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Old March 7th, 2005, 04:13 PM   #1
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Define/Quantify Film Look

Has this community taken a stab at defining and quantifying what is meant by "film look"?

I know all the posts in this section are about "film look", but my searches been unable to find a succinct definition. If this has already been done, please excuse my post, and point me to the appropriate thread.

I guess what I'm looking for, and what might be useful to many people, is a succinct definition of "film look" that quantifies to the degree possible exactly what attributes would a video need to have to look like film. Think of it like design requirements. If you were going to build a video camera, and there were no technology limits, what standards would you use to develop your design, and then test your prototype against? I'm talking about the attributes of a film, not the features of any particular camera.

Another way of thinking about it is what would you want to tell aspiring filmmakers and film school students who can't afford film? What definitions would you give so that one can select the most appropriate production and post-production equipment/hardware/software/techniques to achieve the "film look" as best they can within their budget?

I am very much a beginner concerning "film look". Based on what I've been able to gather, here is an example of what I'm looking for:


1. Shallow depth-of-field
2. Soft focus
3. Well saturated colors especially in shadows and dark areas
4. No grain or video noise
5. Proper lighting
6. High quality audio
7. Wide-screen format
8. 24 fps

Please correct me where I have stated anything incorrectly or improperly. I have stated these in NO particular order. Perhaps when we get done, a ranking of order of importance to achieving the "film look" could be done.

Of course, it goes without saying, you need a good story, good script, and good actors. But this is true regardless of the technology one uses to produce a motion picture.

So I propose that we collaborate to develop these attributes, define them in some detail, and then, with the permission of Mr. Hurd, post these as a sticky at the top of this forum.

At this point, I will bow out and defer to those of you who have much greater experience in this area than I.
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Old March 7th, 2005, 04:36 PM   #2
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I completely feel the same way. I've been reading all the posts in this forum trying to come up with a good list of criteria that one could go by to say, "if you include these factors in your workflows (pre-prod-post), your video will look more like film."

Your list is a good start and I hope that it garners a lot of constructive discussion that stays on topic.

And please, no one say that we should just shoot on film. This is a dv forum, not a film forum.
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Old March 7th, 2005, 05:05 PM   #3
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"No Grain"?

I think one of the charming characteristics of film, is the grain. Various emullsions have greater or lesser ammounts, but it's always present. So, I would redifine that element of your list.
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Old March 7th, 2005, 05:10 PM   #4
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There's probably two practical definitions of film look you need to care about:
1- Professional world: Producers decide to shoot on video to save money, but find that the footage doesn't look as good as film.
2- Amateur world: I don't have enough money to shoot film but still want my footage to look good.

Reasons why film looks better (in no particular order):
A- Film implies bigger budgets.
B- Psychological? You spent a lot of money on film, it better damn well look good.
C- DOPs have a lot of experience shooting it. / Nearly all the good DOPs know how to shoot film.
D- Personal bias towards film for whatever reason (i.e. they shot bad looking video, they like to be an old-timer, whatever).

A- Much greater exposure latitude. For same results with video, you have to light important picture detail into the right exposure range.
B- Resolution. For television, I don't think this matters too much.
C- Highlight handling: Video has color shifts for almost-highlights (just before clipping hits). Look at skies, or lighted areas which blow out/clip in the middle- these areas will have color shifts on the fringes. 24 (at least season two) is a good example- for the CTU interiors, some of the floor areas where the spotlights hit them are messed up. The affects the practical latitude range for video.
D- Film has grain. Sometimes considered good when it adds grittiness.
E- Film doesn't have video noise.
F- Different gamma response- increases overall color saturation (depends on luminance/brightness) and overall contrast.
G- (assinine?) The different emulsion layers of film have different sharpness/focus.
H- Lack of video-specific artifacts. Stair-stepping. Digital compression artifacts or analog artifacts. Vertical streaking. (1CCD cameras: false colors)
I- Different color gamut.
J- Does not have excessive edge sharpening, which a lot of video cameras will apply by default.
K- Film is 24p, whereas video is usually 60i.

If you shoot video really well, probably A B D and E will really concern you (under technical).
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Old March 8th, 2005, 12:38 AM   #5
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There actually have been an incredible number of discussions on just this subject here, but it's understandable that they would be hard to find over the wealth of posts in the last few years. Here's one that bears more than a striking resemblance to this thread:

I think the tricky part about this discussion is at a certain point, verbiage doesn't do the medium justice. One person considers film to be "sharper" than video, which it is, another might think it looks "softer" (because it feelssofter). Certain attributes like 24p vs 60i are definitely quantifiable factors; I don't think I've yet heard of anyone considering 60i as looking more filmlike than 24p. In fact, I consider that to be the primary, top of the list characteristic.
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Old March 8th, 2005, 01:01 PM   #6
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For me, they fall in this order:

1. 24p (see #3 for a related item)

2. The way highlights gradually 'fade' out in film vs. hard clipping in video (this one is HUGE, and often overlooked) This is the important part of the 'S' curve everyone talks about. In fact, it may be beneficial to not use both sides of the S, as that tends to crush the blacks, sacrificing shadow detail.

(less important below)

3. Slightly more motion blur (1/48th shutter vs. 1/60th or less)

4. Shallow DOF. Not required, but when it's there it really makes for a filmic feel. Not appropriate for all shots.

5. _presence_ of the tiniest amount of grain. This adds (for me at least) to the film quality.

6. Color saturation. The best way to fix this is to use enough light in the first place. I can't quantify it, but I feel like bright saturated source which is carefully 'desaturated' has a different (and more filmic) quality from source which is desaturated due to a lack of light.
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Old March 8th, 2005, 04:49 PM   #7
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I appreciate this thread as well and have often wondered what a person means when they refer to a film look.

We had a client as if we could do a "film look" but we had to define it for them. Sometimes what people want with the film look is the old projector Super 8 home movie look with scratches and dust.

I'm very new to this but what I do in trying to create a film look is:

1. Shoot at 1/30 sec (Optura Xi). It gives a psuedo progressive deinterlaced look.
2. Shallow depth of field when appropriate.
3. Add a little grain in post
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Old March 8th, 2005, 10:55 PM   #8
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My biggest hang up with grain is that it can really bog down and lower your MPEG encoding for DVD. Encoding noise takes a lot of processing power and data that could be better used elsewhere.
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Old March 9th, 2005, 12:00 AM   #9
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<<<-- Originally posted by Charles Papert : There actually have been an incredible number of discussions on just this subject here, but it's understandable that they would be hard to find over the wealth of posts in the last few years. -->>>


I was sure there had to be many posts on this subject, I just couldn't figure out the key words to search on.

This is the main reason I'd like to see post the results of our discussion as a new message with a sticky so it stays on top for all to readily see.

Thank you for your comments. I expect there to be some (much?) debate about what constitutes a good film look. After all, filmmaking is an art, and great artists can disagree about what looks good.

But perhaps there is a core set of attributes that most can agree on. Like the 24p you mentioned.

One interesting approach would be to identify what attributes make the viewer aware that the motion picture is a video rather than a film.

Best Regards,
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Old March 15th, 2005, 04:18 AM   #10
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NIce thread, PEter WIllie! WE all want to have that film look. We all want to become the next steven spielberg. YOu must understand one thing. A consumer cam will NEVER create that film-look. Even profesionals can't fix that cause of the lack of the recorded picture quality. (garbage in=garbage out). You can add grain, change the S-curve, add more blurring motion, use a MINI35.....but....very hard. If you use a semi-pro/pro model like dvx/xl2 and future models which can b e shot progresively, you CAN create something film-like. YOu need to record with lots of light. Glenn Chan gave a great summary of what the film look is. YOU need lots of lighting to caputure every detail.

And I think other things are very important for movies.

1) sound editing (you need to know how to edit sound, Don't use your audio editing function within Adobe premier or vegas. They suck deep and are very limiting. You need to change EQ, add compression, echo, reverb and other minor details like mixing layers and I am talking about 8 audio layers sometimes such as wind, background, special effects 1, special effects 2, vocal 1, vocal 2, vocal over etc etc...every track of audio should be mixed and taken care of profesionally. People always thing that audio is inferior, but it isn't . I can hear in 10 seconds if the movie is profesional or amateur. Tons of examples on the dv masses thread.

2) motion blurring. Move yoru cam from left to right and your shot is likely shaky, even if you use a tripod. This can be easily be fixed in adobe after effects. Even if people move around, you see the video-look. SO very important to add motion blurring. See forum for tons of threads over this subject.

Hope this helped.

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Old March 15th, 2005, 04:54 AM   #11
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For all those who think yu can't make film-look like material with video, WATCH THIS. I am one fo those who think you can do a lot with digital video. WHY? Read this.

excerpt from source:

One of the most notable things about “Once Upon a Time In Mexico” from a filmmaking standpoint is that this is one of the first movies to be shot on the same high definition 24p digital video cameras used for “Star Wars: Episode 2.” (It was actually finished shooting in 2001, but held for 2 years for release.)

Supposedly, Rodriguez used “Once Upon a Time In Mexico” to push the limits of the new digital cameras, experimenting with lenses, filters and frame rates. To his credit, he did an excellent job with this. Many of the scenes really look like film, and there were only two shots in which the video image appreciatively broke down (and both of those were in extremely wide, deep shots). Sure, there are still video artifacting in hot spots on the image, but overall this movie could be an advertisement for the 24p digital video camera.

Give me a break! I dare anyone to call up David Tattersall, the director of photography on the new “Star Wars” films, and tell him he isn’t a real filmmaker because he didn’t shoot the movie on actual film. Heck, I’m a professional writer, but by this standard, I haven’t technically “written” anything in years. I use a computer, so why don’t people demand that I call myself a typer or a word processor?

Just call it a film, Rob, and get on with your career. In my experience from dealing with independent filmmakers, the only folks that really make a big deal about this sort of thing are talentless hacks who use the fact that they shoot on film as a replacement for quality in their product.

The bottom line is that Robert Rodriguez had the budget to shoot on either film or video. It was his choice. Many independents would love to shoot on film but just can’t afford it. And if they choose video for budgetary reasons, they sure as heck ain’t gonna afford the same gear that Rodriguez had on this $30 million “flick.” A Sony Handycam isn’t gonna cut it. The proper video equipment, filters, lenses and shooting experience is going to cost the independent filmmaker a chunk of c
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Old March 26th, 2005, 05:30 PM   #12
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What is Desirable frame rate??

Please see the following thread JVC Previews NEW Pro HD Camera Specs to Select AVR Resellers beginning approximately with the post by Ron Evans on March 21 concerning the desirability of shooting a motion picture at 24fps. It would appear that some believe the quality of motion pictures would be better if shot at a higher frame rate.

Is film shot at 24fps for aesthetic reasons, or mostly because of tradition and technology (most film cameras shoot only at 24 fps)? Perhaps cost is also a factor -- film shot at a higher frame rate would be more costly, and of course it would be very costly to manufacturer and purchase new cameras that run at a higher, optional, frame rate.
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Old March 26th, 2005, 07:30 PM   #13
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I'm going to try to find an article written many years ago by Roger Ebert that succintly desribed the difference between 24fps (in a theater) and watching TV (interlaced video). It was mainly about the psychological differences (with projected film having a more positive impact on the mind, putting the viewers in a meta state or something). The problem is...with the new JVC, we are still talking about watching TV.
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Old March 26th, 2005, 08:44 PM   #14
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Film makers are often at cross purposes with videographers.

Film makers deliberately conceal from the viewer while trying to convey the subject matter. An example is when a figure steps into the frame from beside the camera. Another is when zoomed tight on the terrified face of the victim, the concealed killer with a knife emerges from immediately behind. Shadows and lighting and quick scene changes are used to conceal, not illuminate. The film maker doesn't want unimportant details to distract from his subject. It's drama.

Videographers on the other hand, are trying not to conceal but to reveal. Reveal the colors of a chamelion on a sunny rock, reveal the nuances of a rainbow, capture the panorama of the Grand Canyon, or the smells and sounds of race cars on pit lane.

60fps conveys the airy live presence for video to reveal all the details in the frame, not only the subject but the background.

24fps gives the director the option of controlling texture while keeping the viewer's attention focused on the subject, and not distracted by details not relevant to his message.
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Old March 27th, 2005, 08:07 AM   #15
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I want to state a few things that I never see mentioned (and a couple that have been but I still think are more important than people tend to think) that, whilst not necessarily all related, are all factors in the difference between film and video images.

1) Grain is rarely visible in a film, unless shot on 16mm or projected to a massive size (this ties in to point 2). Wanna check? Watch a DVD copy of any major 35mm film - how much grain can you see on your nice big 40" TV? That's right - none!

2) Grain IS important! But adding it to video won't help any... The advantage of grain structure in film over pixel structure in video is that grain is randomly distibuted throughout each frame (as the emulsion is simply painted onto the celluloid). Pixels, on the other hand are always neatly arranged in rows. The effect of this is to alter the perception of resolution when projected (taking into account the persistance of vision), as the pixels can literally be seen (even on a small scale digital projection) due to their constant rendering in the exact same place, whereas with film the grain moves with each frame, creating a higher effective resolution over a few frames. Thi also helps acount for the "softer" look of film, despite it's higher resolution. It is organic and analogue in it's nature.

3) Higher exposure latitude, as someone here mentioned earlier. This doesn't get nearly as much attention dedicated to it as it should. It can be "faked" to a certain extent by shooting very tight latitudes and then crushing the image in post to gain an approximation of the "S" curve gamma of film.

4) Even more important is the clipping issue, again as mentioned earlier. This also can be resolved by the solution to (3), but there is a look to film that burns out or drops to black that cannot (at least with current post processes) be effectively recreated, and this certainly limits you as a DoP in your artistic abilities - see films like "Usual Suspects" for fantastic use of over-exposure or "The Third Man" (what a classic!!) for great usage of black and near-black details.

5) Last, and imho, definitely least is this damned 24p business. Don't get me wrong, it's a great tool to have at your disposal, but it's not much different from 25p, or even 30p folks! Also, it seems there are a lot of new filmmakers out there who think that buying a camera that shoots 24p will give them "that film look". No chance. It will help give your film the MOTION CHARACTERISTICS of film, but it won't change the look of one still image a jot. Fact. Good, well suited Lighting, use of DOF if possible/suitable and clever post-processing will go a lot further to acheiving a film look than shooting at 24p.

Oh, BTW - great point Tom. The above is certainly as viewed from a "film-makers" POV, as most of what is mentioned is probably exactly what videographers would want to avoid!
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