Achieving the CSI:Miami look

“CSI:Miami” is not a super cop TV series, but it’s definitely the most good-looking one. It looks fabulous in HD. Online, there are a number of videographers who have expressed the question as to how this look is achieved. And the answer is that it is done via various ways:

1. Apply a warm look in-camera (if supported).
2. Apply saturation in-camera (if supported).
3. Saturate and boost gamma in post.
4. Boost contrast in post. (example: 1)
5. Use gradient filters while shooting (example: 1, 2).
6. Boost primarily the orange and yellow colors and use similarly colored lights to shoot: (example: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
7. For indoors scenes, always use a well-lit colored pattern as a background that you can later boost its colors in post.
8. Use a 35mm adapter if available for your camera, and the appropriate lens each time. You need a large sensor.
9. Shoot in 1/48th shutter speed and 24fps. If your camera has a “cine mode” like the Canon HV20 does, use that.
10. Selectively boost colors in post depending on the scene (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Navigate the episodes here and check the indoor scenes. You will notice that the vast majority of them have specific pattern backgrounds that are lit from the floor with big lights. Then, the pattern color(s) (which they make sure that the actors don’t wear clothes with the same colors) are boosted in post.

Because lighting is one of the most mysterious arts in film making and because most people can’t afford these lights, this tutorial will show how to achieve a similar look for your outdoor scenes. You will need Sony Vegas to follow the small guide.

0. When appropriate, shoot with a gradient orange-sun filter.
1. Boost contrast by 15 to 20% depending on the scene (filter: “brightness and contrast”).
2. Boost saturation 20% and gamma 30%, tint the highlights knob towards “yellow” (filter: color correction).
3. Download the free Aav6cc filter and install it. In it, boost the yellow color (you can increase/decrease lightness of that color depending on the scene).
4. Using the Aav6cc filter again, increase the rest of the colors if they are predominant in the scene. E.g. boost blue for sea/sky shots and decrease or increase its lightness depending on the scene. Do the same for the other colors but with less intensity compared to the primary color(s).
5. Vegas Movie Studio comes with some NewBlue filters. Use the “Dream Glow” to give your scene a somewhat soft look if you shot it on video without cinemode. Settings: Blur: 10, Glow: 20.

Here’s my 720/30p video (62 MBs) with before and after live shots. And here’s another video of mine, put to practice (HD version available here):

And another one of mine (HD version available here):


Richard wrote on August 21st, 2007 at 8:39 AM PST:

I love this post, thanks for sharing, I guess I have to experiment a little with that stuff.

William Eggington wrote on August 21st, 2007 at 1:46 PM PST:

Its funny how just a few days ago you were discussing how you didn’t like this over-saturation in the default settings of your television. . . but then you walk us through how to do it in the footage itself. :-)

I just got a new HDTV and have been fighting it a little in finding a good setting that works with most shows. Hard to nail. :-/

One really cool thing with what I do is that I can render directly to floating point color out of my 3D apps. So when I dive in and start fiddling with colors I can REALLY play with these kinds of thing without any odd banding, darks that are no longer dark. . . highlights that look grayed out etc.

Its amazing how much you can do with footage to change a mood or feeling.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on August 21st, 2007 at 2:18 PM PST:

> but then you walk us through how to do it in the footage itself.

It’s not the same look. The over-saturation of TVs is not the same as the CSI-Miami look because it’s not as selective. Besides, not everyone likes the CSI Miami look either. ;)

Ivan wrote on August 21st, 2007 at 10:49 PM PST:

Great HD film I downloaded! Only vlc media player managed to play it, but, wow, very impressive!

michael reed wrote on August 27th, 2007 at 11:19 PM PST:

I’m surprised that there is so much emphasis on on-camera processing these days. I would have thought that the best approach would be to record as clean a signal as possible and then post process. This is the favoured approach with audio recording. You can’t always un-affect the content afterwards. Or to put it another way, what can the DSP in the camera be doing that software on a computer couldn’t do afterwards?

For this reason, I was surprised that Danny Boyle mentioned that he used the “1000 frames per second” effect in his Cannon XL1 for some of the scenes in 28 Days Later*, on the commentary track. I suppose that sometimes you are better off, creatively, imposing a limit on yourself at shoot time.

* best film shot so far on an “affordable” camera?

Richard wrote on August 27th, 2007 at 11:20 PM PST:

There are actually things that the DSP in the camera can do, that you can’t do in the software. This however requires that the camera dsp is “very close” to the CCD sensor(s). I’ve only recently read an article about a company that created a CCD technology that could regulate the brightness of every single pixel on the chip, such that the camera could film dark and bright images at the same time, like for a example a dark room with a window and outside it is bright sunlight. And on the camera both sections in the image were clearly visible. Can’t find the link to the article though.

I do however agree, that a camera should provide as unprocessed footage as possible or as sensible.

Kate wrote on August 27th, 2007 at 11:20 PM PST:

The rich, deep color-saturated look is acheived by overlighting the set with very expensive lamps and using filters on the cameras. If you see any shooting on-set it looks so overlit you might worry the scene will look washed-out, but it’s how those beautiful colors are filmed.

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