Film emulation is all the rage these days, from plug-ins to LUTs. Products like Koji Advance, Magic Bullet Film, FilmConvert, Visioncolor Impulz and many similar products aim to "emulate" popular film stocks to add a less "digital" look to your image, mimicking as if it were shot on film instead of a digital camera. Many would ask, "Why do such a thing? It looks so clear and sharp". It might sound like a strange idea but its easy to understand when you think about how pictures and "selfies" are typically shared: usually highly manipulated in some application like Instagram or Lightroom with a look that usually degrades the image in favor of a highly stylized feel. These "film emulation" type of plug-ins aim to do a similar effect with video, although to a far lesser extent than most of the photo based tools. The true accuracy of the "film emulation" to a specific film stock is always a big question, but its clear this hasn't been a detractor for many who enjoy using these effects for quick and easy color starting points.
For this review, we'll be focusing on the Koji Advance plug-in and LUT package. The plug-in comes from the same team that developed Koji Color, a set of film emulation LUTs developed under the supervision of color timer Dale Grahn. The Koji Advance plug-in is compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, and Apple Final Cut X. However, they've also included a huge variety of LUTs, in case you want to do more manual color correction in DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Speedgrade, or any other application that accept 3D LUTs in a .cube format.
Koji 2393, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 2393 N, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
As a colorist, I crave control over the colors in an image and that control is not usually associated with plug-ins, look presets, and other "shortcuts". However, my numerous tests with Koji Advance left me feeling surprising creative. As a benchmark test, I regrading a project I had graded with a Kojicolor LUT in Resolve, and I was pleasantly surprised how close I had come (ignoring the secondary corrections, power windows galore, and other fancy business done in the Resolve version). This is partially due to the fantastic looking film stocks available with Koji Advance, no matter if we are discussing the plug-in or the LUTs. Although there are only 5 film stocks to emulate (each with a few variations), I found these subtle emulations to be fantastic starting points for a huge majority of my color grades. A key aspect I've found important to film emulation is using it as a "starting point" and never assuming its won't require additional color correction or grading. If you are looking for a one-touch button for color correction, you'll likely be disappointed with this plug-in (and with most plug-ins, for that matter. It just doesn't work that way....yet).
Koji 3523 S, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 3523, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Moving onto the specifics of the plugin, it supports a huge variety of cameras and formats, both Rec709 and LOG. Essentially, if you have a somewhat recent camera, it is likely supported directly within the plug-in, but if not, they also support generic Rec709, Log, and Cineon options to cover you. White balance is offered within the plug-in, using manual kelvin (K) temperature or with the automatic function (which I found worked quite well for an "auto" function). Basic Lift, Gamma, and Gain controls allows you to adjust your image, should it be too dark or bright after the emulation is applied. Printer point controls allow for some quick but powerful adjustments over your image, should it have any type of color cast or white balance issue not fixed by the WB control. The appearance of printer points is a welcome addition, as its a control rarely seen in most recent color correction plug-ins or effects, except for dedicated color correction packages. Lastly, the plug-in allows you to add film grain to your image, sampled from a variety of different film stocks. Sliders for contrast and film grain saturation provide additional control over the look and feel of the film grain, allowing you to really customize its look and feel.
Depending on your system specifications, your NLE, and your graphics card set-up, this plug-in may or may not play in realtime for you, especially if you have numerous effects stacked on top of it. However, most tests using both HD and UHD material played back in realtime using Adobe Premiere CC 2015 for me. I did not get a chance to test the plug-in is Final Cut X.
Koji 2393, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 2393 N, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
The LUTs provided can almost be seen as a bonus for most, as the plug-in is really the main attraction, but for some, these may be of interest. Having personally used these LUTs (and previous versions of them), I can easily say they are the BEST film emulation LUTs I have used, period. They are extremely subtle, never imposing a "look" I am forced into, and they work on a huge variety of formats and cameras (as they supplied specific versions for each camera \ format).
As a quick note, I cannot state if the LUTS & plug-in exactly match the Kodak or Fuji print stocks represented, but I can say they provide a very pleasing image that seems similar to my research on the film stocks and several films that have used them. That being said, I cannot attest to their exact "technical" accuracy and in the long run, I do not think it truly matters to a certain extent. Many argue till end of days about film v. digital, and films emulation, but ultimately, I feel its all about the look and feel you prefer. I've found this product extremely useful, especially the LUTs, and would highly recommend it to those looking for a tool to help establish a good starting point for a color grade.
I put together a quick video demo \ review as well, if you would like to see it in action. Be sure to check out the plugin at www.kojicolor.com.
Koji 3521, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 3521 N, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 2303 BW, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
We've been hard at work on an incredible new short film, "Portent", and we're thrilled to share the teaser trailer. First, If you are not familiar with Director \ DP Phil Artnz, this post will hopefully give you an introduction. An incredible, up and coming director and director of photography, I met Phil online through a private Facebook group for filmmakers after being amazed with some of the work I was seeing from him. Consistently stunning and unique, I reached out to him and we started chatting. It wasn't long before we both realized we were on the same page creatively, and we started to discuss color grading a short film he was currently working on, titled "Portent". After some discussions about the emotional impact of the story, how to best visualize it, and a few tests, we settled on a very restrained look: using a 35mm Kodak print stock as a reference, which gives the super clean 6K image from the RED Dragon some texture and adds a bit of an analogue feel, without feeling vintage.
Please check out the teaser trailer and leave a comment. We're love feedback, and we can't wait to share more as we can.
Sometimes it takes a bit of good, old fashion inspiration from others practicing your craft to spark a bit of creativity when you are stuck at a wall. As a colorist, I find video breakdowns off all kinds absolutely fascinating, as it highlights not only the work but also how that individual works: What tools do they use, what are they doing first as opposed to last, what do they avoid doing and what do they do habitually. These little traits are interesting trends that you can sometimes pick up on by looking at an artist's breakdown.
Another benefit of visual breakdowns is that it helps those not so intimately involved in a craft to quickly understand what is possible, how a final product could look, and generally encourages them to participate in the creative process.
In a follow-up article to the original round-up, I've gathered more color breakdowns to satisfy your curiosity. Here are several breakdowns from colorist Chris Hall. He provides narration for the grading breakdowns, making them even more informative, and appropriately named "Anatomy of a Grade". Be sure to follow him on Vimeo, so you can keep up with the ongoing series. I've posted a link to each specific breakdown below the videos. Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 01 - Manzanar
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 02 - Manzanar - Focus on Skin Tone
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 03 - Underexposure Correction with RED RAW Footage
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 04 - The Ring "Look"
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 05 - Digital "Relighting"
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 06 - Day For Night
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 07 - Sunset Grad
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 08 - "Digital Relighting / Repainting"
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 09 - The "Bleachy Western Look"
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 10 - Gettin' That Cyan Swing
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 11 - Keepin' It Consistent
(Personal favorite! Check out the film for a very cool and stylized color grade - "The Scribbler")
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 12 - Bringing Interest and Depth to an Overcast Day
I hope these color breakdowns have been educational and inspired you to pick up a style, technique, or tool you never previously knew used or knew about. Its this reason I find breakdowns and behind the scenes so useful, as they seem to become more useful as you learn more about your craft and can pick up small, subtle techniques used by others more talented in that area, whether it be color, editing, or learning non-film related skills in your everyday life.
Like many artists, I find inspiration when I see really great work from others. It's very interesting to see how others work in a craft that has almost limitless options and tools. In the arena of color correction and grading, I feel one of the more interesting demonstrations are color breakdowns, or layer by layer deconstructions which show the creation of that specific look. I've gathered a few interesting breakdowns as inspiration for how a look is build up in layers, and not applied all at once. This is a new style of post, so please let me know if you like it by leaving a comment.
Here are several breakdowns from talented colorist Charles-Etienne Pascal. Be sure to check out his great website, ISEEHUE, for more information on each step of the grade. I've posted a link to each specific breakdown below the videos. ISEEHUE - Grading Steps of Bellevue
ISEEHUE - Color Breakdown - Two Mean Cops
ISEEHUE - Color Breakdown 4
ISEEHUE - Color Breakdown - Zombies
ISEEHUE - Color Breakdown - Meet Adrien
ISEEHUE - Color Breakdown - Flying
ISEEHUE - Color Breakdown - Marked for Murder
ISEEHUE - Color Breakdown - Dance Club
ISEEHUE - Color Breakdown 10
I hope these color breakdowns have been educational and inspired you to pick up a style, technique, or tool you saw that you never previously knew about. Its this reason I find breakdowns and behind the scenes so useful, as they seem to become more useful as you learn more about your craft and can pick up small, subtle techniques used by others more talented in that field, whether it be color, editing, or learning non-film related skills in your everyday life.