How do I make my video look like film?

By Benjamin Craig,

The short answer to this rather repetitive question is simple: if you want your movie to look like it was shot on film, then shoot it on film.

Whilst there are many products out there that can approximate a film look, not one of them currently stack up against the real thing. Film is film, video is video. The very way in which the image is captured is so different between the two mediums, you will possibly never be able to get an exact match. Benedict Thienpont provides this brief overview of the key differences:

"Technically speaking, video is capturing in RGB, meaning the picture is effectively captured using three cameras in one: one sensitive to red light, another to green light and a third to blue light. This is very close to the way our eyes see. We also have sensitive cells for red, blue and green light plus cells that are sensitive to light in general (these are most effective to see in darker environments, when we see less the colour aspect of the light). So what we see on video covers greatly our own experience of vision. In video reproduction there are 25 or 30 still pictures passing through per second to create the illusion of motion. During recording each still picture was created as the view is being scanned from top to bottom from left to right in a weaving manner.

What happens to film is the light is being captured in CMYK, sort of the same principle used in quadri print production. There are four photosensitive layers on the film. One for the magenta coloured elements in the viewed picture, one for the yellow, one for the cyan and a fourth for light strength in general. The fourth one is especially for dark areas and good light contrast. Actually the charm of film reproduction is in the fact there's an error in colour. Not all colours are reproduced and are shifted. The overall result is warmer. In film reproduction there are 24 still pictures passing through to create the illusion of motion. During recording each still picture was being scanned in one shot just like an ordinary Kodak camera does."

Of course, there are now quite a few commercial products on the market for use in post-production to help approximate a "film look." These normally take the form of plug-ins for post-production applications like Adobe Premier Pro, Final Cut Pro, and After Effects, and have got much better over the years. The leading products for approximating the look of film in a video are Digieffects CineLook, BigFX FilmFX and Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite. All of these products are plug-ins for popular NLEs and FX packages such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Xpress, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe After Effects.

But remember, these will not give you the same results as shooting on the real thing. And don't forget that lighting and lenses will ultimately have a far greater impact on the finished look of your film than shooting format. Learn more about film at Kodak.

Of course, with the growing strength and quality of new digital cameras in the marketplace, what exactly constitutes a "film look" is now more contentious than ever. A range of factors, such as lighting, shooting format, lenses, DOP skill, and of course the camera itself, will have a major impact on how cinematic your film ends up looking. Having state of the art equipment won't magically turn a crappy film into a good one but it does help boost the production value.

Last updated 31-Mar-2011

Reader Comments

MD, 13-Feb-2014
I have to say this is a flawed answer to the question. It omits the most important di... read more...
Jonathan, 2-Oct-2007
I found this video that relly helped me get a film look in my videos: http://www.met... read more...
Lynny, 31-Jan-2007
I've had great results shooting with all the Canon XL cameras while fitted with a 35m... read more...
alfred robbins, 22-Jan-2007
I recently shot a feature film using a Canon XL-1. We got a local rental house to rig... read more...
Mac, 29-Jan-2006
When It comes to outside, I had success in tampering with your camera's color filters... read more...
Patrick, 7-Nov-2005
In the video industry, everyone is talking about HD video shot at 24p or 24 progressi... read more...
bill hughes, 4-Aug-2005
I have had remarkable success by making a "kine" of the finished video product. This ... read more...
Steve London, 24-Jun-2005
Some newer "prosumer" MiniDV camcorders have features that go partway towards achievi... read more...

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