You need to do is drag and drop your footage into After Effects. You want to set your project settings so that you are working in a 16bit or 32bit depth. The reason you do this is so that when you add effects and grade your footage, you are not limited to the 8 bit color values (0-255).
When you add your footage to the timeline, the first thing you should do is denoise the footage. The best consumer noise removal tool out there right now is a software called Neat Video. By removing digital noise, you will somewhat mitigate the ugly digital look of your footage, and also have the ability to edit your footage more aggressively. When you denoise your footage, you introduce banding. The reason for this is that areas with subtle gradients previously had variation in the color (noise), now that the variation has been removed, those subtle gradients are more solid/constant making banding more apparent. To remedy this problem we have several options:
- Add color grain
- Blur individual channels
- Use the ramp scatter effect
- A combination of all three
I recommend playing around with all three options and seeing what produces the best results. After you have cleaned up your footage, you are ready for FilmConvert.
FilmConvert takes your DSLR footage, and transforms it to look as if the footage was shot on film stock. This is achieved by applying grain, and messing with the colors. You can use it as a stand alone software or as a plug in. The color adjustments is simply to make it look as if you shot the footage strait to a film stock and not to a digital camera and is not intended to be a substitute for color grading.
By now your footage should be free of ugly digital artifacts, have the properties of whatever film stock you chose to mimic, and ready to be color graded in a 16 or 32bit color depth.
Color Grade Your Footage
If you plan on grading in Davinci Resolve (which is free and really cool), render out your After Effects project in one of three formats:
- Uncompressed native (h.264 .MOV for Canon)
By rendering your video in DPX or TIFF, you avoid degrading your video quality via compression. Exporting DPX files is a more advanced option. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can easily screw up your files when rendering them out. I would not recommend using DPX unless you already know what it is and how to use it. TIFF files will be lossless and, like DPX files, result in extremely large file sizes. If you don’t have the hardware to handle it, opt for Cineform or ProRes. Cineform and ProRes are the two most popular intermediate codecs for amateur filmmakers. If you plan to stay in After Effects, then just leave the footage alone, proceed to the next step with your FilmConvert adjusted footage.
If you want to get even fancier, let Adobe Media Encoder handle all the encoding. In general, working in lossless is a good idea if you are doing professional/paid/commercial work. If you are uploading to Vimeo or Youtube just for non commercial reasons, it is a waste of time and resources. You would be better off working with lower quality files, and spending the saved time and headaches on shooting more footage. My recommendation is this: use cineform, or just work with the original files until the final render.
The Film Look Color:
Today everything is greenish/bluish. I think if you are going for a big budget, crime, thriller, action, or political thriller, than this look is fine. But don’t over do it on the blue/green. If you saw my film look examples or my Criterion look examples, you will see that this is not the look we are going for in most cases. The everything is blue except for skin fad is something that has only become popular in recent years. If you look at older films, you will see that they don’t have this crazy color grading. Here is what the current trend looks like:
Adding Film Grain:
After you have finished color grading your footage, you should add a little bit of extra film grain. The reason I prefer to add even more grain (remember, we dithered the footage with grain, then FilmConvert added additional grain) is because I upload my videos to the internet. And if you read my page about YouTube and Vimeo compression, you will see that when you upload your file, it gets heavily compressed. I often notice that the grain I added to my footage does not show up very well on the internet, so by adding more grain than usual, I am anticipating the effects of compression. I recommended using the film grain provided by Rgrain or Garilla Grain for this job. Both Rgrain and Gorilla Grain are cheap solutions for getting good looking grain. You get multiple grain styles packaged as video loops. By using video loops, you make rendering and editing much less stressful on your computer hardware. If you want film grain that is real and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, buy Grain35 by CrumplePop. If you want grain that is even better than Grain35, go with CineGrain or IndieScans. CineGrain and IndieScans provide robust packages of very high quality film grains that are very easy to edit. Unfortunately their prices are too steep for amateur filmmakers working with tiny budgets.
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