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How to Make Video Look Like Film

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How to Make Video Look Like Film – By Zero One Entertainment

Getting rid of that "home video" feel.

If you use a consumer grade camera and ever paid close attention to video you get, you’ll notice how it feels like a home video. Even after all that work you put into setting up your shots, lighting, directing your actors, writting a story, it still looks like a cheap home video somebody did in high school. It’s an almost indescribable quality that makes it look cheap.
I’m here to tell you how to get rid of that. For those of you that think it’s a frame rate thing, you’re close…but wrong. The right answer is interlacing!

Understanding interlacing requires knowing a little bit about how video works. When your TV draws an image on the screen, it starts at the top, draws a line across the screen, then shifts down then draws another line until it reaches the bottom. It’s very similar to the way a typewriter draws lines of text on a peice of paper. Your TV does this 60 times every second. But each pass down the screen only draws every other line. First drawing the odd lines, then drawing the even lines. I won’t go into the reasons on why this is/was done. You just need to know that it is done. Probably isn’t true of the new digital TV’s. But while you are still working with NTSC, your world is interlaced.

This method gives you "half" an image 60 times a second, so you effectivey get 30 full frames per second. The image on the left is an interlaced image of the letters A and B. This is what each frame of video recorded by a comsumer camera looks like.
Understanding interlacing and refresh rates explains the jittering you get when you pause video and the banding you get you video tape TV screens and monitors.

The PROBLEM is, movies aren’t interlaced. Movies are really sequential photographs, not interlaced images like video.

It’s this interlacing that makes your video look cheap. The motion is "too smooth." So, you need to find a way to get non-interlaced video. You can do this by capturing the video without interlacing (not available on most consumer cameras) or by de-interlacing it with a program like Final Cut Pro or some other editing package. De-interlacing the video makes each frame a complete image, similar to what movies are.

This will get rid of that "home video" feel and make your video look more proffessional. But this processing is not for the faint of heart. De-interlacing video is a SLOW processing time. If you are using Final Cut Pro, de-interlacing a 10 minute video will take several hours (good over night process). So, it’s something you may want to do only as final pass at the very end when you’ve finished all your editting.

I compared this method to a much more sophisticated method which uses a third party plug in for Adobe After Effects by DigiEffects called "Film Motion" which does an actual 24 fps remapping technique to get TRUE film-to-video conversion frame behavior. I would say it’s marginally better than the deinterlacing technique. I had to compare the video several dozen times before making up my mind, so it’s not an obvious difference. There are tiny artifacts that are either better and worse than simply deinterlacing such that the net difference in quality is nearly null. Only a well trained eye will pick up on the difference and hopefully your movie won’t be so boring that they are looking for these interlacing artifacts in your video.  

Doing this at record time

Higher end cameras ($2000 to $7000) don’t suffer such much from this problem simply because of the quality and resolution of the CCD’s (charged couple device). Something about the way they capture video makes them look like a "new broadcast" instead of home video.

If you have one of the nicer consumer Canon DV cameras ($800 – $2500), they have something called "progressive scan" or "movie frame" which captures in non-interlaced mode. It’s very nice, but you should keep your shutter speed slow unless you know what you are doing. Otherwise, it can cause an unpleasant popping motion when panning the camera. Or more simple advice, don’t move the camera a lot when you have this on.

If you have a digital Sony camera with digital effects (as low as $350-$400), the "Flash" mode captures video in non-interlaced mode too. Just adjust the effect to it’s next to minimum setting. Anything higher, and it’s obvious you are using an effect. The lowest setting is actually no effect. BUT BE WARNED: if you look closely, it actually cuts you’re vertical resolution in half!!! It just doubles the scan line. Not so great, if you care a lot about your image quality. I recommend using software if you really want to preserve the quality of your images.

A Trick to de-interlace in real-time.
The Sony cameras will actually playback any video it has on the tape inside with the digital effects applied even if the original footage was not recorded with it. So, you can record your video onto a tape the camera can read, play it back with the flash filter turned on, and record the playback onto something else. It WON’T apply the effect to the DV output, but will do it for the analog output. Your video will suffer from temporary conversion into analog. But if your playback and recording devices are both digital, the quality loss is negligible and it saves you from the hours of rendering time. But again, be aware that it cuts your vertical resolution in half.

Video quality looks like crap compared to movies.

Some ways to change that. Movies are essentially thousands of really high quality photographs. The images are warm, rich, and soft. Video is captured with electronic CCD’s and generally produce images that are cold, stark, and harsh. Even cameras nice enough to include controls for aperature, shutter speed, exposure don’t match the control or results gotten from a nice Nikon 35mm film camera. But, fear not. There are ways to fix this.

Tip 1: Avoid shooting in low light
Video cameras have an electronic gain which boosts the signal when the light is low. When you shoot in low light, this like turning up the volume on a really bad vinyl recording. Maybe you can hear it better, but most of it is just noise. If you want to do night time scenes, you really need a lot of light to make it look good instead of gritty. You then make it look like night with image controls during editing, and add stuff like a subtle blue tint.

Tip 2: Some filters to Apply (Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere)
1. Desaturation
2. Levels
3. Wide screen
4. De-interlace

The last two, widescreen and de-interlace are optional things. But you don’t have to. If you do use widescreen, make sure to turn OFF field rendering in the render quality. Otherwise, you’ll get some weird cropping behavior and your preview on the computer monitor will be WRONG.
Certain effects require field rendering to be turned on in order to produce good results, particularly changing the speed of a clip. Any filter that works with the individual scan lines of an image will benefit from turning it on. Field rendering works the even and odd fields of a video image more intelligently.
The real image manipulation happens with the desaturation and level filters. Desaturation affects the richness of colors and level (via a un-intutive set of controls) will adjust the black point, white point and distribution of brightness across the whole image. The settings of these filters will depend on the scene and the camera you have.
Set Desaturate to -50. This will boost the colors just a tad. Adjust to taste.
Set the level controls as follows:
input = 0
input tolerance = 100
gamma = 1
output = 50
ouput tolerance = 80

These settings should get you off to a good start. If you need to tweak the image, play with the controls a little bit. The relationship is unfortunately not simple. So, it may take a while to figure it out. I’ve worked with it for a while and I still don’t quite understand exactly what’s going on. I wish the controls where more like Photoshop.
If you like the harsh look…

You may argue that sometimes the harsh look is a cinematographic effect. Sure it is, but this kind of harshness is the "I’m using a really cheap camera" effect. After applying these filters you’ll have a much better image to work with. This lets YOU determine what the image should look like, not what the CAMERA wants it to look like.

Use custom lighting if you can

Natural lighting is not very good for video. It may make dramatic photgraphs, but it’s too dramatic and does provide enough information to work for most movie scenes. You need to help the camera see things that would normally be stuck in the shadows or not lit at all. I highly recommend going to a bookstore and reading over the different ways to light a subject. Then looks for book on how to light scenes either for theater or movies. It’s all about learning how to manipulate shadows and highlights.

You can buy what called a "power inverter" for a standard car that will give you 120v AC outlets. This way you can run lights just about anywhere you can get a car. Buy a 150ft extension cord and you are good to go. But power inverters can only power so many lights. The wattage a power inverter can give depends on the inverter and depends on your car. A 300 Watt inverter costs about $60 at Walmart or at Advance autoparts and will power three 100 watt lightbulbs. The wattage just adds up. So you, can power five 60 watts lightbulbs instead. A 600 watt inverter is available at Crutchfield or online for about $140. Read the instruction of usage carefully before you start plugging things up. You’ll have to learn a little about your fuse box and get comfortab;e hooking stuff up directly to you car battery. Neither of these are bad things, just be aware that you’ll be doing it a lot if you want to use a power inverter.

Besides, these things are cool. You can plug up a small TV and VCR and watch movies on car trips or out in the middle of a field. A smart thing to do is to charge your spare batteries in the car while your shooting so you won’t ever run out of power.

Using other people is hard work:
Using you own lighting setups increases the work invovled in getting a shot by about a factor of 50. It takes a while to steup and breakdown. Not to mention the high degree of planning and manpower required. This is when you defintiely need a crew to help you. If you have somene who has done lighting either in theare or photorgraphy, thier knowledge will be helpful. Lighting is an artform unto itself.

NEVER trying to sophsitcated lighting setups without already planned exactlly what you want to do. If you can come to the scene with schematics for the positioning of your actors, the lighting (including thier intensity, color, hieght, and degree of diffusion) as well as have to your shot well story boarded, that ideal. If you don’t have this done, you be wasting a lot of people’s time while you try to figure it out on the fly and well as irritate them.

Doing lighting setups really starts to move up to the big leagues in terms of production organization and management. You can’t do it with two people any more. You need crew members and a well defined plan. The moment you have to explain your vision to someone else, you going to have use detailed story boards and setup schematics. A story board does NOT mean stick figures in a square. That won’t cut it, especially for light designers.

You need to have a manager who sole purpose is to handle the duties and communication among people. This will take the responsibilities off the shoulders of the people that actually need to be creative and have the visions.

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