A film look is broadly defined as the look and feel of the footage you would see in a feature film. As you know there are many techniques involved in creating the video, but there are a few which are especially important to achieve this look.
This look is best achieved through techniques involving both the settings of the camera capturing the video, as well as editing in the post-production stage. Creating a film of some sort starts with the camera, so it makes sense that the camera settings are especially important in controlling the look of footage. It is still possible to create a cinematic look in post-production with just about any footage, but controlling the camera settings will give you much greater control over the final product.
First up, make sure that the camera is operating in the manual mode to allow for complete control of the settings. In most Canon DSLRs this setting is called Movie Exposure – so make sure that this is set to manual. A frame rate of 24 or 25 frames per second is one of the most important aspects of shooting video that will look like film. The frame rate is one factor that changes the amount of motion blur in the footage, and this is why it is so distinctive from other formats. I can’t show you what 30 frames per second or 50 frames per second looks like because this tutorial itself is being played back at 25 frames per second, however it easy to find examples.
If you search for the comparison of frame rates on the internet you will get a taste of what the others feel like. High frame rates have an odd feel to them. The technical reason for this is that the motion is smoother and there is less motion blur than traditional film. Also, we have been conditioned to perceive 24 or 25 frames per second as film, because this is the traditional frame rate shown in cinemas. Higher frame rates look more realistic but realism is not what we’re looking for in this case. You can change the frame rate of Canon DSLR’s under the movie recording size.
The shutter speed also changes the look of motion blur, and so this needs to be matched with the framerate. The general rule is that for natural-looking motion set the shutter speed at double the frame rate. This means that when filming at 24 or 25 frames per second, choose a shutter speed of fifty. This is known as the 180-degree shutter rule and it comes from the traditional shutter size of film cameras. Here’s an example of what a high shutter speed can look like.
As you can see the motion of the cars appears to stutter. This is what a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second at 25 frames per second looks like. The motion of the cars appears more natural. A shallow depth of field is usually associated with the film look. The depth of field is the distance between the nearest and furthest objects that are in focus. A shallow focus means that you can get shots that look like this. The subject is in focus and the background is blurred.
This is good for directing the attention of the viewer. A deep focus works better for wide shots when you want to keep everything in focus. To control the depth of field, adjust the aperture. The f/stop: value controls the aperture: a lower f/stop value means a wider aperture (and a shallow depth of field), while a higher f/stop value means a smaller aperture and a deeper depth of field. It’s reversed to what you think. To control the exposure change the ISO setting. In bright daylight, the picture might still be overexposed at the lowest ISO when you have the aperture wide open so you will have to reduce the aperture and sacrifice the shallow depth of field to maintain a proper exposure (Correction: Please see comments on ND Filters).
By default, most cameras increase contrast and sharpness while filming.This makes footage look good right out of the camera, but if you intend to color-correct footage later it reduces the flexibility that you have. Many cameras have a neutral picture style preset for this reason. Make sure that you enable this to have more flexibility in post-production. Remember that you can always add contrast or sharpness later.
Whatever footage you have to work with you can always make it look better in post-production. A common issue with low budget DSLR filmmaking is making smooth camera movements. A shaky effect can have its applications but in most feature films you’ll see that the camera movements are silky- smooth. The professionals use hardware stabilizers like this, but these are expensive.
We can achieve a similar effect with the software that we already have. Beginning with after-effects CS 5.5 and Premiere CS6, Adobe included an effect called Warp Stabilizer which is super easy to use. To use Warp Stabilizer search for it in the effects panel and drag it onto your footage. It will start to analyze the motion in your footage and then try to stabilize it after it does some processing.
Keep in mind that it could increase render times a fair amount, and that it usually reduces the resolution slightly. In some cases artifacts appear when the footage is too shaky. Sometimes lowering the smoothness in the effects control panel can help but this could just mean that the clip just isn’t suitable for stabilization. This effect usually works great without any tweaking, but you can adjust the settings for your taste.
The smoothness control does just what it says: it controls the amount of smoothing applied. along with stabilizing the footage for smooth motion, Warp Stabilizer can also make the camera look completely still. To do this change the motion result to “No Motion”. This is helpful for shots that should have been done on a tripod but weren’t. One of the most powerful ways to change the emotion of a shot is through color grading.
Feature films use color grading to convey the mood of footage visually. For example dark blues convey a depressed or dark tone while warm colors suggest happiness. Without any color grading, it is very hard to achieve a cinematic look. Here’s an example of a shot with the original footage and the color graded footage side by side. you can see there is a massive difference.
There are plugins that can automate color grading but by doing it manually you can have full control. Some useful tools built into Premiere and After Effects that will effectively grade your footage are RGB curves and Three-Way Color Corrector. Other compositing applications have similar effects. You can use RGB curves to adjust the darkness of the darks and brightness of the highlights in your footage. To start using RGB Curves, search for it in the effects panel and then drag it onto your footage.
You will see these graphs on the left here. Basically, this graph shows the highlights and darks of your footage and by adding a point to it you can change the response of these different areas of your footage. A popular cinematic look is to have the darks darker and to make the highlights even brighter. To do this, and two points to your line by clicking on it; bring the bottom point lower, and bring the top point higher to increase the highlights.
How you change the curve depends on the footage that you have and the effect you are looking for. For example, a comedy short film will have a different look to a thriller. The Three-Way Color Corrector effect can change the color tone of the darks, mids, and highlights of your footage. To use it; search for it in the effects panel and drag it onto your footage. Once we scroll down here we can see there are three circles for each of the parts of your image – the shadows, the mid tones and the highlights.
A popular cinematic effect is to make the shadows a blue hue and to make the highlights a warm color. So to do this, we drag the circle for the shadows to the blue part of the spectrum and move the highlights circle into the orange and yellow part. There is an infinite number of ways to color grade footage so it’s best to experiment and see what you like. You will notice that most films are not framed in the same aspect ratio that most DSLR footage is.
Standard video from most consumer cameras is in the 16 by 9 aspect ratio, also known as widescreen while most modern films are shown in the 2.35 to one ratio, also known as ultra-widescreen. There are numerous ways of achieving this ultra-widescreen effect in Premiere, but the easiest way is adding a black pass to the top and bottom of the picture, also known as letter-boxing.
You can achieve this by making an image mask yourself in the right aspect ratio or downloading this image in the description. After importing the image to Premiere you can use it by dragging it to a video layer above your footage. It will then mask off the top and bottom with black bars. That’s all there is to it. One of the drawbacks of this method is that you lose the detail at the top and bottom of your image, so it’s best to decide if you will use this format before you start filming say can keep it in mind when you frame your shots. So that’s the basics of achieving a film look with your footage.
There isn’t one right way to developing this look, and there are all sorts of plugins and overlays that you can apply to help the effect. As always the best way to learn is the experiment with the tools that have – because you don’t always know what you want until you see it. Thanks!