LUTs & the Film Look – The Why & the How

by Karin GottschalkLeave a Comment

Three-dimensional look up tables – 3D LUTs – have become embedded in the post-production process now and don’t look like going away any time soon. LUTs emulating analog classic film stocks continue to enter the market and some established ones are in the process of being updated.

And of course plug-ins and standalone film emulation applications are abundant and have been well-established in the stills photography and now moviemaking arena for some time. But questions remain – what is the role of LUTs in post-production and how do they fit into color correction and color grading. Are they another form of film emulation package? Or are they something else?

Those queries have not been answered to my satisfaction anywhere online so far and though there may be some terrific books that do so – suggestions in our comments section below please – my book-buying budget has shrunk radically in recent years along with space for bookshelves. Besides, like most of us I spend much of my life onscreen and find I prefer doing my visual learning in that eminently visual environment – the computer.

To that end VisionColor recently posted a tutorial titled Film Emulation with LUTs – Creating a Professional Film Look and it is well worth a read. The article is amply illustrated with interactive before and after screen grabs.

VisionColor’s author refers to the Hollywood Color Pipeline in explaining the role of LUTs – and especially VisionColor’s own ImpulZ and OSIRIS LUTs – and how independent moviemakers can use their products to replicate the way Hollywood does it from capture through digital intermediate to release print.

Hollywood itself has had the habit of using LUTs in its pipeline for some years it seems. Recent Oscar nominations like 12 Years a Slave, Anna Karenina, Argo and The Kings Speech reportedly used film emulation 3D LUTs in the post-production process.

Good enough for Hollywood, good enough for us indie moviemakers? Make up your own mind after reading Film Emulation with LUTs – Creating a Professional Film Look.

I recommend using a “read later” application though – while the VisionColor website’s mid-grey type on black background design is great for viewing movies and screen grabs in semi-darkness, it wreaks havoc on reading and comprehension under normal lighting. I saved the article for reading and for later in Evernote which converted the article into easier-to-read black text on white background.

VisionColor’s Vimeo channel also links to some short movies post-processed using their LUTs. My favourite right now is Memories of Vietnam by Léo Bigiaoui.


Defining the ‘Film Look’

Via VisionColor:

Sure, all of these images differ in framing, lighting, aspect ratio and more obviously in the actual contents of the frame. All of these images have been subject to digital color grading, emphasizing the mood and tone of each individual shot. The one in the lower left for example has been treated stylistically different from the one directly above it, rendering the greens more muted brownish as opposed to the vivid greens above which have more cyan in them. In spite of these obvious differences all of these images have one thing in common. They look like ‘Film’. In fact, all of the above images have been either shot on or emulate Kodak Vision3 250D 5207 film stock so even though they may appear to be completely different from each other they are all filmic in the truest sense of the word.

So besides the impeccable craftsmanship and creativity that go into color correction and color grading to get the most out of every frame captured by the cinematographer, it is this look the sophisticated viewer instantly associates with high quality, ‘filmic’ imagery. It’s not the software or plugins that are being used to achieve a certain look and it’s not a particular style like the infamous ‘Teal & Orange” or Bleach Bypass.

Film emulation image 2

Similar to a screenplay being uniquely interpreted within the framework of narratives , images can and should be uniquely altered based on an artists particular intentions and circumstances but within the bounds of underlying guidelines which are informed by established ideas that have proven to work both artistically and in consequence economically over long stretches of time. Like stories which have been structured in acts since ancient history, the look of movies is, to this day, largely influenced by the aesthetic characteristics of photochemical film.

Narratives which lead to the experience of catharsis after the hero has overcome all obstacles to fulfill her desires at the end of act three can have many plots. And film has many looks. So if there was one common definition of the Film Look it would be one that describes the shared characteristics imposed onto high quality imagery by the aesthetic of analog film. The Film Look is not a look. It’s what is beneath it.

Continue reading this article at VisionColor “Defining the ‘Film Look’”

Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before

(cover photo credit: snap from VisionColor)

Karin Gottschalk

Karin Gottschalk

Karin is a documentary moviemaker, journalist, photographer and teacher who conceived and cofounded an influential, globally-read, Australian magazine of contemporary art, culture and photography. While based in Europe, contributing to the magazine and working in advertising, she visualised a future telling the same sorts of stories with a movie camera and audio recorder. Now back in her home base in Sydney, Karin is pursuing her goal of becoming an independent, one-person, backpack multimedia journalist and documentary moviemaker. Mentorless and un-filmschooled, she is constantly learning and sharpening up her skill set.
Karin Gottschalk

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