for example.

But, all the lessons of lighting that speak in the visual language first spoken by film, those are, I think, very relevant. That the cinematic experience has promoted a "natural" lighting aesthetic is something that I study and apply with great interest. There is still a place for 3-point lighting, but it is shrinking all the time, as more tv and more documentary productions move towards more natural lighting looks.

Video has accepted artificiality of lighting, scene, setting, and acting as part of so many genres.

Film (mostly) has pursued looks that are more natural, looks that better represent the lighting sources that we see in buildings and outdoors.

Hand in hand with that is latitude. Nothing says "bad video" to me so much as uncontrolled highlights, blown highlights, and shine. I've so appreciated histogram and WVF displays in video cameras, that immediately identify crushed blacks and blowing whites, and am a huge fan of shooting flat and a little under in camera, and grading in post to get some rich blacks, perhaps crushed, and lots of highlight and shadow control with good saturation.

I think this all makes better video. That it also tends to look more filmic doesn't move me so much, but the richer and more natural imagery does!
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Old April 10th, 2012, 02:02 PM   #9
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

My main focus of late (and it's working really well) is to treat video as film would be treated when lighting.

In the film negative world, chemistry and physics means that the highlights can be allowed to run a little hot, but you'd better throw some lighting into the shadows or the blacks will clip really hard where the emulsion washes away. Video works much like reversal film with the whites doing the same things as the blacks in negative photography.

So my trick has been to expose for the highlights, then bring light onto the subject to bring them into correct exposure range with regard to the highlights in the background (sky and windows)... then add light to the shadows to bring them into exposure as well as would be done in negative photography to prevent the blacks from clipping.

I'm getting quite filmic footage even at 30p with just these changes (standard image composition / aesthetic disclaimer here). Beyond that, learning to light well and dramatically has made all the difference in my footage, everything else being equal.
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Old April 10th, 2012, 04:47 PM   #10
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

And then there's black and white...

I did some sunshine tests this weekend with a 5D2, a circular polarizer, an ND 0.9, and a Red 23a filter. I put the camera into Monochrome mode with minimum sharpness and contrast. The results were creamy smooth with bright skin tones and a deep sky. It had a subtle vintage look that was hard to put a finger on. It was clean, digital, and modern, but the tones were vaguely familiar from the past. It doesn't hit you over the head like sepiatone or dust, scratches, and vignettes, but it definitely has a "look". Welles, Hitchcock, and many black and white photographers used red filters for years, so I'm not exactly inventing anything new here.

Technically, the red filter and monochrome picture style are the right choice for DSLRs. The camera gathers light from all of the colors, pre-filtered, creates a full-res luma signal, and dedicates all of its bandwidth to luma in a 4:0:0 output. It's crisp and smooth. (FWIW, I used the VAF-5D2 filter as well to ensure no aliasing.)

The 5D2 has a digital red filter in the monochrome mode. Don't use it. The line/pixel readout isn't correct. Diagonal lines become jagged and detail is lost. This filter is a fail. Get an optical one.

I also tried removing the red 23a filter and shooting in Neutral and CineStyle, applying the red filter in post. In both cases, the block artifacts become gross. The R-Y channel from the 4:2:0 signal dominates, and it simply doesn't get as many bits as the Y channel does. CineStyle is super flat and needed gain to be added in post. Even without the red post filter, the blue part of the sky gets contour lines as CineStyle steals bits from the mid tones. Add the red filter and you get blocks on top of the quantization errors.

But with the red filter and monochrome mode - especially with the polarizer - you get bright skin, deep skies, proper pixel/line order, good detail, and minimal quantization and block artifacts. I overexposed my test shots a bit and was able to push down the gamma to compensate, still with a smooth picture. In Vegas, I added 50% sharpening to make up for the minimal sharpening and VAF filter, again without adding visible, digital problems.

We don't always want black and white, but when we want to shoot the classic black and white look, this is the way to go with a DSLR. Add a slight amount of grain and a hint of yellow/orange (display color temps are generally higher than cinema lamp color temps), and you're there.

My next step is to shoot a stable scene at a variety of exposures to see what puts the skin tones into the ideal range. My first attempt didn't clip, but the skin highlights were too hot. In the end, I believe that I'll end up with lots of headroom that will keep the highs clean, but might end up crushing the blacks a bit. But that's for next time!...
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Old April 11th, 2012, 02:58 AM   #11
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fairhurst View Post
And then there's black and white...

I did some sunshine tests this weekend with a 5D2, a circular polarizer, an ND 0.9, and a Red 23a filter. I put the camera into Monochrome mode with minimum sharpness and contrast. The results were creamy smooth with bright skin tones and a deep sky. It had a subtle vintage look that was hard to put a finger on. It was clean, digital, and modern, but the tones were vaguely familiar from the past. It doesn't hit you over the head like sepiatone or dust, scratches, and vignettes, but it definitely has a "look". Welles, Hitchcock, and many black and white photographers used red filters for years, so I'm not exactly inventing anything new here.
..
Was the image on the LCD screen still bright enough for you to see anything? Yes, a red filter will give some very dramatic looking footage, just don't look too closely at the actors lips or the red postbox. For many of the old Black & White movies the actors would put on very heavy lipstick to compensate for the lack of tone in the reds.

I have been experimenting a lot with Film Stocks from Digital Film Tools and they do produce some interesting and realistic film effects, it may be well worth downloading the 15 day no limitations trial version. I have placed a link to a review in post number #5 on this thread
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Old April 11th, 2012, 01:35 PM   #12
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

Quote:
Was the image on the LCD screen still bright enough for you to see anything?
Yes. Definitely. As I recall, I was at 1/60, f/3.5, and 640 ISO for the tests with the 23a filter, and went to 100 ISO while maintaining the same shutter and aperture without the filter - and if I were to do it again, I would lower the ISO to 320 as the sunlit skin tones were too hot. (I set the exposure so the histogram didn't clip, but didn't expect my skin tones to be quite that high in the curve.) The LCD view was quite normal.

Maybe you are referring to a red image in the LCD display? With the camera in the Monochrome picture style, the image is black and white, rather than black and red. (What's black and white and red all over? Shooting monochrome with a Red 23a filter!)

Quote:
Yes, a red filter will give some very dramatic looking footage, just don't look too closely at the actors lips or the red postbox. For many of the old Black & White movies the actors would put on very heavy lipstick to compensate for the lack of tone in the reds.
Good point. I didn't consider the "lips" issue. I'm sure your not talking about the heavy makeup used in the silent era. By the 40s, they really had this stuff figured out.

I'd also like to get a Yellow 8 filter, which is said to give a more natural sky, as well as a Green 1, which would might be good indoors.

Here is a nice reference.
http://www.ohio.edu/people/schneidw/...s/295filtr.pdf

In any case, my key finding is that colored optical filters and Monochrome mode are the way to go for black and white shooting. The shade you choose (if any) is an artistic choice and could be important when going for a vintage look. Shooting in color and post filtering shows block artifacts. Shooting too flat when there are significant mid-tones gives contour artifacts. Using the digital color filter in-camera on the 5D2 gives line/pixel swap errors and should be avoided. An optical filter and Monochrome mode gives a really clean output that can stand up to color curve changes.
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Old April 14th, 2012, 09:08 PM   #13
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

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while for others it means "Star Wars" - many episodes of which weren't even shot on film.
I thought we agreed not to bring those up in polite conversation?
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Old April 15th, 2012, 11:19 AM   #14
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

Film Look?

The Brady Bunch

Gilligan's Island

Bonanza

Seinfield
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Old April 16th, 2012, 01:29 AM   #15
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Re: WANTED: Most "film look" bang for the buck?

Just some of my thoughts, this is not meant to undermine your efforts.

It seems that we video guys are over concerned about re-creating a film look, whilst the viewing public just want a good story line. A simple recipe for adding a film look to your movie is to increase the contrast then chop the top and bottom off for a widescreen look. If your story line is good then you have the audience in your hand.

Of course I am being very simplistic and perhaps too much tongue in cheek. As a former professional violinist, I too would spend hours practicing every detail and nuance of the music, but at a performance the audience just wants to be entertained. Yes, there would be a small percentage of listeners who would appreciate all the subtleties. Then there are a lot of passages which would be lost due to a loud cough, sneeze or other non scripted noise.Now apply that scenario to a movie/video and I wonder how many TV sets are set up correctly and viewed under ideal conditions. I suspect that many screens will be in a living room with many less than ideal ambient lights on, including sunlight streaming into a room. Will the audience appreciate what you have done, or are we just doing it for other video guys to admire?

The bottom line on this is, why try to re-create a film look, why not explore the look a video gives and then seek out a unique look for it. Alternatively a really good way to create a film look is to shoot it on film.
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