Computer Editing: Film Effects

From documentaries to rap videos, the “film look” is popular. Here, we’ll take a look at how you can achieve a film look with your DV footage, modern editing software and some sage advice. In the context of this column, we’ll focus on post-production techniques as opposed to things done in the camera.

“Why not just shoot on film?” you might ask. It’s expensive and can be complicated to work with. By using a combination of techniques you can make your video look like film, but it’s an inexact science, at best. We talked with many video and film creators and no two opinions were the same on what the film look is or how to achieve it. But they all agreed that good results are readily achievable.

Built-in Film Effects

Video editors using editing programs like Adobe Premiere 6.0 and Apple Final Cut Pro 3 (FCP3) have a powerful arsenal of tools, including some that can assist in achieving the film effect. Chances are your editing software has similar tools; the principles discussed here are not limited to these two programs. In a perfect world, we’d get the results without needing to purchase (and learn) a high-end effects package.

Premiere 6.0 ships with a couple of filters that might be useful for creating the look you want. These filters include the QuickTime Effects feature and the Field Interpolate function (FCP3 has similar features).

QuickTime Effects is a compound filter that, when applied, will prompt you to select an effect from a list (Vegas Video 3.0 also has a similar aged film effect – Figure 1). The Film Noise feature has many definable parameters and they can be set to zero so that you do not necessarily get the “old” film look. Settings include Hair, Scratches, Dust and Film Fading. You can also process your video in Black and White, Warm Sepia Tone, Faded Color Film or 1930’s-1940’s Color Film modes. All controls are definable by the user and can be tweaked to provide minimal or drastic effects.

Premiere’s Field Interpolate function takes video that’s playing both fields in a video frame (30 frames per second and 60 fields per second), discards one (de-interlacing) and duplicates the remaining field into two, simulating the flicker that film has. Both Premiere and Final Cut Pro also offer variable frame rates so you can slow your footage down to 24 frames per second, which is the standard motion picture film rate. In Premiere, select the Time control called Posterize Time, then adjust the frame rate.


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Color and Speed Effects

To attain a fake historical 1920’s film effect, simply speed up the footage (see the Historical Film Speeds sidebar) and convert it to black and white. You can then place any vital dialog on a title screen with white letters on a black background just like the old silent movies. Consider this tip if you’d like to make some Keystone Cops-like video shorts using this technique. Viewers will love it.

Both Premiere and FCP3, like most of today’s editing systems, offer color effects (see Figure 3) where you can tweak your video’s hue and saturation (like Gamma Correction, only more basic). In general, film is warmer, with a reddish cast, and its color is more saturated than video. By raising these levels and trying various software settings, you can achieve some pretty convincing results. Final Cut Pro users can also use the Gamma Correction filter in the program to easily get color saturation that resembles film.

Plug it In

One of the easiest ways to achieve a film look in the edit bay is with a software plug-in. Plug-ins are software add-ons that provide new features to editing software packages. DigiEffects Inc. offers some of the most popular plug-ins. While many plug-ins require the complex and expensive Adobe After Effects, this trend is changing. For example, DigiEffects has AgedFilm, a new plug-in filter that works with Adobe Photoshop and Premiere. It is similar to, but more sophisticated than the stock effects discussed above.

With AgedFilm ($149), you can process video with total control over parameters like scratches, grain, hair, dust, graininess, luminance flicker, tint and color. Once you install the program, the plug-in appears in the pull-down menu of your favorite application just like any other filter or effect. With your video on the editing timeline, you process your clips just like applying any effect. Through the AgedFilm sub-menus, there are over 19 parameters and you can control each independently. While AgedFilm is basically for making your video look older, this DigiEffects plug-in can also give you a non-aged film look. But, for making your video totally look like film, there’s a more effective, although expensive solution that operates the same way.

DigiEffect’s Cinelook ($695) is a professional After Effects plug-in that adds (or removes) grain, corrects color and changes the frame-rate of video. Cinelook can create the aged-film look, but it is primarily a tool for simulating the Hollywood big screen, with many advanced features that even allow you to select specific film stocks and perform technical inverse-telecine frame rate changes. But plug-ins are not magic wands that will turn any footage into beautiful 35mm film. Like all digital solutions at these prices, you’ll need to have top-notch production values to pull this off effectively. The old axiom GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) comes to mind (see the At the Lens sidebar).

One of the best things about DigiEffects plug-ins is that you’ll no longer need to render a sequence to preview the final results. With the new built-in preview window, you can make adjustments until you get the exact look you want, then render your final sequence. We’re told that some new players will announce new film-related plug-ins at NAB 2002 in April. So, by the time you read this, there may be even more to choose from so, as always, shop around.

Film at 11

Achieving the effect of film with digital video is attainable with today’s software and proper production techniques. Although the software solutions are formidable in power, they are only half the equation. Put simply, the higher the quality of your video, the better the results. If you’re after an 8mm or 16mm look, you can start with Super VHS or Hi8 footage, but for a higher-end 35mm look, you’ll need to acquire your video on DV (at a minimum). The higher the quality of the source footage, the closer you’ll get to the look of film.

Thousands of budget-conscious filmmakers have achieved great results using DV and basic digital solutions.

With some planning and experimentation, you can make your video look like a reasonable facsimile of film, quickly and easily.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.