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Film Emulation - Color Science - Collaboration


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Hi guys,

This post is about recreating the look of photochemically finished film and the options for achieving this look for filmmakers, as well as future ideas. I'm interested in hearing your opinions on the topic. 

My background in color science
For the last almost 10 years, while working as a DP and colorist, I've been working on creating color science for emulating different film looks for different cameras. I've conducted countless test shoots from small setups with a Blackmagic and 135 film to fully controlled studio setups comparing Alexa and 35mm motion picture fim.
I attempted building a system to emulate several types of photochemical film looks and hired several image programmers to write algorithms to perform novel image processing tasks not available with current software. (I stopped for financial reasons)
A while back I posted an article on color science which led me to teach color science at the National Danish Film School and a mailbox full of inquiries.

And yet after all this, I am very far from developing a system that is complete. 
Developing color science is very complex and very expensive.

The Challenge
In my eyes Steve Yedlin is an outstanding artist, and his statement is inspiring - that we should be authors instead of shoppers and create our own look with or without the help of a color scientist / post lab - the idea sounds beautiful, but the more I work with the subject the more I cannot help but come to the conclusion that the vast majority of individuals do not have the money, time or programming knowledge to create color science from scratch that can live up to the quality standards achieved by Kodak. Which leaves us back where we started, as shoppers - with the services of a major post production house as a new addition to the shopping chart.

Besides this, I see a few other challenges for those looking to get the photochemical look in their work

  • Those who cannot afford to shoot film on a project probably cannot afford to hire a qualified post house either
  • The post house may not have the color science to do an accurate transform in all of its aspects
  • It may not be possible to work with the desired post house on a particular project, due to availability, deadlines, physical location etc.
  • There are no available options for indie filmmakers providing accurate results

Available Options
To my knowledge there are currently no available options for fully recreating the look of a photochemical pipeline.
I have not yet seen a film shot digitally that I felt had the look of a film shot and printed to film.
As far as I know the best options are some of the leading post houses who work with inhouse color scientists.

My own color science may be decent, but I do not have the capacity to handle more than one client at a time, and I only have color science for one type of film look - 5219 scanned on a Scanity to log. It's an approximation of a film DI and not a photochemical finish. There may be other colorists like myself who have more or perhaps better options.
Then there are the plugins like FilmConvert, VisionColor, Dehancer. There are LUT packs and film overlays.
These are great tools for some people I am sure, but they do not provide accurate film transforms or a controlled pipeline.

The options are few, and yet as far as I'm aware the demand is high.

Demand
I don't have any numbers, but from my limited experience and research it seems to me that the majority of filmmakers want to be able to recreate the look of photochemical film. Most people I work with bring me references of films finished photochemically, I also get a bunch of references from films finished in a DI (of which many, to my knowledge, have had print-film-emulation from major post houses applied as part of the pipeline), and less often references of films acquired digitally but processed by a skilled posthouse with a certain type of film look.

I've tried doing some field research and contacted some of the leading DPs working today, and even academy award contenders have told me that given the option, they would use color science that accurately emulated a photochemical process.

And almost everyone I know personally in the business are interested in either working with film or processing their digitally acquired footage to look as if it was shot on film.

Ideas
I believe film has a richness and a magic that brings stories to life and while I don't think film can be replaced by digital - I do think it's possible to create software that recreates the film look with enough accuracy to bring out a similar cinematic feeling and satisfy the creative goal, and that it's possible to make this film look available to all filmmakers, not just the elite.

There is also much potential for digital post processing to improve images, and we are not stuck with only 3D LUTs and film overlays to do the work for us. Algorithms and inventive programming can help us a lot.

Here's a simple example many readers will already be familiar with: X digital camera records 10 stops into the shadows and 3 stops into the highlights before clipping, but has a low noise profile. We can move middle gray so that we have 6 stops of shadow DR, and 7 stops of highlight DR at the cost of some video noise. This noise can be removed with a digital noise reduction algorithm. This reduces accuracy in the captured details in the shadow area but gives us more highlight latitude. The spacial algorithm makes it possible for us to get a more filmic result with the camera. There are many opportunities for novel algorithms to perform tasks by analysing the image. 
But we don't necessarily need to go that far. A 3D LUT created from enough color samples to cover the color locus at all relevant exposures (e.g. -9 through +9) with interpolation, implemented correctly could create results far better than many of the available options today if paired with a quality texture and halation algorithm.

My questions to you

Are you interested in recreating a film look when acquiring a project digitally?

Are you currently doing anything to emulate film when shooting digital? If so what's your process?

Would you be interested in using a software that could accurate emulate a range of film looks for all relevant cameras?

Would anyone be interested in participating in the development of such as software? 

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After two decades of digital cameras, you feel that no one has yet to make the footage look like film... despite the millions of dollars spent on some of these productions, despite the involve of big companies with experts in color science.

So the problem is no one is trying hard enough?

I’ve seen many movies where digital and film are intercut seamlessly, or films shot digitally where I have a problem deciding whether it was shot on film or digital.
 

You’ve got a fundamental problem to overcome, which is that the photochemical look of film comes from the negative-to-print process ending with film projection. So if you’re talking about adding a film look to digital material to be graded and projected digitally, you’ll still get the same quasi photochemical look that film scanned and digitally color-corrected and digitally projected already has. In other words, movies shot on film today often look almost like they were shot digitally. 
 

The second fundamental hurdle is that even if your end result will go back to film for print projection, you’d have to restrict the use of digital color-correction tools that are commonly used and only allow basic RGB density corrections as was only possible in a traditional photochemical finish. I don’t know many DPs, directors or producers who would accept those limitations.  Today we already take film scans and monkey with their color science for creative reasons so it’s hard to say what the true “color” of film is unless you have experience with making film prints, which fewer and fewer people do.
 

The train has left the station — film already has a semi-digital look due to digital post and distribution and digital sometimes has a semi-film look due to tools available in post, so getting them to meet in the middle is not that hard if desired (and consider CGI effects have had to match film color science for many decades already.)

Certainly if you want to create and market another “film look” process, go ahead, I’m sure it will interest some people who want simple plug-in solutions.

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This is some good feedback David,

I am by no means making a claim that no one is trying hard enough - I don't know much about what post houses and studios are doing to be frank. I think their work is incredible, and agree that many films intercut film and digital seamlessly.

But no, I haven't seen a film shot entirely digital that I felt could have been film - I also don't know if it's even possible to do, nor if it's desired by enough filmmakers for it to be relevant. But I'm hoping to learn more about that here.

Wouldn't any attempt at color science would be 'another film look' due to the fundamental differences between the capture formats?
Personally I would find the look of films finished photochemically (e.g. as an IP), digitised and matched to the print a great look.
I do believe it could be paired with a modern workflow - keeping the color and tonal reproduction for the overall look as a startingpoint while enabling the tools available in the DI. Maybe it's already being done - but wouldn't it be cool if it was available to those who don't have major post houses as an option as well?
 

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Yes, there might be a market for a more turn-key D.I. solution for a film look though it would have to tie in with the D.I. facilities' Resolve or Baselight CC systems. It would also have to "turn off" some functions in the color-corrector though.

I think one major issue is that the "film look" is half-science and half-perception. Look at the number of "Kodachrome" preset looks on the market, most people who try them feel that they don't think they "feel" like Kodachrome. Part of the issue is that grain wasn't really an aspect of Kodachrome and also that people's memories of it are not accurate, it wasn't as saturated as people remember. Plus it changed over the decades, it wasn't quite the same look in the 50's and it was in the 70's. Same issue with regards to 3-strip Technicolor.

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6 hours ago, William Loekken said:

We can move middle gray so that we have 6 stops of shadow DR, and 7 stops of highlight DR at the cost of some video noise. This noise can be removed with a digital noise reduction algorithm. This reduces accuracy in the captured details in the shadow area but gives us more highlight latitude.

I've personally experimented redistributing dynamic range for a filmic look on a number of projects (ie highlight response). Here are two breakdowns I did explaining my process:

Here are two films where I did the technique:

Both of those films were shot on the Alexa which, out of the box, already has a filmic look. (the C in LogC stands for cineon, afterall) Pushing the exposure to an extreme helped build the look of the projects, but I also could've stuck with proper exposure and would get largely the same results on film or digital.

Personally, I believe that replicating film is less about being scientifically/objectively accurate and more about how we feel film should look. In practice, I've found that emulating film on a project is unique from movie to movie because other factors play into the look/feel of film like production design, framing, lighting, etc.

Edited by AJ Young
typos
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Interesting topic! 

I have one question for you all. 

Which one is a digital cinema camera and which one is film?
They are both shot side by side on the same day on a film I shot, same exposure. The colour variation is because of the lenses!

They are both straight out of camera (the digital one having the LUT I use)

In any case, I personally think that any colourist could match both in any direction.

Have a good day!

 

Film.thumb.jpg.a36aef85184d2ce2ff08d7c3f8be3443.jpg


Regarding your questions:

Are you interested in recreating a film look when acquiring a project digitally?

Not strictly speaking, I think that digital cameras and film cameras are different and each have their textures.
On the other hand, I reckon that film and digital intercut seamlessly at this stage.

Are you currently doing anything to emulate film when shooting digital? If so what's your process?

Not at all, however there is one thing that I miss from film and that's halation!.

Edited by Miguel Angel
I forgot to answer the questions!
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William, I'm impressed by the work on your website. What approach do you take to halation?

Is the reason everyone is using an Alexa because it has the second most dynamic range to film?

The first image looks more like film to me.

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9 hours ago, William Loekken said:

My questions to you

1. Are you interested in recreating a film look when acquiring a project digitally?

2. Are you currently doing anything to emulate film when shooting digital? If so what's your process?

3. Would you be interested in using a software that could accurate emulate a range of film looks for all relevant cameras?

4. Would anyone be interested in participating in the development of such as software? 

1. Yes! 

2. Yes, I use a LUT based on the Filmconvert plug-in + a LGG node in-camera for a more pleasing color response. Then reapply to Log footage in post as an Output LUT and grade from there. Have also tried to create a red halation layer effect without much success. I also often just use the grain algorithm in Filmconvert without changing color. It’s nice to have the flexibility to toggle elements on and off. 

3. Yes!

4. Yes!

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On 11/10/2020 at 8:10 AM, William Loekken said:

Are you interested in recreating a film look when acquiring a project digitally?

Are you currently doing anything to emulate film when shooting digital? If so what's your process?

Would you be interested in using a software that could accurate emulate a range of film looks for all relevant cameras?

Would anyone be interested in participating in the development of such as software?

1  Absolutely interested in the scope you have discussed!  Something that can do a faithful reproduction without abandoning the modern DI entirely

2  Only the most rudimentary grain application and occasional gate-weave.  I also often use an upper highlight qualifier to give the brightest highlights that particular redish orange you often find when there's halation.   I don't create the halation itself though.

3  Yes!  Even a tool that was Alexa specific.

4  1000%.  I fall in the category of DP who shoots things that can't afford the expensive post house so I likewise don't have many resources to offer.  One I thing I do have is a Moviecam Compact and access to my friend's Alexa.  I've dreamed of going down the rabbit hole you have with developing a homemade process but I haven't had the money to even take the first step.  I'd gladly offer my cameras and time to the cause if it's worth anything.

And last, the results you've already achieved are really fantastic!

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