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Techniques for Independent Production
The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.

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Old January 31st, 2006, 01:43 PM   #1
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There have been a significant number of discussions on the DVInfo message board about making video “look like film” and there is additional information provided in numerous articles, forums, and websites. . But, given the sheer volume and subjectivity of much of the information, I have found it difficult to read that information as a coherent whole. It occurred to me several months back that I don’t actually want my video to look like film, rather I want to make video emulate the best qualities of film-based professional motion pictures.

Below is an incomplete outline I put together several months ago; it is the product of my personal attempt to identify and understand what the “film look” is and to outline the known (to me) practical steps necessary to achieve that look with a video source. I am not an expert in video production (in fact I am quite the opposite) and I didn’t think up all the methods and information provided here (I list some sources, but this was for personal use so not all are here). I realize that DV productions will not look as good as professional films, but by using the appropriate methods, we can minimize many of the telltale signs of video and create an end product that emulates the best qualities of film-based professional motion pictures. Take it for what it’s worth…

(High quality audio definitely plays a significant role in the development of a professional motion picture, and every effort should be made to produce the best audio possible, but it is obviously not a part of the “look” and thus isn’t a big part of the outline. I am still learning the ins and outs of audio, which, in truth, actually seems to me to be far more complicated than video!).

I apologize for formatting errors (or technical errors... and hopefully, it makes sense) :-)

Making Video Emulate the Best Qualities of Film-Based Professional Motion Pictures

Technical characteristics of film that ALWAYS exist (DUPLICATE THESE)

Motion characteristics
• Temporal resolution (frame rate): 24 frames per second
o Capture at 24fps or convert to 24fps
• Motion Blur: up to 25% greater motion blur than most video cameras due to slower shutter speed (1/48th vs. 1/60th)
o Add (realistic) motion blur
o Ramping (film camera effect): film camera acceleration / deceleration
Image characteristics
• Projected as whole images (non-interlaced)
o Shoot progressive or deinterlace footage
• Grain: Image results from randomly distributed grain (microscopic silver halide crystals) suspended in a three-dimensional pattern with differentiation frame to frame resulting in lack of artifacts such as aliasing in film
o Apply very fine grain – it should be random from frame to frame
• Broad dynamic range - shades of tonality and colors from darkest shadow to the brightest highlight. Extensive color timing (correction) is usually done for movies.
o Stay within the video camera's range
o Color correct / match screen grabs
• Source is high, but video is still 720x480 (NTSC)
o Use highest resolution source possible
• Audio
o High quality

Production values/techniques inherent in most professional movies (DUPLICATE THESE)

• Framing: Framed in wide-screen format (Originally shot for the “big screen” – this effects mise-en-scene): Watch the "film" to see how it would play on the big screen --- psychologically, regardless of the target format you are aiming for --- "real" movies are made for the big screen. This affects framing, movement, etc. It makes a difference to viewers accustomed to seeing movies on DVD that were originally created for the theatre.
o Frame in 16:9 (or other widescreen) even when destined for 4x3 (there are exceptions, such as mimicking old 4x3 movies)
• Ability to change depth of field
o Use DOF if called for
o Create DOF in post
• All professional movies employ modeling in lighting
o“Light like film” – except make up for video’s attributes
• Professional movies use lockdowns or dolly shots, not zooms
o Add weight to camera
o Pan slowly (and sparingly)
o Use a tripod
o Use steadicam and optical image stabilization
o Stabilize in post if necessary
Telecined Movie Characteristics
• DVD Frame resolution: 720x480 (But image comes from original source with a much higher resolution than DV)
o Use highest resolution source possible – this is the argument for HDV
• Framed in wide-screen format
• Originally shot for the “big screen” – this effects mise-en-scene
• Audio is high quality
• Greater motion blur due to slower shutter speeds
• Ability to change depth of field
• Color timing (correction) is usually done for movies
• All professional movies employ modeling in lighting
• soften skin tones
• professional movies use lockdowns or dolly shots, not zooms

Telltale characteristics of video that tells viewers "this is video" (ELIMINATE OR MINIMIZE THESE)

These items are based on information from “Creating video that resembles a fine film-to-video telecine transfer (The Rev. John Jackman, How to Make Video Look like Film)”:
• Main issues the film DPs noticed:
o Density of shadows consistently poor.
o Blacks were dark gray, a little like double setup on video. This is something that should be correctable through application of a film-like gamma curve.
o Intimate scenes worked better than panoramic shots, where the lower detail level was noticeable.
o Skin blemishes were more noticeable (as they usually are on video) rather than appearing a little airbrushed as they are by the constantly varying grain structure of film

These items are based on information from “On Video Image Characteristics and Faults” by DAVID RUETHER:

Sharpness and Illumination Effects (Due to the Lens, CCD, and Electronics)
• Focus Hunting
o No Auto Focus / Lock focus
• Control over Depth of Field
Use tricks that can help achieve a shallower DOF:
o Use DOF products: 35mm Adapters, SoftScreen
o Create realistic DOF in post: Rotoscope, create a true depth map (z-map), blur with a lens blur filter with true lens blur characteristics
• Resolution
o Use highest resolution source possible – this is the argument for HDV
• Over-Sharpening Effects
o Turn down sharpening
o “Fix” in post – how?
• Sharpness Corner/Edge Roll-Off
o The better the lens, the better the image
• Color Fringing (Chromatic Aberration)
• Spurious Color (One-CCD Color Filtering)
• Illumination Corner/Edge Roll-Off
• Vignetting
• Image Width
• Exposure (Brightness) Effects
• Contrast Effects
• Brilliance
• CCD and Shutter Light-Spread
• Other Lens Effects
o Flare
o Ghosting
o Diffraction Effects
o Linear Distortion
• Compression and Scan-Line Effects
o Stair-Stepping and Related Effects
o Moiré Patterning
o Mosquito Noise
o Color Edge Effects (NTSC)
o Dropout, Banding
• Color Effects
o Color Blooming
o Color Bias/Neutrality
o Color Purity/Saturation
o Color Tinting
o Color Noise
o Color Depth
• Progressive Scan Effects

Aesthetic choices / visual style - change from movie to movie (optional "looks" NOT REQUIRED for film-like video)

Last edited by John McManimie; January 31st, 2006 at 04:03 PM.
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Old January 31st, 2006, 05:07 PM   #2
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Old October 8th, 2006, 10:33 AM   #3
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Very nice summary, John, glad Chris made it into a Sticky!
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Old March 31st, 2009, 12:12 PM   #4
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Great bit

This was definetly worth the read. I agree that sometimes great audio is more elusive than achieving great imagery.

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Old October 21st, 2009, 04:08 AM   #5
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Thanks for your effort. Useful reference.

Kind regards,
The fish is the last to know the water.
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