From the cinema to the small screen, and everything in between, the ‘Look’ of film and video content has evolved over the years, alongside advances in technology and trends in filmmaking. Whether you realize it or not, the ‘Filmic Look’ has helped many filmmakers craft their latest blockbuster film, Super Bowl commercial or even music videos, becoming one of the most requested ‘Looks’ by filmmakers in recent years.
We asked Matt Osborne, Colourist at The Mill Los Angeles, to explain how he defines the Filmic Look:
Filmic to me is about elevation and sophistication, focusing on the drama when enhancing a project. It has the ability to make a 50k job look like $5 million production. It’s adding shape and weight to the image through contrast and texture. It’s paying attention to the details in the shadows, giving weight to the midtones, and an almost embroidery-like precision in the highlights. It’s putting a slight twist on real life by shifting the colours away from the natural norm. This can be done on a digital camera or a film camera.
There’s one problem! I think where we’re at a point in time where there are now a few different standards. For example, you have the Classic 35mm Filmic Look; textured, maybe slightly less crisp, but full of character from the past.
You also have the Modern Filmic Look, with emphasis on orange and teal, a crisper look to compliment the positives of the digital camera.
I recently graded ‘Show of Force’ for Jaguar, and the brief was, along with many other references, Filmic. When I caught up with the director Emile Rafael after the grade, we got into a discussion on Filmic in relation to the project. He said, “We wanted it atmospheric and moody. You see a still frame and you want to see the rest. Each shot is a statement.” What he said about each shot as a statement is so true. To truly create Filmic, every shot needs to be carefully composed.
So how did I approach this particular Filmic grade? After getting the brief from the director and DP and listening to their ideas, I set a pretty defined contrast level from the offset. I wanted to keep all the details in the shadows. That's important for any grade I do. For example, right in the shadows of the horse there's still detail and you can see the texture of the hair. To me, any detail lost is just heavy handed and more towards the Video Look.
For a Classic Look, I would have the blacks a little higher (lifted) and compress the midtones lower to imitate a print Look. For a more Modern Look, I’d sit my shadows a little lower (darker) as I want the Look a little glossier. This crispens the image to best suit digital footage. The final grade is actually a hybrid of the two approaches: Classic and Modern.
The setting of the film feels natural. A wild horse, an archer, a snake and a car are all set in a simple environment. Because of this, we all agreed that the Modern Film grade wouldn't do this project justice. I worked back and forth on the key shots to find a sweet spot where I knew the commercial would flow with the Look we chose. A lot of the session is spent refining images, going in with the scalpel to craft the image as much as possible.
The Jaguar spot was shot fantastically well by DP Patrick Meller, beautifully lit with a classic contrast that worked so well. This really helped slot the grade in a Film (Look) category.
Patrick explains his approach to the film, “I knew I wanted to expose the car in the low end of exposure index. I rated the camera at 200 ASA to protect the blacks, and used ArriRaw to get the max resolution and the most information I could in low light. Everything was shot at dawn because I knew the sun rose above Mount Vesuvius and it would create a nice silhouette.
“We shot Anamorphic for the ratio and to get the most out of the 4:3 sensor. I didn't want any extreme highlights so I used lots of soft bounced light and negative fill, and all the car shots were captured with natural light.
“The Phantom footage was shot in an airplane hangar. We shot on the Phantom 4K and used a high contrast ratio to get the look we wanted. We used high key light and lots of negative to control it.”
Currently, about 95% of Filmic projects I work on are shot digitally and we end up keeping the image clean (no grain) in about half of those projects. In some cases, we’re using the technology of the present to add hints from the past. For the Jaguar project, we added grain to the grade to create a softness to the image.
The definition of the Filmic Look is always changing, especially with the dawn of HDR grading, which is a whole other blog. And yes, I think it's possible to describe Filmic with words, like “weight in the midtones” or “elevation of drama”. Maybe it’s much simpler than that. Maybe it’s a feeling. Something that strikes a chord when you see it. The combination of all the talent of those who craft the final piece to create a feeling of pure awesomeness.