How to get the Film Look Easily without using LUTs or Plugins

The reality today is that more and more editors and DPs are forced to color grade or color correct their own footage. Budgets are getting tighter and yet clients expect even faster turnarounds.

One way to solve this problem is to buy a pack of LUTs, but these have the following disadvantages:

  • They cost money.
  • You don’t know what went into creating them, so you don’t know their limits.
  • It’s hard to get them to match challenging footage in a sequence.
  • Most of the time, you’re just aimlessly winging it, and your coloring skills don’t improve. Take away the LUT, and you’re back to square one.
  • The solution these companies come up with is to produce even more LUTs!

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What if you could create your own film LUTs:

  • Without knowing how to color grade.
  • Without using any LUTs.
  • Without using any plugins, paid or free.

That would be something, right? That’s why I created this video, how to get the film look easily with one simple trick:

Credits:

  • Images are from pixabay.com and are in the public domain.
  • Credit to Garrett Gibbons for showing us how to create the orange-teal look with RGB curves. You can watch his original tutorial here.

Important Notes:

  • The sixth patch is at 40 IRE, and the middle tone in your footage should also be around 40 IRE. In the video I didn’t do it because it’s subjective. By varying the gamma/mid tones/exposure you can shift this point to wherever you feel like it.
  • 40 IRE is about half a stop below middle grey for Rec. 709, give or take.
  • The crow chart does not crush the blacks or blow out the whites, though it looks like it in the waveform because I’ve included white and black as chips in the chart.

How do you create the crow chart?

It’s easy, and you can do it in Photoshop in five minutes. The sequence of patches are as follows:

  • #ffffff – true white
  • #eeeeee
  • #dddddd
  • #cccccc
  • #bbbbbb
  • #aaaaaa
  • #999999
  • #888888
  • $808080 – the thin patch in the middle, 50 IRE for full swing
  • #777777 – middle grey for sRGB or the legal range, approximately
  • #6e6e6e – the little marker
  • #666666 – our hero
  • #555555
  • #444444
  • #333333
  • #222222
  • #111111
  • #000000 – true black

Please create your own chart. It’s easy and you only have to do it once. The chart can teach you a lot about working with the film look, and I’ve only scratched the surface with this video.

What do you think? Is this helpful in creating your own unique film looks without any effort?

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

21 replies on “How to get the Film Look Easily without using LUTs or Plugins”

  1. Hi,
    I trieb to recompose some LUTs with the chart, but in DaVinci Resolve the 40 IRE line don’t fit in any of the tested LUTs like Kodak, Osiris or ImpulZ. So I think DaVinci Resolve isn’t the right tool.
    Or have you any advice how it could be made in DaVinci?

  2. Newbie here,

    Can anyone help in creating this Crow Chart or at least point me in the right direction. I am pretty familiar with Photoshop, but have never created a grey scale chart in photoshop. It would be most appreciated.

  3. A Ha!!! So I am color-blind as well as dense lol perhaps I’m not cut out for this color grading business :) Thanks so much for clearing that up for me. Maybe it’s time for me to get a new monitor too :) Cheers for that.

    1. because i was thinking in patterns i thought i saw 18 equal boxes with the 2 extra small ones in the center. After reading these comments and re checking the video i now realize that the first box in the top left corner and the the last box in the bottom right corner are actually double the height of the most commonly used box size. #DONTBELIEVEEVREYTHINGYOUSEE

  4. Thanks Sareesh, 
    I got that shorty is 6e6e6e and skinny is 808080, but I am still missing a couple of the big ones.
    If the 6 cells in the left column are: f,e,d,c,b,& a
    and the 6 cells in the right column are: 5,4,3,2,1, & 0, that only leaves
    9,8,7 & 6 (ie 4 color codes) for the 6 LARGE cells in the centre column (and here I’m not including shorty & skinny as they have their own codes). Are any of these colors repeated?
    This is probably staring me in the face but I’m not seeing it.

  5. Hi.
    Great article. I’m still a little confused with the construction of your color chart. Your chart comprises 18 large cells + 2 smaller cells (which I’ll call “skinny” and “shorty”), giving a total of 20 separate cells. You said in one of your earlier answers that there are no duplicates, but you’ve only given 17 different color codes.
    You also show in your video that #666666 is second from the bottom in the centre column, so what is the color code for the one below it? The six colors in the right hand column are #000000 through to #555555, so it seems to me that one is missing. And just to confirm, is the color code for the top centre cell #999999?

    I look forward to clarification as I am keen to experiment with the LUTs. Cheers!

  6. NicholasNatteau It’s 16 +2. The two extra are #808080 (50%) and #6e6e6e (small marker).

    The two chips on the left and right columns are different, and so are the ones in the center and right columns. There are no duplicates. If it appears so, there might a calibration problem on the monitor. With a decent monitor, you should be able to see all boxes clearly, and separately (it’s an 8-bit chart after all).

  7. Hi Sareesh,

    In your tutorial you say that your chart contains 16 shades of grey. But in your chip chart, I see 18 greyscale boxes of shades from black to white (3 columns of 6 each) not including the two additional thin boxes in the center column. 
    Am I correct in assuming that the greyscale box at the bottom of the left column is the same shade of grey as the box at the top of the center column, and that the box at the bottom of the center column is the same shade as the box at the top of the right column. It seems that 2 of the big 18 greyscale boxes are duplicates.
    Finally, what greyscale value should the very small thin box (the one just above the 666666 box) in the center column be? Thank you very much in advance for clarifying.

  8. Sareesh Sudhakaran there are technical luts that match the rec709 image on the display with what it will look like should they then print out to film for exhibition. They are used every day in the professional world. Some films are shot on kodak negative, go through digital intermediate, and then are printed on fuji stock. The colorist has to use the fuji print lut in order to know exactly how printing to film will adjust the image.

    The issue with other types of luts that claim to be an emulation, is that they’re really someone’s look, rather than being technical. All technical luts will match. Using a print lut as the last layer or node produces the color transformations that a film print will make. So the best way to get the film look is to use a film print lut, not someone’s idea of what a film print will look like. Which is what most of the luts being sold do. It’s how they differentiate themselves.

    You’d still have to color below/before it. But the contrast curves and color transforms are done for you. Then there’s the issue of grading in log, which prevents color separation that would not happen with film stock. Grading in rec709 allows manipulations that can not be reproduced using color timing methods. Hence why the print lut is an important part of getting that film look. The audience is used to what kodak and fuji colors “should” be.

  9. John Mendez Great tips. I have compared Juan’s LUTs with Filmconvert in another video. The color of film stock isn’t a single color, as there are many variables to developing and printing film. Those who excel at shooting film try very hard to deviate from the norm.
    In the digital age, what good is the norm then, if you can go directly to your end result? Just a thought. The results of film emulation LUTs should match each other if they are precise, but they don’t agree among themselves!

  10. Thank you Sareesh!
    Very useful video and article!
    Though I edit with FCP X, I am sure your idea will work.

  11. There’s more going on in a technical film lut than just tweaking colors in the highs and lows. There are actual color transforms depending on the emulation. A red on fuji film will be different than a red on kodak stock. You can’t mimic that without some serious curve tweaking. Take a look at this video from lattice to see how kodak stock changes the color inside the rec709 cube.

    https://youtu.be/jROKVDTYdrk?t=1m4s

    The best way to create a film look is to white balance and prep the image to a rec709 space, then apply a technical film lut. One used by professional colorists to match whatever the final film print will be. Juan Melara has some on his site, or use the ones in Resolve. I’m not sure if Adobe provides actual technical luts. Use the film lut as your last node or layer and grade before it. Usually it will add some major contrast to the image, but reducing it will get you right back in shape.

    If you’re looking for a “filmic look”, then you don’t need a lut per se. Just adjust contrast and add a nice shoulder for the highlight rolloff. Then work on contrast, maybe even raise the blacks. Video tends to be much more contrasty than film. But remember that a huge part of the film look is in how the footage was shot to begin with.

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