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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.

P

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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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On 9/6/2021 at 1:30 PM, Dan Finlayson said:

I really wish delivery compression wasn't geared exclusively toward smallest file sizes across the board.

I think one of the best things about the current situation is that it really isn't.

Material delivered across the internet routinely looks better than that delivered over the air, and so the big streamers (who spend a lot of money on bandwidth) clearly could reduce that bandwidth if they really cared to. There is naturally a limit beneath which things would start to attract complaints, but that's lower than where they are now. Perhaps this is an example of competition working well; Netflix don't want to start looking blocky compared to Amazon, I guess.

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I've struggled with this as well, as I often upload images that were either shot on film or where I've added a more 'organic' noise/grain to counter-balance the smoothening effect of denoising as a finishing touch. 

A few things I've noticed help mitigate this problem to an extent:
- For the final node, add a very slight (gaussian) blur (nearly imperceptible)
- Upload in UHD resolutions. Platforms such as YT and Vimeo seem to use superior codecs when handling UHD footage as opposed to HD footage. 
- Upload in a good intermittent codec like ProRes, DNX or Cineform.  
- If you can't upload in one of these codecs due to file size restrictions, try uploading in H.265. It might be a better choice than H.264. I recently tried this on Vimeo because I'm limited to 5GB uploads. It gave me a better result than the H.264 version of the same video. 

I think we might see some huge improvements if these platforms start using H.265 for their own compression. 

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I've never added noise/grain to a project shot digitally. I don't understand the purpose of "emulating" something that exists without emulation. If I want a "film" look, I shoot on film. If I can't afford to shoot a project that I'd like to have a grainy look on film, then I guess I've failed as a filmmaker. I understand the validity of using grain to "cover up" issues, much like an overlay/filter, but it's a cop out. I just watched "harder they fall" on Netflix, with a super high noise floor and it was clearly a Red imager, masquerading as "film" where the post people didn't even try to emulate the format outside of grain. 

The only way to retain grain is to finish and upload in 4k, generally .h265 HEVC. It will retain the grain/noise floor much better, especially with streaming platforms like Vimeo. I have many films up there shot on actual motion picture film, which retain their grain no problem at all. It's unfortunate we can't upload the actual 4k pro res files due to size, but that will change as internet speeds become faster over time. I expect once everyone has gigabit symmetrical, it will be a lot easier to deal with that. 

Of course YouTube's internal codec is notorious for not actually displaying the resolution of the clip you uploaded. Vimeo is a lot better, but if you're into streaming or money, then ya don't got a choice but to use YouTube. If ya want people to see what it actually looks like, Vimeo is there for ya. 

In the end Walter is right, I think he's realizing what many of us already realized years ago. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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13 minutes ago, Robert Houllahan said:

I get more and more requests every day for recording digital onto 16mm and 35mm for scan back.

 

I have been expanding my Film Recording department.

 

We have been inundated with those same requests. It's been crazy honestly. 

Robert, I think you're the only guys doing 16mm tho, that's in my mind a pretty killer model. Lower cost and really makes a nice look. 

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From what I've heard a lot of filmout-and-scan-back services are using sub-super-35 areas of the film anyway; otherwise, it can suffer from excessive subtlety.

Possibly this is because at least some places have to use intermediate stock, since the film recorders won't go dim enough for camera neg, but I know at least some places have started putting sunglasses on their ArriLasers for that reason.

P

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Shows like 'Seinfeld' and 'Friends' are currently streaming on Netflix here in the UK and show a lovely grainy texture. I believe both were shot on 35mm 3perf, 200 Tungsten. The image of the graveyard is from a short film I shot on 35mm 3perf 200 T and it is less "grainy", shot on Vision 3 stock. I kind of like the heavier texture of the TV shows, I have to admit.

friends.jpg

fromLife.jpg

seinfeld.jpg

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I'm thinking about going as far as to make different versions for different outlets with different bit rates / compressions.

One thing to consider if you are adding grain is to be easy on the gain in the darker parts of the image, that's where the most damage is done. The result may not be the most realistic, but it wins over dark big chunks of macroblocking.

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On 11/15/2021 at 7:26 AM, Tyler Purcell said:

...I don't understand the purpose of "emulating" something that exists without emulation. If I want a "film" look, I shoot on film. If I can't afford to shoot a project that I'd like to have a grainy look on film, then I guess I've failed as a filmmaker.

I don't understand your logic here. Are you saying that people who want to learn filmmaking but are poor are "failed"? I am sorry if I am misquoting you but I am trying to understand what you are getting at.

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1 hour ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

I don't understand your logic here. Are you saying that people who want to learn filmmaking but are poor are "failed"? I am sorry if I am misquoting you but I am trying to understand what you are getting at.

Why would someone who wants to learn filmmaking need a film emulator? I have never once used film emulation on any digital project I've shot. Modern cameras look pretty good, no real reason to make them "mimic" film unless you're trying to fool someone for some reason. My point is that if you think you NEED emulation, then perhaps you're focused on the wrong things. 

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25 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Why would someone who wants to learn filmmaking need a film emulator? I have never once used film emulation on any digital project I've shot. Modern cameras look pretty good, no real reason to make them "mimic" film unless you're trying to fool someone for some reason. My point is that if you think you NEED emulation, then perhaps you're focused on the wrong things. 

So you find it impossible to think that someone could appreciate the look of film but not have the money to practice a ton with it? Film is great but the workflow is slow and cumbersome for a newbie trying to learn. We don't all own labs or know someone that does.

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2 hours ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

I don't understand your logic here. Are you saying that people who want to learn filmmaking but are poor are "failed"? I am sorry if I am misquoting you but I am trying to understand what you are getting at.

The most esteemed filmmakers and colorists on the planet use film print emulation LUTs. Cullen Kelly has spoken quite eloquently about our rich heritage of film color:
 

“The final fundamental to grading photographically is to use a good print stock. This concept is largely forgotten today but for a century or more, print stock played a key role in defining the look of a film, providing a consistent baseline of creative contrast and color imagery and helping visually unify the images”.  Cullen Kelly

 

“[…] I really do feel, as a hardcore devotee of traditional film print emulation and of borrowing from the incredibly detailed and fine work that’s been done over the course of the last century with color science as regards film negative and film prints and that whole system, that’s the best way for mastering aesthetically pleasing images that we’ve ever come up with as a species, by far. So we have a huge debt that we owe to those things and we owe a lot of diligence in terms of understanding how did that work and using that as our baseline instead of saying ‘I’m gonna write my own script and play around with my lift and gamma and gain’ – all the work’s already been done, and until we can do it better, that’s really where we owe our diligence, in my opinion”. - Cullen Kelly

 

Edited by Jon Pais
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4 minutes ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

So you find it impossible to think that someone could appreciate the look of film but not have the money to practice a ton with it? Film is great but the workflow is slow and cumbersome for a newbie trying to learn. We don't all own labs or know someone that does.

That's why his website is called celluloid dreaming.

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The point of a film print emulation LUT isn’t to make something look more like film. It’s just so that your digital color-correction looks the same for a film-out for a print as it does for the digital cinema master, it basically limits you to the color that can be displayed in a photochemical print.

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4 hours ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

So you find it impossible to think that someone could appreciate the look of film but not have the money to practice a ton with it? Film is great but the workflow is slow and cumbersome for a newbie trying to learn. We don't all own labs or know someone that does

So why try to "emulate" something that you can't shoot normally? The benefits of film can't be magically introduced by creating a LUT or using fake grain. Again, if I shoot digitally, I don't magically try to make what I shoot look like film. As bazaar as it may sound, I don't mind the look of digital when I have to shoot digitally. I embrace the format for what it is and don't try to make it what it's not. Unless you shoot with one heck of a cinematic camera like an Alexa, then you will wind up pulling your hair out. The Alexa already looks good when shot properly. 

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1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

So why try to "emulate" something that you can't shoot normally? The benefits of film can't be magically introduced by creating a LUT or using fake grain. Again, if I shoot digitally, I don't magically try to make what I shoot look like film. As bazaar as it may sound, I don't mind the look of digital when I have to shoot digitally. I embrace the format for what it is and don't try to make it what it's not. Unless you shoot with one heck of a cinematic camera like an Alexa, then you will wind up pulling your hair out. The Alexa already looks good when shot properly. 

Having shot film and digital, the only benefit of the film is the particular look of it. I defended film for over a decade (on this forum and others) but I am downright sick of the "diva" characteristics of shooting film. I don't miss huge camera rigs, massive tripods and gear to support said rigs, noisy motors to deal with when trying to record sound (never could afford an Arri 435), big and hot lights connected to mains power, massive dolly, etc, etc. I never could afford a camera good enough to get a rock solid image either; always had that "bobble".

Digital workflow is simply so much better. I have a set of LED lights that are battery powered. Never in my life would I have imagined that we would reach a point where you can power a video light with batteries. And you can get 4k+ cameras that can be rigged up lighter than a Super 8 camera back in the day. The whole supporting structure can be done cheaper, safer, lighter, and more fun with digital. Film is a terrible workflow now that we know better. I don't miss shooting on it. I only miss the image (when things went correctly and I didn't have a hair in the gate or some registration problem.)

Edited by Matthew W. Phillips
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1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I embrace the format for what it is and don't try to make it what it's not. 

What is wrong with keeping elements of film that are worth keeping? I am a guitar and bass player and I love tube amps; I really do. But I never disparage players who, for one reason or another, want to use solid state. There are "modeling" amplifiers now that attempt to model a tube sound. Does it sound just like a vacuum tube? Nope. Is it pretty good? Sure. It is awesome that people respect the past while trying to adjust to the future. The fact that people desire "aspects" of the film look is a high compliment to film. Not too many people want to model the less nice aspects.

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shooting small amounts of film is pretty affordable so I can't see any reason why a person could not at least try to shoot a roll or two to see  how the film and camera system behaves before starting to emulate things. Personally I really hate the modern attitude of "film is very expensive so I don't want to waste any money on it to try even a single roll in my life but I can purchase 20k worth of video equipment on credit which needs to be updated next year and which is so cheap to shoot on because I can shoot 24hrs a day every day even when I never do. and never will shoot with it enough to get even half of the purchase price back because, well, it only lasts couple of years and then it is worth nothing anymore"

I appreciate the persons who have shot film in the past but cannot for a current project and then are using film emulation for x or y reason if it is needed to catch even a small amount of the feel they were originally after before the format changed. But the persons who have never shot film in their life and then instantly just purchase a film emulation plugin and start to throw it all over the place just to look cool tend to be extremely annoying especially because they don't appreciate the real film formats at all and most often just want to brag about how good 'instagram filters' they use on their movies...    

I think it is kind of cultural appropriation just like if using cheap chinese made "indian war bonnet" copies in parties just because "they look cool" 

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Filmmakers working today have been exposed to 'the film look' their entire lives.  It makes sense that they try to emulate the things they love even though they don't have the immediate access to the tools that were used to create them or the skill to operate those tools. 

I love my Aaton to death, I love it even though it's nowhere near a perfect machine - it failed me during critical moments more than once. I really enjoy the process and concentration it forces me into. I also love the images it has captured for me, they are probably the images I am most proud and fond of. 

But as I deepen my understanding of creating a look on set and in post-production, I'm starting to appreciate the endless possibilities of a high fidelity digital image. And as I've come to understand that the majority of the films I've admired my entire life were tweaked in a lot of ways to look a certain way, It makes less and less sense to me to hold on to a purist approach with regards to these aesthetics.

Yes, the image I get from the lab often looks great with very minimal correction. Does that mean I shouldn't do anything else to it to create a certain look? No I don't think so, why would I be obligated to do that? For who's sake? I can even go ahead and try to make it look like a GoPro if it serves the project. Yes, an Alexa image looks quite good, just with with a color space transform or a 709 LUT applied. Does that mean I shouldn't play with it further? No, I don't think so, I have no obligation to the camera, the manufacturer or anyone else to do so. It's a tool intended for me to create something with it. 

And when I I start playing with that digital image and it starts to resemble a film image, intended or unintended, should I stop right there and take a few steps back because it's not film? Should I steer clear from my desire to have a pleasant roll-off in the highlights? After all, the raw file doesn't have anything against hard clipping.

I'm following my intuition, keeping in mind the project. But that intuition is fed by 120 years of cinematography, roughly 90% of which was shot on film. 

And just to diffuse the topic even further: I sometimes add noise to a project that doesn't resemble any particular filmstock. What is that about? Am I emulating film? Digital sensors produce some sort of noise as well right? And sometimes that noise looks quite pleasant. 
 

6 hours ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

 The fact that people desire "aspects" of the film look is a high compliment to film.


This. Shooting on film, trying to emulate it through other means, it's all a big compliment. Proof of our love of the medium, its history and how it has made us feel in the past. 

If a film looks good and this look serves the story, characters or a particular scene, I appreciate it. Because if it looks good, it required skill, dedication and time to take it to that level, regardless of whether it was shot on film or digital. 

Having said all this, I do personally have a preference for working with film, I like getting my hands dirty with processing film diy and holding the actual frame that captured a specific moment I viewed through the viewfinder. But more so: I like it because I'm more restricted in a lot of ways (especially during shooting) and I believe restriction nurtures creativity and concentration. But I do believe you could apply this idea of restriction to a digital workflow as well. 

Watching a film projection though, man that gives me some good vibes 😍
 

 

Edited by Baltasar Thomas
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14 hours ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

Having shot film and digital, the only benefit of the film is the particular look of it. I defended film for over a decade (on this forum and others) but I am downright sick of the "diva" characteristics of shooting film. I don't miss huge camera rigs, massive tripods and gear to support said rigs, noisy motors to deal with when trying to record sound (never could afford an Arri 435), big and hot lights connected to mains power, massive dolly, etc, etc. I never could afford a camera good enough to get a rock solid image either; always had that "bobble".

Sounds like you haven't shot with modern film. My XTR Prod weighs nearly the same as the decked out Alexa Mini package. I use the same tripod package, lenses, lighting, crane arm, Steadicam and dolly. There is zero difference in my world. I even have wireless for the analog video tap. The camera makes around 20db of sound, most digital cameras fans aren't much quieter. You will never hear it in a mic unless the actor is inches from the lens and even then, only if you're in a dead quiet soundstage, which is generally not a place low-budget filmmakers can afford. My Aaton 35III 3 perf 35mm camera is 4lb heavier and nearly the same physical size as the XTR prod, makes 30db of sound, but with a leather jacket or a small blimp, can be knocked down to 28db which is fine for sync sound. XTR Prod on a $700 Chinese garbage Steadicam. 

1798072448_TyeShootingSteadicamXTRcommercial.thumb.jpeg.5dd9d214a79e13a949cfb3d849cb463b.jpeg

I love tungsten and HMI light, I can't stand most LED's. There are wavelengths missing from MOST led's. The only ones that are any good are the Arri Skypanels and they're excellent, but aren't very bright. If ya really need to light a big room, they're kind of useless. So I generally shoot with tungsten, HMI's and incandescent sources still, even with digital. It helps bring out the nice warm skin tones of faces. The cost to rent a generator, distro, few M18's and a few Jokers, is actually no different than a few Skypanel and you get A LOT more light. I use a lot of bounced and heavily diffused sources, so you can't just show up with a few skypanels and get away with it sadly. I generally show up with a few 650's, 1k's, 2k, M18, Joker 800's, with a bunch of bounce board, flags and frames for larger silks. You aren't going to suddenly change your lighting for a digital show.

Here is an example of a single HMI source, used to shoot an entire scene, inside the car, outside the car, behind the car, one source. All on 35mm, no problems at all. Same grip and electric I would use on a digital show. 

IMG_9638_2.thumb.jpg.2904276d84476c03906308a34f9c8926.jpg


That scene above is referenced in this "look reel" for that film: 

 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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