18
Feb
11

Questions about the elusive Cinema Film Look

I receive questions from people all over the world regarding Film Look and Cine Style shooting on almost a daily basis. What people are trying to achieve, is to match their prosumer camera’s image, with what their eyes are seeing on the big screen (let’s call it that for now – you might say “Hollywood movies” or “Blockbusters”…).

Here is what i have to say to those people. It’s a kind of mash-up of the many email answers i’ve sent and replies i’ve given on this blog.

The part below starts with a reply to a question about making a “Red” picture style for Canon DSLR cameras, that i’ve left in place here.

First, footage directly out of the RED is Raw and looks very flat and desaturated; it will most certainly not look cinematic or specifically “Film Look” at first sight. The footage will be graded to the colorgrader’s personal taste and he can make it look more like film, or even look like cheap video. I have seen a LOT of Red footage that didn’t have the Cinema Film Look at all! So, getting back to your question, you could also say that you want to copy/import the looks of other footage in general. E.g. Avatar. I’ll get back to that later.
Here we come to point two; how do you define Cinema Film Look ?! That’s a very subjective and personal experience. Factors such as shallow depth of field, crushed blacks, nicely roll-off of whites, soft edges but also sharp at the same time, and a certain specific coloration can be named, but each of them might be valued or applied different by YOU.

But let’s get down to earth for a moment… Watched a movie (film) in the cinema lately? Seen the HUGE amount of grain, chromatic abberiation, optical distortion, greenish blacks, flicker, scratches, out of focus, gate movement… et cetera? Is THAT what you are referring to as the Cinema Film Look!? I hope not…

So we have created a whole new idea in our mind, of what the elusive Cinema Look is! Almost a virtual unexplainable awareness of something that does not exist! Or at least something not two people will have the same idea about. It’s 100% perceptual and therefore very hard to explain in our language (which is designed for telling other monkeys where the ripe fruit is). We can agree about the shallow DOF, but the rest is really elusive, intangible. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder…

Watch a Tony Scott movie (“The taking of Pelham 1,2,3”, or “Unstoppable”). If you’d come up with THAT look twenty-five years ago, you’d probably would’ve been declared mad.

Let’s look at Avatar. It’s VERY digital. Everything is crispy crispy sharp. Pores of actor’s faces can be explorer in-depth. But shallow depth? Not really.., at least not exaggerated (DOF is not the friend of special effects people / image composers). Crushed, rich blacks? Not really… Does Avatar look cinematic to you? It certainly does to me! I was blown of my seat when i watched it on the big screen, although i must admit that it has a certain electronic look on my home plasma, on Bluray.

Nevertheless… there must be factors present in less “cine style” movies like avatar that appeal to us. Most of them are indeed hard to explain in normal language, and the others may include the huge color and luminance dynamic range (latitude), the high quality optics that are used, very professional lighting, top-notch camera and production crew, and a whole battalion of digital post processing wizards using equipment and software we will probably never even get to see.

I’ve read somewhere that the costs of Cameron’s 3D cameras, rigs and special monitoring did not even consume 5% of the film’s budget. So, after watching the movie, you can probably imagine where the other 95% went…
I’m sure that color grading and other digital postprocessing of some “Hollywood” movies exceeds the costs of camera rentals and operators, including the DP’s salary.

Avatar is just a extreme example here. If you look at The Social Network, which is a typical Red digital movie, it’s hard to tell if it’s film or digital, if you watch it at home. It surely has the “cinema film look”.

The Tony Scott look has inspired hundreds of filmmakers to use that same “orange and teal” look (Google on that…). It seems to hit a specific neuron in the human brain nowadays, that says “Hey! I’m looking at a blockbuster movie here, and no mistake!”. So why not jump on the bandwagon and buy that Mojo filter from RedBullet and start grading all your footage like Tony does?! Make use of that Blockbuster Neuron!

But seriously, in other words, make use of people’s conception of the Cinema Film Look. But be warned… It might change overnight…
Philip Bloom has shown us how to get tremendous film-like images out of sub-2k$ cameras. It’s all down to shallow depth of field here. Many people followed his example and are now shooting “film” with DSLR cameras. Don’t forget that Philip is a great fan of the shallow depth of field look!

Apart from being pestered with tons of shaky, badly focussed, too shallow DOF footage on the web and even on TV, we’ve also seen beautiful DSLR movies from people that really know what they’re doing, like Philip, Vincent Laforett and many others.
Mind you… those same people would probably also make beautiful stuff with a $400 sony HD handycam as with a Red One…

Still not answered your question, haven’t i?!  Well. To make a long story even longer; it is very very difficult to – as you say it – tricking the colors to be registered in the camera in such a way they mimic the looks of other footage. There are two main factors at play. First, all the footage you probably have in mind to mimic, is shot in a different colorspace and using more bits per pixel. Second, we can only adjust overall R,G,B and luminance of the Canon DSLR cameras, thus doing a primitive primary color correction. So, secondary color correction and all the 101 filters, plugins and tricks the pros use to get to the look you are trying to mimic is out of the question. I think that you might be able to compose the Tony Scott “Orange and Teal” look for a specific shot with your Canon DSLR, but you’ll need studio conditions and lot of time on your hands. But there it stops. Orange and teal is (roughly speaking) remapping of colors in lookup tables, but masking parts of the image, or coloring parts of an image can’t be done on set, or in-camera.
So… Shoot flat, like a Red (rime not intended…)!
Ever seen a 35mm production film-negative? It’s dull and flat and low on saturation… It’s often a bit reddish.

Give the camera the chance to register as much light values as possible, do not over saturate and worry about the looks in post. Get your white balance perfectly allright though.

Download our Marvels Cine Picture Style for Canon DSLR cameras from this link and start shooting! There are several feature films in the making using the Canon 5DMK2, and several TV series (that i’m not allowed to name here…) that are using our new Marvels 3.4 style.

Cheers!

Martin.


5 Responses to “Questions about the elusive Cinema Film Look”


  1. February 18, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    An excellent read Martin. One thing I would have mentioned is how important using a 10 bit Intermediate is – ie; How Avid DNxHD, ProRes or Cineform digital intermediates come into play in post for a Cinema Look as well.

    Cheers,

    Cliff Etzel
    Bluprojekt Films

  2. February 18, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Great article Martin. I have certainly tried the orange / teal look using colorista with marginal success. But do like the fact that you call the film look elusive.

  3. 3 marvelsfilm
    February 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Absolutely.

    Martin


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