How to Make Digital Look Like (Grainy) Film: CineGrain Review
Celluloid is expensive. And besides, literally nobody makes film cameras anymore. But it does have a very particular aesthetic, one chief component of which is grain. There is a grit to film that today's digital cameras lack, and while there are plenty of plugins out there to simulate this grit, there are no substitutes for the real artifacts. The guys at CineGrain took dozens of different film stocks and painstakingly scanned them in, delivering authentic grain, dirt, headers, tails, lens flares, and flash frames on a nice branded hard drive. Film grain isn't appropriate for every project, but if you want your video to look like grainy 35mm, 16mm, or 8mm -- but can't shoot the real thing -- you'll find CineGrain to be a handy addition to your toolbox of tricks.
To test the CineGrain footage, I applied a few clips to some Canon 5D Mark II test footage I shot for my transmedia project 3rd Rail (which is on hold for now, but will see the light of day... someday). The problem with internet video compression is it's very good at filtering out fine details -- like grain -- so I applied CineGrain clips pretty heavily in a couple of places. Again, this is just for testing purposes, as I wouldn't use CineGrain on this particular project (it's not appropriate). There's no sound in this clip, and full screen it if you want to be able to see the grain:
Here's a closer look at a slightly less-compressed frame:
The presentation of the package is very nice -- not only is the hard drive branded, but the clips are neatly arranged into appropriate directories (35mm, 16mm, headers, etc.), each of which has its own unique icon. There are a few versions of the package, aimed to appeal to different classes of production (and budget). The Indie Filmmaker Collection offers 50 clips at 1080p resolution for $299, and 100 clips at both 2K and 1080p for $499 (this is what I tested). This indie collection is licensed for projects with a budget up to $50k; for budgets up to $100k there's the IndiePro collection (150 or 280 clips for $999 or $1499, respectively) and the Professional license is a 300-clip collection of ProRes 444 clips for... well, more than most of us can afford. But the $3,999 unlimited license may certainly make sense for commercial production houses.
I can see the comment coming already: "it's too expensive, I can get XYZ film plugin for $29! And iMovie has it for free!" Well, yes, and if those plugins are good enough for your purposes, no one's suggesting you buy CineGrain. But considering the effort and expense of shooting dozens of different film stocks on all manner of cameras and then developing and scanning the film, the pricing seems appropriate. Speaking of which, here's a brief behind-the-scenes look at the shooting and scanning of the actual film:
Also file under "comments I see coming:" yes, there is more to the look of film than just grain. But this is a review of CineGrain, not CineLook (which used to be a plugin by DigiEffects.
So, here's an example of heavy CineGrain use on RED footage:
And ARRI ALEXA while we're at it:
Beyond simply adding grain, the elements have surprising utility. Even on my Kickstarter video I ended up using some subtle film flares to liven up my interstitial titles, which felt a bit dead and static for my taste. I overlaid some light leaks, and cranked the opacity down to a few percent. I felt it was a subtle but effective (and quick) tweak that made the titles more "active."
If you feel CineGrain is overkill, Red Giant's Magic Bullet Suite contains some nice grain plugins (including a highlight suppression slider), and the latest version of REDCINE-X Pro also includes a grain slider in its "Film look" tab.
Ultimately, most digital projects probably don't need grain, but if you want to go above and beyond digitally simulated grain and utilize real photochemical artifacts, then CineGrain can't be beat. I know I'm going to find it handy.
The proper application techniques (I used After Effects) are below. You can also sign up to download some sample clips.