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What is the film look? Define it


Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

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Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

People are quite obsessed by this term, we hear ''filmic" in every single camera review/comparison. It is what everbody wants it seems, but I still haven't found a clear answer on what it actually is!

I have searched and there are hundreds of articles out there (and threads here) on HOW to create the film look, but what I am trying to understand/analyze here is what it actually is. What are the charactaristics that make footage look "filmic", and what are those that make it look "non-filmic"?

Some people now go to a point of destroying their digital images, removing/unsaturating colors, creating yellowish/brown tints, cropping huge portions of the frame, horriblly softening the images, and so on.
I am not saying that's bad or inaproppriate or wrong, in fact many great filmmakers/editors are doing all these things and quite a lot of spectators seem to agree, I mean it's just not how I personally see filmic footage, so it's apparently highly subjective.

Is it so subjective that we can't define what it is, because it varies from one person to another?
Or is it a certain, clear look that can be analyzed and spotted easily?

Can a digital camera produce footage that are identical to film? and why?

My question is: define "filmic"

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It's impossible to solidly define, or else discussions would've ceased 10,000 threads ago!

 

Personally, I think people simply mean production value when they say film look. They want their stuff to look like the quality they see on TV or in the theatre.

 

There are so many variables that go into making that look. Camera, lighting, framing, blocking, set design, color grading, costumes... a lot of talented folks in different departments firing on all cylinders. While it's getting easier to hit the high end on some of them (camera), it's not so easy to define and reach those same levels with some of the other variables. 

 

I think people continually chase it with simple solutions like 24p, shallow DOF, and now 2.4:1 framing and weird muted surreal color grades. Things that play a part but don't address the core of why high end cinema is what it is. And I don't just mean high end in terms of budget, but artistic talent.

 

I do find that there's this weird valley now with online short films. They used to scream amateur with all facets. Nowadays so many are looking better and better, closing the gap between high end and low end... but the story and/or acting is still bad. Especially the acting. People make fun of Michael Bay movies, but the acting in those is honestly phenomenal compared to the average film we see posted on these types of forums. It's always jarring to see such good looking stuff, and then the suspension of disbelief is instantly shattered with the first line out of someones mouth. Hard to find good or even decent actors though. It really is a hell of a talent. 

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The meaning of the term are the words themselves.

 

Something that looks like it was shot on film. It's quite simple. One can go on and on about the details of colour, grain, frame rate, etc. All boils down to the same thing. It's something that really doesn't require much debate as even within these parameters people tend to argue about what is "filmic" but to each will have their own view. As far as FPS is concerned, when motion pictures came into prominence 23.976 fps came into existence and as we have been used to that frame rate we consider it "filmic". If we were always used to say 30fps we would find that "filmic." If film was never in existence and the standar for video that was displayed on the big screen was 30 fps we would always consider 30 fps as filmic.   

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Alot of people think lens 'bokeh' is the filmic look

and anything with a narrow DOF looks like film and anything shot f11 and below looks like video!

 

this is the bain of many a camera discussion on this forum , nothing to do with the camera , all to do with how it was shot and what apperture was used , this dictates if people 'like it' as its filmic or hate it because it looks like video!!

 

Deep Focus is great ................go watch Citizen Kane......all shot deep focus!! haha!!

.

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*  Non-blown out highlights

*  Good shadow detail

*  Low frame rates

*  Scenes with low depth of field

*  Colors not oversaturated, and corrected to colors reproducible with film

*  Smooth gamma

*  Smooth camera motion

*  Good focus without mid-shot focus adjustments

*  Less obvious - picture grain

*  Images without over-sharpening

*  Wide shots without excessive lens distortion

*  Low on the "spoilers" such as moirés and aliasing

 

There is certainly subtlety to all this, though, and it has been an interest of mine why some digital cameras subjectively do better at the film look than others out of the box.

 

Having said this, I think 4K video may change the public's perception of what looks good.  They may see very sharp 4K footage as preferable over the somewhat softer "filmic look" shown today.  They may also like somewhat more saturated colors over time.

 

I was in a TV store recently with two identical model TVs, one over the other on the wall, and a woman pointed to one of the TVs, and said, "What's wrong with that one?".  The salesman replied, "It was calibrated."

 

Michael

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I believe most of what's been mentioned above accounts for a "filmic" look... after all, the properties -and advantages- of footage shot on film and on a 35mm film camera are those, with variations depending on the film stock and lenses used.

 

But I believe there's something else that has to do with what Andy Lee has said. Some people look for narrow depth of field because otherwise it's not filmic. I call BS!!! or maybe just ignorance... Long establishing shots in traditional movies -modern filmmaking likes to break traditional rules- have mostly been shot on wide angle lenses and F11 or above. Descriptive shots are meant to show, and as much as possible. Regrettably -IMO-, you find many amateur videos with close ups shot with very wide angle lenses, long shots with teles and narrow depth of field, etc. that do not quite look right.

 

The fundamental item for a filmic look is a proper DP. After all, shows like House (Canon 5D) or Californication (7D) had entire season shot on cameras that are now are said to be not nearly good enough for a filmic look... yet a good DP, a Gaffer, a nice set of lenses and proper lighting made that footage look on TV nearly as good as 35mm film.

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In few words - dynamic range. What differs video-ish and film-like footage is dynamic range. You should have lets say 15 stops. Sometimes heavy grain or low image definition are misreported as a film-like feature. Here it is an example - no grain, no 720p but the image from both cameras definitely looks like a film:

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Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

These are excellent answers. Thank you all for your inputs.

I have a thought that maybe worth mentioning.
Old films we've grown up watching since the days of B&W don't have great image quality, the films are often damaged one way or another, with scratches, mud, loss of detail, shifts,
that's why I think some people deliberatly damage their footage to create an old filmic look, and it's understandable really.

Too clean, plasticy, super sharp, oversaturated, perfect images don't look very filmic, they're different from what we're used to see on the big screen (at least what I am used to see since all the films I watch are pre 80s)

So that maybe be a factor too.

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In the old analog days we allways hated grain! It was an enemy. It was unavoidable. Except for very few shots where cinematography was so exceptional that it beautifully worked together but not because of grain or other atributes, but because of the content. And now when we have almost clean picture we want that grain back. Lol its all about our perception, paradigms etc.
First we should look for the basic things like good cinematography, lighting and secondly we should care about secondary elements like grain, etc. In the end people just slap nice grain on shitty cinematography, turn the color wheel and start talking about film look. In reality they mostly get just grainy differently colored turd.
Lets search for good cinematography first. Artist in film mostly tried to break the barriers, explore new possibilities and not to conservate them.

Similar like the with Neville Brody attitude which changed graphic desing forever. In the end everybody started to copy his style but omited his attitude to experiment, rework and change old rules.

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What does chocolate taste like? Sweet? What does sweet taste like?(not trying to sound rude) You know it when you taste it.

I would say that filmic, which is a term I use a lot when talking about video is:

 

Has A Surreal feel to it, dream like, definitely not in the present, different from real life

Unlike the immediate presence of being "live" whether being live in person or on something like television or video.

Plus the other qualities mentioned above DR, sometimes shallow DOF etc.

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What does chocolate taste like? Sweet? What does sweet taste like?(not trying to sound rude) You know it when you taste it.

I would say that filmic, which is a term I use a lot when talking about video is:

 

Has A Surreal feel to it, dream like, definitely not in the present, different from real life

Unlike the immediate presence of being "live" whether being live in person or on something like television or video.

+1

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A lot of the film look has to do with 3 trucks worth of lighting, modifiers, gels, cranes and dollies.  It has to do with set designers who carefully pick colors and furniture.  It has to do with story-board artists who pre-visualize what will best convey the intent of the scene.  It has to do with colorists, or film graders.  It has to do with actors hitting their marks.  It has to do with wardrobe. 

 

I would make an argument that any camera only contributes 5% to the "film" look.  

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