« Q&A | 05. {storyboarding} | Main | Happy Tuesday! »

Q&A | 04. {film grain for video}

Thursday Q&A | 04 -- film grain for video

A couple Thursdays ago, we did a post on adding grain to photos and this week I thought it would be interesting to explore how to add grain to video. Taking a look at how to do it and viewing comparisons of video both with and without grain. 



After Effects grain filer + project file: download here

Grain video to use in Final Cut Pro (1080pHD): download here


An important question to think about when adding grain should relate back to the story, and how you want the effects of adding the grain to be perceived by and audience. For me, grain on imagery has a unique way of bringing in a nostalgic feel -- making video footage look more like film and in some cases giving it a vintage feel. Also if you slow down the frame rate a bit, you can create footage that looks like it was shot on a super 8 or 16mm film camera. Grain can also add more of a 'grungy' feel to shots, making them look more real and raw and not the clean pristine digital image that comes out of the camera. In relation to storytelling, this aspect can be used to help add a raw realism to the story being told. For example in the HBO film series Band of Brothers - they shot using a film stock that had a higher and more pronounced grain structure -- which gave the film a profound realness, almost like it was being shot by one of the old Bolex 35mm cameras that the US military used. Shooting it this way helped pull viewers into the story, making them feel as if they are there on the battlefield. 

While grain can be an amazing tool, there are some pros and cons to adding high levels of it to video, especially when uploading to the web. The main problem has to do with compression and how different levels of compression affect the look and feel of grain. For example, a common web encoding format is Quicktime H.264. which uses a compression algorythm that encodes through motion compensation -- this is where the video is compressed by looking at what elements move within the frame and what elements don't. The less elements you have within the scene that move, the smaller the file format will be and the better it will look on the web. If you have many elements within a video sequence that move, the higher the rate of compression will be, and video files will need to be larger to preserve more details within each frame. Adding grain adds many many more elements within each frame that move - so in-turn you will need to compensate by creating a larger file at higher quality as to preserve the proper look and feel of the grain. If you encode the video into smaller and smaller file sizes, you lose the sharpness of the grain and it will start to look blocky and muddy. Essentially, if you are gong to purposefully add grain to your videos, you want to make sure you keep the file size on the higher end as to retain the full quality. 

The way I like to to add grain to video is by using Adobe After Effects. AE has some amazing grain filters that can emulate a ton of different film looks, and there is also a huge amount of control with how you want it to look. I posed the After Effects project file here so you can download to check out the grain settings and add them to your own videos. If you don't have After Effects, you can still add grain to you video in Final Cut Pro using composite modes. I posed a short tutorial below. 

To me, one thing that really makes video stand apart from film is that video doesn't have much grain in the highlights. Film has a unique look to it where there is a uniform amount of grain throughout the entire image. Whereas a typical video image has high amounts of 'noise' in the blacks and midtones, yet remain almost grain free in the highlights. In After Effects you can adjust how much grain you want added to the highlights / midtones / blacks. These controls really help with giving a film like feel to video. 

Grain added via After Effects

Below is a video clip of a short sequence with grain added using After Effects. I posed a hi-res flash video file below so you can see it in higher resolution for the web (please wait for clip to download before playing) Also, the video frames are rendered out at 12flps every other frame, to further enhance the vintage feel:

below is a hi-res split screen too so you can see the difference between the two: both with grain and without grain. The Black and White footage has a more more aggressive amount of grain to it as well to make it look more like super 8 film. 


Add grain using Final Cut Pro

Also, you can add grain using FCP too and creating layers and using different composite modes. You can download the grain video from the link below:

Grain video to use in Final Cut Pro (1080pHD): download here

 Step 01/. Place the 'grain' layer over the video that you want to add it to in the FCP timeline.

Step 02/. change the composite mode of the 'grain' layer by clicking Modify > Composite Mode > Subtract


Step 03/. now double click the 'grain' layer and click on the motion tab, set its opacity to -13. You can play around with adjusting this number to either make the grain level more pronounced or dial it town for a more subtle effect. You can also shape how strong the grain is by using the color corrector shown in the next step. 



Step 04/. click the effects tab and add a color corrector filter to the 'grain' layer of video. You can adjust the sliders to either create darker, lighter, or more evenly toned grain. 


Step 05/. now you can adjust the opacity a bit more or less depending on how intense you want to grain to be. 



PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (11)

Thanks for these new behind the scenes posts you've been doing lately. Totally helpful. Please keep 'em coming.

Great post Casey! Love the amount of things I can learn simply by reading your blog. Keep up the excellent work and the informational posts!

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Boston


Awesome! thats great to hear that you like the Thursday posts! Any thoughts on what you would like to see next Thurs?


Casey W

May 20, 2010 | Registered CommenterCasey L. Warren

Great info Casey. Love what the grain added to the footage. Great color grading too!


May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Moon


NICE! many thanks! means alot coming from a fellow cinematographer.


Casey W.

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Warren

good morning casey, thanks for the tutorial this morning. so excited about thursdays and hearing from you. i had a question about the download.. i clicked the download button for the grain on FCP, but then it just opened the file and played the video. what do i do next to save that video file to be able to use it. this is probably a stupid question, but i'm stuck and would love to use it for something this weekend. thanks again

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstuart atkins

Great stuff bro! Love seeing the thursday posts :). Question, are you able to render out 12 frames in FCP like you did with AE? I like that look, pseudo filmic and I have a few ideas on some applications.

Keep up the great and inspiring work! - Randy

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRandy Panado

another wonderful post! Can you provide some info on the After Effects technique you use to create that burned film stutter at the end of these videos? Such a great aesthetic touch that just polishes off the vintage feel.

May 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJB

CW - tried to load the filmgrain_settings.aep project, but it says that it's missing 9 files? Inside the project is only color bars...(thanks so much btw!)

May 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJB

Perfect! I was looking for a different effect and found it here! I'll use it! Could you give more tip about your works? DVD authoring, workflow, audio ...


Julio - from BRA

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjulio cesar alves

Is it possible to know the title of the music you used in those videos ?

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFred

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>