The Film Look
As soon as I saw this month’s cover of Studio monthly, the first thing I did was inwardly sigh, because as a person in Adobe’s video division, I get asked about the ‘film look’ just about every time we get up and speak in front of a group of videographers. The second thing I did was smile, because I knew I had something to write about today!
So, (pause) the ‘film look’… Even when I write the words ‘film look’ I get an inward grimace and my chest heaves a bit, but for most people, the film look is the ultimate in taste, style and it is just plain cool. It’s a phrase that is bandied about because people view movie making as the ultimate in popular culture and it’s fun to say. The phrase is also assigned to new equipment everywhere and no doubt this NAB will be much the same. I can almost imagine the subtle marketing message that if you buy product XYZ, you’ll be the next ‘insert favorite filmmaker here’. Ahh, but I digress.
So, (pause) the ‘film look’. I can’t claim to be an expert on this, far from it. I’ve never shot film, am not the best guy with a camera and because I work in software, I tend to focus on what you do with your material after you get into the computer. However, I can discuss some of the myths and common approaches to get the mystical film look.
So, (pause again) the ‘film look’. Here’s what a lot of people think the film look is – 24 frames per second, which happens to be what most movies frame rate is. Video in comparison is at 30 frames per second (okay, 29.97 for NTSC!) The lower frame rate creates a different presentation to the eye, where the motion in the scene can become more dramatic. I remember seeing it dramatically portrayed when seeing Gladiator with Russell Crowe. Many of the fight scenes just ‘popped’. The motion was dramatic, not as smooth as you find in video. Taking out 6 frames per second does make a dramatic difference. Most likely Gladiator looked the way it did because of several other things, but I remember it jumped out at me at the time. Now many action movies do the same thing so we’re more accustomed to it.
Another true aspect about the ‘film look’ could be the idea of progressive frames as opposed to interlaced. Again, film (and some video formats) shoot in progressive frames where one frame (or cell of film) contains all the information of the picture. With traditional video, frames are interlaced where the odd numbered lines are captured and then the even numbered lines. The two together form a frame of video, each separate piece is called a field…mmm. Terminology…
So far, the above two are what most people attribute to the look of film, but my tender experience has told me there is a lot more to it than that. First off, there is the depth of field which is what the Studio Monthly review actually spends a fair amount of time on and shows with pictures (for simple minds like my own). The short version is that video cameras keep everything in focus whereas film cameras can keep certain objects in focus while having others out of focus. The advantage of this approach allows filmmakers to focus your attention on what they want you to see. The idea of focus/defocus in a picture is often called the bokeh effect in photography. It’s Japanese for blur. Check it out on wikipedia.
One other big part of the movie look is the aspect ratio. We think about it less often as more of us experience wide screen televisions, but even so, there is a difference. Traditional TVs or standard definition was 1.33:1 or 4:3 (4 inches horizontally for every 3 vertically) and newer HDTV or widescreen TVs are 16:9. Film has moved through a lot of changes over the years but the number I always remember is 21:9 or 21:10. Here’s a neat link that goes through some of the aspect ratios on film. http://www.dvdaust.com/aspect.htm
Without making a long post even longer, let me begin to wrap up by pointing out other characteristics that I understand influence the overall picture that we see when going to a typical Hollywood movie. Not only are there the aspects of the camera itself, such as lens, apeture, shutter speed, focal length and more I’m sure, but there is the film itself which has a specific grain.
There’s some interesting things to discuss here and I’ll hope to post another entry on some thoughts on what we can do to simulate the film look with traditional video.
BTW – here’s the link to the article from Studio Monthly, which is really a review about Redrock Micro’s M2 35mm lens adapter. http://www.studiodaily.com/studiomonthly/currentissue/7749.html