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Why I've Given Up on Grain


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In the course of testing out a bunch of OFX plugins, it turned out that I really liked Dehancer, not only for its film emulations but especially for its beautiful grain. However, after uploading a sample video to YT, the texture had all but disappeared. So, I'm giving up on grain for good. Looks like I'm not the only one. hehe

 "Unfortunately, I’m changing my mind on grain and I explain you why. First of all, I love grain, I love the idea of grain and for me it reminds me of film. I mean, there is really nothing more obvious than grain to tell you ‘this has been shot on film’. Now, Interstellar was shot on film, like Dunkirk, like others: so the grain was naturally what the film negative – actually in this case, the interpositive – was giving me. And I always like to add grain to my projects. There is a problem and it’s how we actually watch nowadays footage on Netflix or Amazon or TV, whatever. The compression system is killing the details so there is a problem where the more grain you add, the more hard the compression algorithm has to work in order to keep those details and the more compression you get on the actual overall image. So nowadays, unless the image already has grain or unless the director of photography really wanted me to add a bunch of grain, I tend to not add it anymore because you’ll never see what I’m seeing. The compression will kill it. It’s just the way it works". - Walter Volpatto, Senior Colorist, Company 3

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This is true to an extent. The likes of Netflix use sufficiently high data rates that at least some noise does tend to make it through, at least from what I've seen, although I'd generally counsel against it as a general choice for exactly the reason given here.


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I personally recommend against any grain or noise if the main viewing format is web based, thus having bad enough compression to mess up the grain texture. Generally one needs intra codec with good enough bitrate to handle the grain correctly. It does not look good on bluray either and services like Netflix only show it intermittent and mess up the intermediate frames so that the noise "flashes" from compressed blurred to clear and back... 

But if you can show it from dcp or prores file then it is perfectly fine to have grain added because intra can handle it easily. I would be perfectly happy to make a grainy master if it being shown on cinema screen so that I can either make a dcp or use something like prores422 for the master. So generally speaking, grain is good for cinema release and film festival stuff but for web release it is better to have a clear image to avoid huge amount of compression artifacts which would hide all the grain anyway

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Totally understand this perspective and I really wish delivery compression wasn't geared exclusively toward smallest file sizes across the board.  When I do really want grain though, I usually trial and error a higher grain level for streaming vs my prores output.  It's imperfect but I usually end up somewhere I'm happy enough with.

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