By Stephen Schleicher

Ever since I started shooting on video I have wished that I could achieve a convincing "shot on film" look. Unfortunately, with the limitations of video, you can get close to a "shot on film" look (see below), but the footage still lacks the subtle nuances that comes from film. Additional enhancements to the video may be made in postproduction (simulating a 3:2 pulldown, adding in grain, defects, etc), but to do these many additional enhancements can require a lot of time. If you don’t have time, the footage could be sent to a post house that specializes in adding the "shot on film" look, but that can be cost prohibitive if there is a large amount of footage.

Time and money, two things that seem to constantly plague the video professional. Enter CineLook from DigiEffects. CineLook can easily save you time and money, while helping you achieve the look you need for your next project.

CineLook comes in two forms; CineLook Broadcast, and CineLook FilmRes. The two are identical except that CineLook Broadcast is limited to image sizes of 768 x 576 (D1 NTSC & PAL), while CineLook FilmRes can handle sizes up to 4000 x 4000. CineLook FilmRes also comes with a hardware lock, and an additional feature that removes/adds grain from film. This is useful for adding film grain and film treatments to computer generated footage, which allows live action film footage and CGI to blend seamlessly with one another.

Simply, CineLook takes your video footage and manipulates it to simulate the look of film. This is such an easy plug-in to use, chances are you will be able to get great results within minutes of installing the software. This is made possible with the film-stock presets. While it would be impossible to include ALL the film-stocks available today, the 50 most popular are included as presets that you can apply to your footage. Once you have selected a preset, you can adjust the setting to refine the effect.

Here are some samples of CineLook’s presets.

figure 1

"That’s great," you say, "but what if I don’t know anything about what each film-stock’s response is like?" You can scroll through the presets to find the stock that works best for you, or you can go to other sources for your information. I like to read American Cinematographer, not only does it discuss in detail how a movie was lit and what instruments were used, it also describes what film stocks were used in the shoot and why the Director of Photography chose that particular stock. For example…

  • The premiere episode of Fox’s Millenium was shot on Eastman Kodak EXR 5293 for day exterior and interiors and 5298 for the nighttime interior and exteriors. For some specific shots Eastman 7240 and 7250 Ektachrome color reversal stocks were used.
  • Special effects shots for Armageddon were shot on Kodak 5279, 5293, and 5248.
  • To reduce grain in The Fifth Element, Kodak 5293 was used for non-effects shots and 5248 for any shots that needed greenscreen work.

figure 2

As you can see from the stock list (figure 2), only three of the six stocks mentioned above are included in CineLook. That is the purpose of presets. With a preset, you can find a close match then make adjustments. Making changes to a CineLook preset is quite easy with the control panels.

  • StockMatch controls the type of grain you want to add to your footage and allows you to defocus the RGB layers independently.
  • TimeMatch allows for blending of previous frames to blur the video motion.
  • ChromaMatch controls the color correction process. These adjustments can be made in two ways; numerically or through curve control.

If you are familiar with how curves work in other programs, you should have no problem making adjustments to the RGB channels. Tweaking the color from shot to shot can be time consuming and I now have an even greater respect for those Colorists running the Telecine machines.

A few years ago, I produced a segment for an awards show spoofing what the student films of famous filmmakers might have looked like. One of the filmmakers spoofed was Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction. I utilized the talents of Gentry Edwards, a Director of Photography, for this segment. While it looked great on video, I had wished I had the time to give it some grain and age the footage. Time and money were plaguing the producer again. Now that I do have some time, let’s quickly apply CineLook to this clip.

  1. Export the footage from your editing program (in this case AVID) and import it into AfterEffects.
  2. Position the footage in the Time Layout.
  3. Open the Effects menu and choose DigiEffects Cinelook Broadcast/DE CineLook
  4. Scroll down to the preset window and select the film stock you wish to use. I chose FJ Color F250 8550. When I apply effects like this, I put myself in that particular situation and try to figure out what might have occurred at that particular time to effect the shoot so it would look like the effect I am applying. This stock adds some red and the midtones have been raised to lighten the dark areas.
  5. To increase the blur I raised the Time Slur to 6,4,2.
  6. Since this was an early student work, I increased the grain slightly (how many students buy the best film or video tape stock anyway) by 25% to 9, 7, 7.
  7. CineLook comes in two parts; CineLook which is used to apply the film look, and FilmDamage which simulates film artifacts. This footage needs to have aged with time, so apply FilmDamage to the clip. You may ask what the differences are between FilmDamage and the AgedFilm plug-in that comes with Aurorix2 (also reviewed elsewhere on the Digital Producer site). While both give the look of old film, FilmDamage gives you more control, is faster, and can produce a more realistic look.

  8. Start with the Color Light Damage preset.
  9. Chances are the film would not have been processed 100% correctly, nor would it have been in the best of storage places, so some stains would have developed.

  10. Change the Stain size to 120.
  11. Increase the number of stains to 15.
  12. Increase the opacity to 150.
  13. Render the Composition.

The render times are as to be expected for my machine. Rendertimes will vary depending on the amount of RAM you have available and the processor speed as well. I always like to test software like this on the slowest machine I have for two reasons. 1) To see if the program will work, and 2) to see how long it takes to render out. This 17 second clip took 120 minutes to render, or about 7 minutes per frame. Not to bad considering the speed of this particular machine. CineLook also comes in an ICED version that you should probably check out if you have a lot of footage that needs to be processed in a shorter amount of time. The ICED version renders 10 times faster than the regular version.

Compare the final to the original.

Click here to see original mpeg video clip
figure 3 with original mpeg video clip

Click here to see CineLook effects in action
figure 4 with CineLook applied to mpeg video clip

Here is another example of CineLook in action. swing.mpg

A really nice look can be achieved by using this plug-in alone, but for the best results, start with the highest quality video you can get. Cinelook is not the video postproduction savior. It will not take bad video and make it look like 35mm film. 8mm and VHS video might be okay if you are trying for a 8mm film look, while SVHS and Hi-8 will do better in the 16mm formats. You should really try to shoot on BetaSP or Digital Beta (DigiEffects recommends the later) for the best results.

Besides shooting on the best format you can afford, there are a few tips you can do in the field to help maximize the plug-in’s effect.

Tips for shooting video to look like film

  1. Pools of light and dark.
  2. Even though you need a minimum amount of illumination to get a decent picture, try creating areas of light and dark for your subject to walk through. I recently read an article where the author said lighting for video must be very dull with absolutely no shadows. This is simply not true. Cameras are improving in quality and in their ability to reproduce a scene with less light. A simple trick I learned is to make use of pools of light wherever you can. While this does nothing to "trick" the camera, it will enhance your overall picture quality by adding more depth to the image. One caution, areas that are too dark will tend to get grainy, thus ruining the illusion. This is one of the reasons film has a higher quality picture over video. Film has a very high contrast ratio (100:1), while video has a low contrast ratio (30:1 last time I looked), causing the image to "drop off" when an area gets too dark. The Pulp Fiction spoof above has some rather nasty shadows that were hard for CineLook to compensate for. The bottom line is, if you want it to look like film, light it like film.

  3. White Balance
  4. The purpose of white balancing the camera is to "register" the camera so it knows what color white is under a particular light source. When a camera is white balanced on a white card, all other colors in the scene appear "normal". Different film-stocks can favor particular colors, which causes the image to look a specific way. You can do the same thing with a video camera by white balancing on different colored cards. To warm your scene, balance on a light blue card. To cool the scene, balance on an orange or pinkish card. This tricks the camera into thinking blue is white, thus shifting it’s internal color balance wheel, effecting all colors in the scene.

  5. Diffuse the image

In the early days of film, it wasn’t uncommon to coat a filter with Vaseline to get a soft look. If Vaseline is not something you want to smear on a clear filter (never smear it on the lens itself!), then a pair of sheer pantyhose stretched tight over the lens will perform the same way. These two methods can really soften the hard-edged look of video. A great example of this soft look are the close ups of Maddie Hayes from the Moonlighting television series. Another method I have used in a Film Noir piece is a smoke/fog machine. Obviously this will generate a "smoky" atmosphere, but when a room is filled with the stuff and thins out, it is the perfect diffuser. A word of caution, check with crew and talent to make sure no one will have a negative reaction to the smoke, chances are they will be in the smoke for long periods of time. If you have the money and do not want to resort to these "guerilla" methods of shooting, look into investing in a high quality soft-filter. Tiffen puts out a great line of filters specifically for this purpose. I’ve used Pro Mist filters in a couple shoots as well as the Soft/FX 3 filter. Filters are available from many rental houses and may also be purchased from many high quality camera/photography stores. While you can use the defocus settings in CineLook to diffuse the image, using smoke/fog or a filter can soften the image without needing to apply any post effects.

CineLook is available on the MacOS and WinNT for Aftereffects 3.1 (standard or pro bundle), as well as the Avid Media Composer and Xpress Macintosh as an AVX plug-in, and Discreet Logic Flint, Flame and Smoke. On a side note, I tried CineLook on Win95 and it worked fine although you will lose technical support if you do. I recently upgraded to After Effects 4.0, and at the end of this writing I loaded the CineLook Broadcast plug-in into 4.0 and I have not experienced any system crashes. In fact, the update and render speeds seem to have improved with the AE4.0 engine. The cost of CineLook NT Broadcast is $695.00. This may seem like a lot up front, but this plug-in will more than pay for itself within a few jobs (many effect houses charge $85.00 per second to do the same things this plug-in does).

In addition to getting great results from CineLook Broadcast or CineLook FilmRes, you might want to check out CineMotion, which can be used to further enhance CineLook’s functionality. See the review of CineMotion elsewhere on the Digital Producer site.

Features: 8
Ease of Use: 10
Performance: 9
Documentation: 9
Overall Rating: 9

DigiEffects World Wide Web address is

When not molding the minds of video production students at the American InterContinental University in Atlanta, Georgia, Stephen Schleicher creates graphics and animations for many video production companies. He can be reached at

Footage for this article was shot and provided by Gentry Edwards of Cass Media.