Miami Vice (80's pastel-look) - a "scientific" approach at

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Old May 3rd, 2006, 09:21 PM   #1
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Miami Vice (80's pastel-look) - a "scientific" approach

I've filmed a parody of Miami Vice with my 35mm adapter and a very old and bad 1CCD Sony DV-camera. Even though I get a nice short DOF, the colours didn't look like Miami Vice at all. The footage simply didn't look like Miami Vice.

I tried diferent Magic Bullet Looks. Almost all of them looked funky, but none of them looked like Miami Vice. Some nights I applied a certain look, it looked fine at the moment, but the next day I wasn't satisfied. I kept repeating the same mistake over and over again. I realized that I had to figure out what the MV-look really was. First by looking at the footage, then by doing some research. The colors for example are pastel. I found the homepage of the focus puller that worked on season 1-2. He wrote that Don Johnson demanded diffusion filters on close-ups. Some diffusion filters were used every now and then. At this time I knew more about the MV look, but still didn't know how to achieve it.

The breakthrough came when I decided to look for scenes on a MV dvd that were shot in a similar environment as my own footage. I took stills from those scenes and analyzed them with the video scopes in my NLE. I noticed that the values of the waveform monitor and vectorscope where very similar to each other, even though the scenes were shot in different environments. When compared to my own footage all scopes differed a lot from the MV footage.

Here's a comparison, scope by scope

Waveform monitor/RGB parade:
MV: max 80 white, min 0 white
My footage: max 100 white min 5 white

MV: max 40
My footage: max 70

My conclusion was that in MV-footage white was never white. White was at most 80% white (around 195 in 8-bit values (0-255)). Black was always black. Saturation was at most 40. The film-stock has a completely different character than my aged 1CCD dv-camera. Big scoop... :)

So I used procamp on my footage to mimic the characteristics of MV by adjusting gamma, contrast and chroma. At a first look, it didn't look very good. Actually it looked worse. I have to admit though that some of my footage is overexposed. Anyway, film characteristics are more than those values.

At this point, Magic Bullet became useful again. I used one of the more subtile presets to add diffussion and also "spread out" the colours a bit. Then I used procamp to make sure all values where correct. I felt a sweet taste of success...

What I've learnt is that film look can be mimiced, although film is always nicer. Don't overexpose the video! Use UV-filters! Sometimes you can't see what scopes can see.

I also would like to add that the B-footage shot with a 3CCD Panasonic gave better results than the 1CCD Sony, especially in terms of better color distribution.

If you find this little story useful, or if you have any comments or questions - reply! I can post some screen grabs too if you are interested.
Carl Jakobsson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 5th, 2006, 06:18 AM   #2
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Pictures would be helpful I don't have the software you used, but I might learn more from your trials and successes.

Have you tried using a polarizer to help bring out the color of daylit scenes? The color of water, plants, and cars can be impacted tremendously.
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Old May 5th, 2006, 07:46 AM   #3
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Hi Carl,

It would be fun to see your parody! Might you post it someday?

That focus puller of whom you speak is none other than our own Rick Bravo. Do a search here on his name! He helped on the set of the Miami Vice movie that is coming out this summer, too. Twenty years later!!
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Old May 5th, 2006, 12:04 PM   #4
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Carl, thanks for sharing your experience. This highlights that in achieveing film looks, it is often best to go back to the source and find out exactly what techniques were used in the original productions. I'm not sure if much info is available for TV shows, but for films, most major Hollywood films of visual interest get some write-up in American Cinematographer magazine. The articles are very detailed on all aspects of the production design, cinematrogaphy, and processing used to achieve certain looks. While not all of the information translates directly to video, much of it can be used in some way.

It also helps to step back and ask yourself what defines the look you are going for. A pastel look might imply lower contrast, lower saturation, perhaps slightly oevrexposed (you might mush gamma up a bit in post to simulate overexpose, but you wouldn't want to intentional overexpose on video, however).
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Old May 6th, 2006, 07:36 PM   #5
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Thanks for your feedback!

Between 2000-2005 I was a producer for a humor show called "Nattvard". It was broadcasted at the local student television channel in Lund, Sweden. The show was very appreciated among the students and other youth. In 2002 we (or to be honest I) decided to film a parody of Miami Vice called "Lomma Vice". Lomma is a small town by the sea about 4 miles from Lund that everyone visits in summer time. Lomma Vice became extremely popular. It's in swedish but is downloadable at: (part 1) (part 2)

So in 2004 we decided to film LV2. We shot some scenes, but not all for the entire episode. In summer 2005 we continued to shoot the rest, but with my prototype adapter. We also decided to shoot LV0 (the "pilot" - what happened before LV1?) simultaneously. I now have two episodes of Lomma Vice to edit.

The scene I'm working on right now is the opening scene in LV0. It was shot through an adapter that was calibrated for a 3CCD-panasonic. Unfortunately that particular camera destroyed our tape, only a few seconds here and there were saved. When we discovered that fall was already here. In panic we took the only camera available (without having time to adjust it to the adapter) and reshot the whole scene... The camera was a seven year old 1CCD-camera with almost no manual settings and a weak battery. As a result of this the footage got shaky, vignetted, overexposed - almost everything you don't want.

Marcus: No polarizer filter was used. I regret that now. Especially it was shot in an old industrial harbor (=lot's of water). It was very sunny too. A UV-filter would have been nice too...

Lorinda: Rick Bravo it is! I have seen the MV-trailer and to be honest, I'm not interested! I have a feeling that none of the things that made the original great seem to have been in mind of the filmmakers. I actually think Lomma Vice is closer to MV than the new MV. :) But I haven't seen it yet, so this is only my first thoughts...

Joshua: Thanks for the tips! I've changed my effects chain. First contrast is lowered to around -60. Then I do the usual black/white-levels with the 3-way CC.

I will post screengrabs later.
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Old May 7th, 2006, 11:30 AM   #6
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Here are 3 grabs color corrected as described in the previous post
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Old May 17th, 2006, 02:19 PM   #7
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As a fan of M.V. I have an interest in this thread. Being from Florida and having frequented Miami, in particular the Art Deco District, the colors of the buildings are pastel. The neon lighting on the buildings add to the color. There is no other place like it.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 06:28 PM   #8
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I've changed my strategy a bit.
1) Diffusion
2) Black level at 0, white at around 190
3) Reduction of saturation
4) Lowering of contrast

I'll try to upload some screenshots tomorrow!
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