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WHAT IS THE FILM LOOK?
How do we look at a video and objectify whether it has the qualities of film?
I think we can all view a piece of media and determine whether it has that certain something that makes it cinematic. We can also view footage and determine it has the look of "video" - that's a misnomer of course since 99% of what we watch now is actually digital video. Manufacturers like Arri and RED have done such an amazing job of creating sensors that can imitate the look and feel of film that it's only the rare filmmaker who now shoots on film especially in the Hollywood arena (and you can't tell the fucking difference.)
(This reminds me of the pretentious asshole who won the last season of Project Greenlight and spent lots of time arguing to shoot his crappy movie on film rather than digital when he should have spent a lot more time in making a movie with a better story and well... better everything:)
So what makes something look like film or look like video and can you create images with your C100 Mark II that look like film? I mean, after all, Canon really markets this camera as a tool for shooting documentaries, corporates, and events.
First, we need to understand that our camera has limitations. Yes, the C100 Mark II is a "cinema camera", albeit priced well under offerings by RED and Arri. We are dealing with a difference in sensor size, megapixels, image processor, codec, and dynamic range, all of which play a factor in getting the look and response of film.
CAN I GET THE FILM LOOK?
Yes, of course you can. Is it worth obsessing over? I'm not sure. Is it necessary? Guess it depends on what you are making and more importantly where it will be exhibited. Is it hard to do? Not really - just needs a bit of understanding and some love and care when shooting and grading.
HOW DO I GET THE FILM LOOK?
Let's start with a fact that we know to be true - images with a shallower depth of field look more cinematic. So let's make sure we are shooting with a fast lens and using an aperture that is as close to or is wide open - f/2.8, f/2.0, f/1.8, f/1.4 - is a great place to start. (Don't have a fast lens - buy a nifty fifty from Canon for like $125 - https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1143786-REG/canon_0570c002_ef_50mm_f_1_8_stm.html)
The C100 Mark II has a base ISO of 850 which for those used to exposing DSLR images at lower ISO's meant they were now shooting at larger aperture values leading to a deeper depth of field. The first inclination is to simply lower that ISO value below 850 but as I've concluded from my own unscientific camera tests as have others, shooting below ISO 850 begins to add unwanted noise in the shadow areas of the image. The solution to this problem is built right into your camera - ND. Use that to continue to shoot as close to wide open as you can and retain your shallow depth of field.
Light with Intention. If you light your images flat, meaning you don't shape an actor's face but simply light them at a 1:1 ratio, you're going to have a hard time selling your image as cinematic. I spend far too much time on Film Grab looking through thousands of beautiful shots from films. Look at some of these images below:
What you should notice is how much contrast the actor has in their face. Where is the light coming from? Is it hard or soft? Side light, three-quarter backlight, and backlight are three commonly used techniques to make an image look more cinematic. These styles of lighting give shape to the face.
Many of these images have a high contrast ratio of either 4:1, 8:1, or greater meaning one side of their face is exposed properly and the other side of their face is left in shadow or sometimes complete darkness. Often putting the light on the side of the face that is away from camera can lead to a more cinematic image.
Next observe the overall light in a scene. Trying to light a frame evenly from edge to edge and top to bottom will typically not provide a filmic look. The film look comes from having an image that contains both shadows and highlights that contrast. This helps draw your eye to the subject.
Lighting in a scene should be motivated meaning all the light should like it's coming from a source that makes sense. After studying thousands of images I've started to realize how often you'll see practicals in scenes - like all the fucking time.
Finally, look at the colors. We know that complementary colors like orange and blue are very popular because they look pleasing to our eyes. You'll notice that a majority of Hollywood films push orange into the skin tones and teal or blue into the shadows of an image. You can start this process on set but most of this work is done by a colorist in post.
The C100 Mark II codec options are weak. That was a big complaint by many who looked at the camera's specs on paper and it's true. Both the mp4 and avchd codecs have low bit rates and can be broken in the color grade fairly easily. What is great about Canon cameras however, is their very accurate reproduction of colors, especially skin tones - fuck you sony your skin tones suck.
Many of you are already moving around the limitations of the internal codec by shooting to an external recorder. I use an Atomos Ninja Blade to record to ProRes HQ - a far more robust codec with a higher bit rate. Am I truly getting a 10-bit image to work with? I don't think I am, but it takes more pushing in the grade to break the Prores than it does the internal codecs.
This is where you can really start to see the benefit of shooting with more expensive cameras that can record ProRes internally as well as compressed and uncompressed RAW. When you start to play with 12-bit images in post you really can tell that using Canon internal codecs is truly like having a small box of Crayola with only 8 colors to choose from.
Shoot in LOG.
We don't have a RAW option, so our next best choice is LOG. Yes, you will have to grade it but it will be worth it because grading your footage will help you learn more about color and making cinematic images.
Log will desaturate your footage and reduce contrast as well as supposedly expand the dynamic range of the Mark II slightly. You'll add back your contrast and saturation in post and have more latitude to make adjustments.
There is a downside to shooting LOG besides the extra work you or an editor/colorist will have to do in post - CLIENTS ON SET. If you can help it, don't let a client look at a monitor with your LOG footage - try to get their eyeballs on a monitor that has a corrective LUT applied otherwise you'll hear them start to complain about the lack of color and contrast in your image. Trying to explain LOG to a client is not fun.
Aspect Ratio could be the key to it all. I don't know why a letterboxed image looks more cinematic and maybe there is some science behind it that someone would share with me - all I know is that when I shoot a music video or narrative - I turn on my frame guides in the Mark II menu so I can accurately frame up for letterboxing.
Create visual planes.
Utilizing two or more visual planes can help you establish a more cinematic look for your video. Play with objects and characters in the foreground and background, or foreground, midground, and background. Look at some of these examples below:
What else do you notice in these shots? Practicals motherfucker. That's what.
Pay attention to the blocking in your film. You can argue that blocking is the job of the director but hey, maybe you direct and DP your own stuff. Let's look at some examples of top notch blocking:
In the above image from Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright has stylized this establishing wide on the bus to clearly include the zombie like stares of all the characters. Nothing sloppy here - this is thoughtful placement of each actor on this bus.
You'll notice how all these filmic elements start to tie together. In the image directly above from Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz we have multiple visual planes, great blocking, and warm skin tones with cool shadows. Same with Harry Potter above it.
Learn how to color grade.
I recommend learning how to use Davinci Resolve. I've spent the last six months practicing with it a lot - even regrading some of my older work. If you expose and white balance your Mark II footage properly you can pull off some really great grades.
I've been using a lot of these film grabs I've collected as grading references; trying to match things I've shot with popular grades from films. Learning to color will teach you a lot about how to analyze the lighting of a scene and how color, contrast, and brightness interplay in your images.
Below are two images from a recent business profile shoot I went on. On the left is my ungraded LOG image straight from camera and on the right is a heavily graded image that is meant to be dramatic as if I were working on a documentary about this portrait artist.
The final image that I used for this project fell somewhere in between these two extremes. I'm still not great at color grading but I like to try multiple looks for clips to see what styles I can pull off. This is where shooting with a better codec helps greatly.
The one thing that I think has made the most difference in my graded images is desaturating the shadows. This one trick really helps make your footage look more filmic.
Shoot your actors in silhouette.
Silhouette doesn't mean your actors have to be a completely black figure against a bright background - they can have some fill but the key is coming from behind them. This is a powerful tool you should be using no matter what camera you work with but having extra dynamic range can lead to some really beautiful silhouette shots.
Create your own inspirational lookbook.
I've been collecting my favorite images for the past two years, some of which you've seen in this post. I organize my lookbook into categories so if I find myself in need of inspiration I can quickly locate what I'm looking for. I keep this lookbook on my computer and my phone. You should try it as well. Just the act of looking through thousands of screen grabs will teach you something about getting the film look.
Okay. I admit not all of these steps have to do with the C100 Mark II but are more general rules for getting a film look from your footage. I don't think Canon expected you to make a filmic narrative masterpiece with the Mark II, but with a little elbow grease, planning, and these ten tips, you really can.
Added bonus - can you name all of the films featured in these frames? I bet you can't.
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