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when did grain become evil?


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#1 Adrian Correia

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Posted 07 November 2006 - 04:45 PM

I must admit right now that I do have a Red reservation...so no secrets here. I have been searching a lot of the video forums and there seems to be a real, palpable resistance to what film grain does for an image. I always see people exalting a video image that appears "Clean". I don't know about most people, but I really love the look of film grain.

It seems to me to have a more organic and psychological effect in the imagery than the cleanliness of HD. It is something in the photochemical finishing, the intangible nature of film (whether 8, 16 or 35) that I think really helps bridge the gap, making the material of a story, into a film. For my money, it seems that films made in HD have to work harder for me to see through their digital origins and forget I am watching something created. Obviously, content plays a huge roll in that also.... Maybe it is the insularity of the two worlds (film, video) that make people so opposed to the specific characteristics each offers...

I anticipate that I am probably going to spend a good amount of time with the Red camera, beating up and rounding off the image to mimic the look of film. I like what I have seen so far in terms of imagery and moving footage, but it still strikes me as a video source. I would love to see if I could manipulate it to have the look and feel of something like Babel....I guess we will have to wait and see. I have the funny feeling though that I will be pushing the camera to go towards what film stocks I love to shoot with...

Oh, and please stop the madness (baseless personal attacks and insults) on this board! It's getting brutal up in here....
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#2 Max Jacoby

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Posted 07 November 2006 - 05:07 PM

I agree with you. I really like grain and the texture that it adds to the image. Obviously it's not right for every story, but if used well it can really add to a look. 'Eyes Wide Shut' I thought looked amazing and although I am not a fan of Steven Spielberg's films, there is no denying that he and Kaminski understand how to create an interesting texture through various techniques. It's important to keep in mind that the goal should not be not technical perfection, but how to best touch the audience emotionally. If you go to the theatre, you don't want to be looking at reality.

Unfortunately the most recent filmstocks have become kind of flat looking too. In a way I understand Kodak/Fuji because in trying to improve their product, they must reduce the grain. The same goes with lenses, the Master Primes for instance are very neutral looking (because all the optical abberations are corrected so well).
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#3 Gavin Greenwalt

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Posted 07 November 2006 - 06:01 PM

Because it's not part of the image I'm trying to capture. Shoot clean, pick up grain later. I want to be thinking about the image and the lighting, not how the optimal exposure might change the grain characteristics. Grain = random garbage. If I want random garbage, I'll do it later in the amount I want it.

And I almost always do want it.

It's the same to a lesser degree with my lenses. I want to be able to push the color where I want it to either optically or in a DI.
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#4 Max Jacoby

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Posted 07 November 2006 - 06:26 PM

I'd be very interested to see a comparison between grain achieved through photochemical manipulation (pushing) and grain digitally added later. I think in the AC article on 'Jarhead' they mentioned that they tried adding grain later, but in the end chose not to.

But some people actually prefer to bake the look into their negative, instead of shooting flat and adding grain, contrast, etc... later. Some of Harris Savides work is really gutsty in that regard. In 'The Yards' and 'Birth' he underexposed by 2-3 stops and printed up, which created a really unique look. The film started to break down and you had this amazing texture come out.
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 07 November 2006 - 06:34 PM

Hi,

I think the point of grain is that you can add it easily and effectively, but taking it away is trickier and has other adulterating effects on the image. For that reason, I'd generally prefer less.

I think it became "evil" about the same time someone started criticising video noise, and someone like me said "But..."

Phil
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#6 Adrian Correia

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Posted 07 November 2006 - 11:06 PM

The whole reason I ask is that I have never really seen an example of digital grain that felt organic enough to me. I second Max's request for some examples of both photochemical and electronic grain. I know that choice of grain is project specific, but I think artistic choices like Savvisdes' are pretty remarkable. I loved the fragile feeling of the image in Birth....grain at its most artistically motivated.
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#7 Daniel Sheehy

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Posted 08 November 2006 - 11:10 PM

There is something about film grain... that is so hard to replicate electronically. Added grain seems to float on top of the picture, rather than being a deeply ingrained (no pun intended) part of the image.

Edited by Daniel Sheehy, 08 November 2006 - 11:12 PM.

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#8 Jukka Korhonen

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Posted 09 November 2006 - 01:59 AM

Adding grain is kinda tricky if you want it to really have that 35mm printed look - I've worked with students hitting a basic noise filter into their DV or HD film and come crying later that it looks more like a bad TV reception than film. :D

The grain acts as a "pusher" to tones rather than being just noise. I found that layering the noise on top of the footage (in this case with After Effects), blurring the noise with a small radius and using a blend mode like overlay or soft light. Also, if this grain is added before color grading (to give those 35mm tones and removing possible gamma induced errors) it will look more like film.

This method works but it's still not -exactly- like film print grain. And, there's this thing about using After Effects for 4K video. :D Serious renderfarm workshop needed for that, heh.
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#9 David Cox

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Posted 09 November 2006 - 02:47 AM

It is possible to add grain realistically in post - we have software that can "grab" a grain structure from a place in the frame and apply it to whatever we need. We use this method when we are adding something created digitally into a frame shot on film (to add the right grain to the CGI).

I have also seen very bad grain additions in post, but then I guess that?s what happens when people can buy post tools from their local store and think they are post production experts because they have a "grain button" :rolleyes: The adding of grain is not a linear process across the luminance range of the image. Neither is it possible to get the grain structure right even by knowing the film stock. The visible grain is effected by many things such as exposure and developing.

Also remember that if you are watching a film in a cinema, a very large proportion of the grain you are seeing is a result of the bulk print, not of the original negative. So if you see a film that is shot on film, but is projected digitally, does that make it a better or a worse film because it now has more or less grain, even though the original film maker has no control over this process?

Personally, I think the non-cinematic public will ultimately reject excess grain if it isn't there for a narrative based reason. In the same way that most people will not go back to noisy scratched records from their CD's, I think that when people get used to digital projection they will see a grainy, dirty film print as inferior and the commercial reality of them choosing to see their films digitally will have a big effect upon whether grain is cool.

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#10 David Venhaus

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Posted 09 November 2006 - 06:08 AM

Film grain is hopefully used as an aesthetic artistic choice, wether it be for the relation to the narrative or for pure visual stylistic uses, etc. Much higher film resolution emulsion technologies have been available since the late 1960's, that have never been used in motion picture film stocks especially in black and white. I can only assume that this done by choice (or market), because the option to have virtually grainless film stocks has been around for quite a while.
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#11 Alex Wuijts

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Posted 09 November 2006 - 08:48 AM

I always think digital noise looks a lot like the noise i see with my eyes in the dark. In the dark, blacks are always very much colored with green, red/orange and yellow specks. Not that i'm an advocate of optical naturalism in film, or whatever you should call it, but i could be nice to use video noise like that some time.
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#12 Gavin Greenwalt

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Posted 09 November 2006 - 03:51 PM

For the sake of fair and balanced debate:

In the latest AC article on Babel they comment that they tried digitally adding grain and didn't like the result.

- Gavin

With a history as a post person I have my doubts that the difference would be noticeable on any release format on earth with the use of a sophisticated grain management system. That's one complaint I have about a number of the complaints DPs bring up. Yes I know you're payed to be talented beyond my wildest dreams... but there comes a point where nobody is ever going to see that unless they watch the original dupe being projected (i.e. them).

Edited by Gavin Greenwalt, 09 November 2006 - 03:54 PM.

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#13 Gavin Greenwalt

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Posted 09 November 2006 - 04:03 PM

Sorry to double post but I remembered something else from the Babel article.

The Babel example gets even more ridiculous when later they comment that the grain changed completely when telecined at a different post house than the original tests. My point exactly: if you want a very specific look from your grain, it's too much headache to try and maintain that. You'll spend time you could be investing in much more successful endeavours. If anything the entire article was a long expose on the hastles and headaches of trying to capture "just the right amount of grain".
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#14 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 09 November 2006 - 04:17 PM

It seems to me to have a more organic and psychological effect in the imagery than the cleanliness of HD.


I like grain too but to be objective about it, grain is not organic or more psychological, or what ever. It most likely the case that our histories of viewing and making films teach us to think this way.

The reason I find grain, and slightly amber highlights, a softer image, and slightly de-saturated colors so beautiful is not because these things have a universal or objective psychological appeal, its becasue many of my favorite films such as those by bergman and tarkovsky have these features in the image.

The development of our aesthetic sensability has to do with the cognitive aspects of viewing images but is not really about the material aspects of the medium. That is what makes so many of the value judgements about Red, or film, or video so strange. The ideas of video being better than film or film better than video that are so often expressed here show a real lack of understanding when it comes to aesthetics.
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#15 jan von krogh

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Posted 10 November 2006 - 02:09 AM

SCNR...
for the real feeling:

also add noise, hiss and bumps to the audio, and reduce the dynamic headroom in order to get the classical analogue 33LP experience.

furthermore, its recommendable to mix the same level on all 5.1 audio channels - this additionally heightens the classical experience as its so much closer to mono or at least dolby sr instead of DD.

since when has noise become evil? a good signal/noise ratio (some heretic people dare to measure this in f-stops, the dynamic distance from signal to noise) was never important anyhow.
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#16 Mark Allen

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Posted 10 November 2006 - 03:04 AM

I think the point of grain is that you can add it easily and effectively, but taking it away is trickier and has other adulterating effects on the image. For that reason, I'd generally prefer less.


Actually film noise can't be added later - not the good part of it. I think the positive aspect of film grain is that it's not pixellimited so there is a very very subtle phenomenon where you start to see a slightly different part of the negative each frame so that there is this odd persistance of vision added clarity - yet combined with a softening effect which ends up sort of pleasing.

That said often film grain just looks utterly terrible. (espcially 16 and S16 on relatively flat color planes.)

I'm not an engineer, but I've spent many profressional hours working with both film and HD frame by frame and in motion and it's just something that SEEMED like the truth to me.

That said... while I was working with it professionally, grain was often my enemy as it would kill a track or make a composite annoying.

Video noise does not seem to have that same property and to answer the question that started this thread, I would say that grain become the enemy when it became related to video noise. I would much rather have a perfectly clean image thatn video/digital noise any day. Once that thinking kicks in, I think film grain becomes suspect.

I think I point to 16mm as the grain evill because S8 grain is obviously an "effect" while 35mm grian is usually subtle enought to be an aesthetic. 16 grain seems like a mistake.

Don't flame, it's just a personal opinion and I'm not writing any books.
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#17 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 10 November 2006 - 05:37 AM

I suspect some of this is cultural.

In the UK over recent years almost all film TV drama has been shot S16, so it has become an "accepted" part of the look, especially for social realism material. Last year I was speaking to a BBC drama manager who was expressing concern over the cleanness of HD compared to S16 and how it would effect the look of their gritty social dramas.

Shooting S16 I personally use the slowest film stock that the lighting budget/schedule will allow.
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#18 Ralph Oshiro

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 11:14 PM

Film grain can look very cool, and very organic. However, in videoland, unwanted, excessive chroma noise is awful enough on camera masters. After compression (e.g., when mastering for DVD), excessive chroma noise becomes unbelievably distracting, IMO.

Edited by Ralph Oshiro, 28 February 2007 - 11:16 PM.

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#19 Ralph Oshiro

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Posted 08 March 2007 - 02:00 AM

I like grain too but to be objective about it, grain is not organic or more psychological, or what ever. It most likely the case that our histories of viewing and making films teach us to think this way.

The reason I find grain, and slightly amber highlights, a softer image, and slightly de-saturated colors so beautiful is not because these things have a universal or objective psychological appeal, its becasue many of my favorite films such as those by bergman and tarkovsky have these features in the image.

The development of our aesthetic sensability has to do with the cognitive aspects of viewing images but is not really about the material aspects of the medium. That is what makes so many of the value judgements about Red, or film, or video so strange. The ideas of video being better than film or film better than video that are so often expressed here show a real lack of understanding when it comes to aesthetics.

What an insightful, elegantly crafted post! You're so right! Makes me want to dig out and re-read my "Art and Visual Perception" textbook from film school! I remember seeing Bertolucci films for the first time, in particular, Storaro's "Conformist," and thinking, "Wow, what a beautiful FILM!" Seeing films like that, with their fluttery, beautiful grain patterns, molded my early film aesthetic into what I defined as the pinnacle of what a beautiful filmed image was. I do want to point out one small semantic issue I have when the discussion of "grain" is mentioned in reference to a discussion about video SNR:

FILM has "GRAIN"
VIDEO [electronic imaging] has "NOISE"

I'm neither an electronic engineer, nor an expert in photographic sensitometry, but the two imaging artifacts, electronic noise and film grain, do have very distinctive differences. Perhaps others here can elaborate on the technical reasons why. IMO, the best electronic imaging camera master should be as noise-free as possible. Dealing with today's technology, your camera masters are eventually going to be encoded, transcoded, compressed, re-compressed, and re- re-compressed, by the time its made its final delivery venue. And that unwanted noise not only makes the CODECs work harder, but it just starts to really degrade the image in a highly compounded way. Add chroma and luma aliasing to the mix, and noisy video starts to look just awful, once your intended audience finally sees your work at the end of the "digital bitstream."




I suspect some of this is cultural.

Agreed--if not all of it. You could make that same observation regarding the highly polarized attitudes toward RED on this board. Two cultures. Two perceptions. No "universal" standard of "beauty." If not a paradigm shift, another paradigm, added to the mix.
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#20 Chris Keth

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Posted 08 March 2007 - 04:29 AM

FILM has "GRAIN"
VIDEO [electronic imaging] has "NOISE"

I'm neither an electronic engineer, nor an expert in photographic sensitometry, but the two imaging artifacts, electronic noise and film grain, do have very distinctive differences. Perhaps others here can elaborate on the technical reasons why.


I'm not exactly an expert, but I am a nerdy enough aspiring cineamtographer that I know it :P. The best way I can describe it is this:

The primary difference between film grain and video noise is that film grain is part of the image. By that, I mean that the grains of the film are actually making up the structure that creates a whole image. There are green grains in green areas, blue grains in blue areas, et cetera. Big film grains may degrade the useable information of an image but they don't create holes where there is no image information. Grain is to film as bits of tile and glass are to a mosaic or as brushstrokes are to a painter.

Video grain, on the other hand, is not part of the image. It is non-image pixels interfering with the image. Green areas do not necessarily have green noise. Video noise is more like dust on top of a fine photographic print or dirt tracked onto that mosaic floor. Where there is a pixel of noise, there is no image information. Noise makes holes in the video image.

Edited by Christopher D. Keth, 08 March 2007 - 04:29 AM.

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