Proving my point

Two months ago I wrote an article explaining how to achieve the “film look”. In the article I mentioned shallow depth of field as the last of the requirements. I know a lot of people are buying these 35mm adapters (and stupidly I did so too in the beginning) trying to fool their way through into filmmaking. This is no different than owning just a cheap VW beetle car, and painting it like the ultimate racing car. Who are you trying to fool here?

There are other aspects that should take priority when you are shooting a movie, and it seems that this team from Spain have their heads screwed on the right way. Here’s their trailer for a short movie they shot with a stock Canon HV30 camera, without any 35mm adapters. It looks fabulous. How they did it? Read the link above.


stijn wrote on October 29th, 2009 at 3:43 AM PST:

wow, that looks great indeed. you provide us again with some great stuff, thanx so much. but were is the link, i cant find it? or am i not seeing right?
thank you

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on October 29th, 2009 at 3:58 AM PST:

It’s the first link in the article, my article.

stijn wrote on October 29th, 2009 at 4:43 AM PST:

aah, ok. got it, thanks a lot.

bozzo wrote on October 29th, 2009 at 4:48 AM PST:

even with low saturation and contrast it still looks like video , a great video by the way

Bjarki Gudjonsson wrote on October 29th, 2009 at 5:42 PM PST:

I like your blog – I just stumbled onto it. I disagree with you here, though. As Bozzo just said, it still looks like video. One point I’ve been making lately is that with everything that’s going on in filmmaking, I think maybe people should (and some already are) think less about their format. The “film look” which people are often trying to achieve is changing as more and more “films” are shot on video. Look at what Michael Mann is doing. I’m not a fan, but he’s shooting picture after picture using HDCAM or Viper. Now it’s more about clarity. And occasionally, depth of field. πŸ™‚

jds wrote on October 29th, 2009 at 8:36 PM PST:

Sharpnness seems poor. Is it intended? Compare with

Or Codec choice when converting to720p vimeo?

I think I may be missing something …

– jds

jds wrote on October 29th, 2009 at 8:37 PM PST:

Messed up the link …



This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on October 30th, 2009 at 2:23 AM PST:

The video is processed this way. And also, this is the HV30, not the 7D. The 7D is sharper, this is known knowledge.

William Eggington wrote on October 30th, 2009 at 8:43 AM PST:

I’m kind of leaning towards the “it doesn’t matter any more” camp in terms of this film look. I came out of Collateral blown away. It had such a different feeling to most movies. This video is graded too aggressively for my taste but its very well done other than that.

Mique wrote on October 30th, 2009 at 10:03 AM PST:

I would disagree. Lack of DOF is most certanly one of the key points. Of course it depends what kind of story you would like to tell. If you want to get personal, trying to focus on conversation, character, emotion,… you need to put the subject out of the whole picture. You just need to, if you want to get the focus on this subject.
For action/moving shots like this example you gave us – it’s not so important.
And of course frame rates, grading,…
Beside DOF and all picture manipulation thing what I really think is crucial -> sound design.

btw. I read months ago on your blog that filming with 5d’s 30 fps the best “filmic” thing you can do after is put down the playback in post to get to 24 p – meaning x0.80.
That worked for me a couple of times (where I didn’t need the original sound), the results were realy fantastic, such a great movement…

h-munster wrote on October 30th, 2009 at 8:36 PM PST:

Shallow depth of field (dof) was never really important to achieving a “film look” in video, because shallow dof was never exclusive to film cameras. Don’t know where the notion came from that shallow dof was important.

Furthermore, there have been a lot of film camera lenses with a high numerical aperture (deeper dof), especially in the 16mm and 8mm formats.

When viewing footage side-by-side of transferred film footage with deep dof and of NTSC interlaced video of the same subject with equally deep dof, the film-originated footage looks like film and the video footage looks like video. Dof range has never had anything to do with achieving a film look.

Attempts to get a film look from video began many decades ago. Relatively few people are trying to achieve such a look today (compared with 10-15 years ago).

The first successful film look of which I am aware was achieved by Eddie Barber in the early 1980s. Of course, there were no progressive-scan NTSC cameras at that time.

Eddie mastered a film look process that was indeed very convincing. He claims that nobody could tell which screen was showing film, when identical video and transferred 16mm footage was shown side-by-side.

As I understand, Eddie Barber came up with his process when he was observing film telecine sessions, and he noticed that the initial reversed image from the raw negative was always very washed-out and “diffused.” The colorist would make a
quick adjustment at the console, and, suddenly, the image had a lot more snap.

Eddie reasoned that if he brought in his video with the same washed-out and diffused look, the colorist could make the same adjustment, and the contrast would match that resulting from the film negatives which were telecined.

However, although the resulting contrast from the video almost exactly matched that of transferred film, the footage still looked like video.

He considered the other differences between film and video that exist in the raw footage (prior to when the footage arrives at the telecine bay). One other major difference was that film was shot at 24 frames per second (fps), while video
was shot at 60 “fields” per second, which were interlaced to make 30 complete frames per second.

Also, in the telecine process, the 24fps film footage was “pulled-down” to convert it to video’s 60-fields/30-frames per second configuration. This pull-down creates a certain motion/shuttering that the viewer mostly “feels” rather than “notices.”

Eddie figured out a way to make the video footage look like it had originally been shot at 24fps, non-interlaced (progressive) and then been pulled-down to the video’s 60-fields/30-frames per second.

Other differences between the raw film and video footage were: film has grain; film had more color depth; and film had more resolution. None of these differences seemed to matter as much to achieving a film look, as film’s pre-telecine contrast and film’s 24fps pull-down to video process.

Today, many cameras feature a 24P (24fps progressive) setting, and many of these cameras automatically pull-down the 24P to 60 interlaced fields per second. However, for about 15 years prior to the appearance of 24P cameras, the above process pioneered by Eddie Barber was the best film look available.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was one primary company that provided a professional film look service — Woodholly Productions. Of course, the name of their process was called “Filmlook.” The Filmlook process provided a “24fps-pulldown-to-video” effect. They did not require that the footage be shot with washed-out/diffused contrast, but one had to make sure that the highlights were not overexposed. Woodholly could even simulate film grain.

In the late 1990s, just prior to the first appearance of progressive-scan video cameras, Eddie Barber introduced the “Vilm” camera. The Vilm camera was a modified Panasonic AJ-D215. I had the pleasure of using the Vilm on a couple of jobs.

The camera had a custom diffusion/”dirtying” filter built into the back of the lens, which provided the washed-out/diffused look. Somehow, Eddie managed to get the progressive/pull-down look with these “pre-progressive” DV cameras. Some have suggested that the Panasonic AJ-D215 could actually shoot progressive scan, but I don’t remember seeing a “progressive” option when I used the Vilm, and a progressive capability was not listed in the AJ-D215 literature.

When 24P cameras first appeared (and several years afterward), shooters were using diffusion filters with those cameras to get the washed-out look in the raw footage, and they would then compress the image blacks in their NLEs to mimic the contrast adjustments made in the film transfer process. Today, very few bother to try this process.

By the way, Eddie Barber also invented the hot-head jib — the Barber-Boom. It is still one of the best remote-head jibs around, and many current jib arms have copied its mechanics. Eddie also invented the EZ Prompter.

h-munster wrote on October 30th, 2009 at 8:50 PM PST:

One more thing, in the original film look article, there are a lot of characteristics that are listed as being important to achieving a film look. Unfortunately, most of them really don’t make any difference in making video look like film.

In both film and video one can have bad framing, bad audio, bad cutting, bad lighting, bad camera motion and bad grading (color correction/timing), and the bad film footage will still look like film while the bad video footage will still look like video.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on October 30th, 2009 at 10:05 PM PST:

h-munster, when we say “film look”, we mean the “movie experience”, not the actual grain of the physical medium of film. Don’t confuse things.

Jim wrote on October 31st, 2009 at 10:58 AM PST:

Are you having second thoughts about the value of a 35mm adapter? I have the HV20 and bought 4 nikon prime lens for a future adapter purchase, but I am holding off since the cost of the adapter is nearly the cost of a dslr and I could buy a 7d with an adapter for the nikon primes or wait and see if nikon competes with the 7d and buy the equal Nikon

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on October 31st, 2009 at 11:20 AM PST:

Yes, I wish I had never bought it. Go get the 7D instead.

h-munster wrote on October 31st, 2009 at 12:28 PM PST:


I don’t know if the “grain” comment was figurative, but simulating film grain has very little to do with achieving a believable film look.

When we say “film look,” we (those of us who have been perfecting the technique for the last 25 years) mean manipulating the video so that no one can tell that the footage is shot on video and not on film.

Except for slowing the video frame rate, one can follow all of the suggestions in the original film look article, and, shooting with a video camera side-by-side with a film camera, the video will still look like video while the film looks like film.

In addition, during the past century, there have been some very bad, amateurish movies shot on film that have appeared in movie theaters across the world. The filmmakers didn’t follow any of the suggestions in the original film look article (except for the slow frame rate, by default), however, these bad films still look like film and still yield the “movie experience.”

Slowing the frame rate is the primary key to getting a film look with video.

A perfect demonstration of the effect of frame rate is to take any old, nicely produced movie shot on film and speed up the footage. If the speed is increased enough (it doesn’t take much of an increase) the film starts to take on a “video look.”

By the way, the vague, “movie experience” definition of film look should definitely include shallow dof.

Glenn wrote on November 1st, 2009 at 11:10 PM PST:

I don’t plan on ever removing the SG Pro 35mm adapter from my HV20 πŸ™‚ A 35mm adapter isn’t about the film look, it’s more about having the freedom to shoot a subject or scene how you want it too look, as would be the case with a 35mm film camera.

For example, this film I shot last year – which made it into the finals of Tropfest wouldn’t have looked half as nice if I’d shot it on an adapter-free HV20. The shallow DOF is what separates the characters from the background in a way that helps the story. Even if it had been shot on a standard HV20 zoomed in, it still wouldn’t have looked as nice due to the diamond shaped bokeh you get from the HV20.

The Semblance teaser you posted above does look quite good. I can’t fault the editing or colour grading. Although the footage does still look like someone walking through a living room with a camcorder. If that’s the look they were going for, I would have added more shake to it to give it more realism.

diffid wrote on November 7th, 2009 at 8:43 AM PST:

I was listening to an fx guide podcast the other day about a recent Harry Potter movie and heard them say even with their film cameras and choice of lens they couldn’t get the dof and sharpness combination they wanted so they rotoscoped loads of shots and diffused the backgrounds keeping the characters pin sharp. Crazy. πŸ™‚

Comments are closed as this blog post is now archived.

Lines, paragraphs break automatically. HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The URI to TrackBack this blog entry is this. And here is the RSS 2.0 for comments on this post.