While, admittedly, there aren't a whole lot of post-production situations we can think of where adding imperfections akin to noise is desirable, Team Pixop are the first to admit that sometimes, in order to achieve the right cinematic touch, adding film grain to footage — provided it's done correctly — can be just the ticket.
There are a number of solutions on the market that allow you to experiment with various types of film grain, and we've narrowed it down to three options that are, in our opinion, top-notch.
In this post, we'll take you through each one, including its pros and cons, as well as instructions on how to use it.
What is film grain?
So what is film grain, anyway? And why are we trying to artificially inject it?
Back when all footage that was shot and developed was analog, film grain arose as a natural and unavoidable part of the developmental process, resulting from visible silver crystals in a film negative's emulsion. This lent the resulting footage a grainy look, which has come to be associated with a certain cinematic style that some filmmakers find desirable in some situations.
Now that most footage is shot and developed digitally, film grain has to be added in post to achieve that same grainy look. It's a delicate operation, though. Too much film grain can leave your footage looking artificial and unappealing, so a balance needs to be struck.
The three programs listed below help you do just that.
First up is Pixop's own film grain post-processing filter. Here is a breakdown of its features and the process:
Since Pixop is cloud-based, all you need is a web browser, an internet connection and a Pixop account, which you can sign up for here.
Pixop's film grain filter can be used to apply realistic-looking film grain in five different grain sizes, meaning that, depending on what you are looking to achieve, you can adjust the strength in 50 steps from nothing to a very strong response.
How and when to use film grain is, of course, very subjective and the opinions of post-producers will vary in terms of what strikes the right balance. Digital grain is especially important for movies so you get less of a smooth plastic AI look and it makes the whole thing come alive as something that was shot on film stock.
Our film grain filter gives you just the flexibility you need to create the look that works best for your project.
Here are some of the key areas we've focused on when developing our film grain filter:
- Our film grain filter is based on a physically realistic film grain model and it is not merely a crude form of noise.
- An element of materiality is injected which makes denoised material look more attractive to some human observers.
- Our model is non-linear and grain response depends on the local brightness of the image which is exactly what you would expect from something captured on film.
- We offer five different grain sizes, and you can adjust the strength in 50 steps from nothing to a very strong response.
How to use
We've made it very easy to add realistic film grain to your videos. Our interface is intuitive and this process doesn't require a whole lot of steps. We're also always on hand to help with settings or filters if you need help during the process.
- Upload the video you want to process
- Once your video is uploaded, click on it to get to your project folder
- Click the 'process' button
- Click 'Filters' in the process tool and choose 'Pixop Film Grain' under 'Post-Processor'
- Choose the grain strength and size. We have a number of options, including grain size ranging from Super Fine to Very Coarse and grain strength from 0 to 50, so feel free to experiment until you find the best settings for your project.
- Once you've chosen your grain strength and size, click 'create preview' to create a ten-second preview and test your settings. Once you're happy with what you see in your preview, you can apply the same settings and click 'Process' to process the entire video.
In preparation, we upscaled and enhanced the source material from SD to HD using our Deep Restoration 2 algorithm. Once that was done, we applied three different kinds of film grain among the many options Pixop gives users to create a representative sample of what is possible with our filter.
Fine Grain (20/50)
In the video below, we applied the Pixop film grain post-processing filter with a grain size of 'fine' and a grain strength of 20/50. View in full screen for best results.
Size: Fine, Strength: 20/50. View in full screen for best results.
Medium Grain (20/50)
In the video below, we applied the Pixop film grain post-processing filter with a grain size of 'medium' and a grain strength of 20/50. View in full screen for best results.
Size: Medium, Strength: 20/50. View in full screen for best results.
Coarse Grain (20/50)
In the video below, we applied the Pixop film grain post-processing filter with a grain size of 'coarse' and a grain strength of 20/50. View in full screen for best results.
Size: Coarse, Strength: 20/50. View in full screen for best results.
Adobe After Effects or Premiere Pro
When looking to add film grain to footage, Adobe offers options is After Effects, Premiere Pro as well as Photoshop. In this section, we've decided to focus on After Effects, but both the level of procedural difficulty and resulting film grain effect are comparable across all three programs.
Starting at $20.99/month.
For a full list of system requirements, click here.
Adobe's editing suite, including after effects and premier pro, is one of the most popular video and photo editing solutions on the market. Adobe After Effects is primarily used for video compositing, motion graphics, design and animation.
With its latest iteration, After Effects has improved on some features and added some others into the mix. Premium Beat did a great article explaining all of them in detail, but some notable ones include:
- Rotobrush 2.0, to make rotoscoping easier and less time-consuming.
- Multi-frame rendering, which you can take advantage of if you have a multi-core processor.
- Face Tracking, to make it easier to hone in on faces to add subtle emphasis or blur for confidentiality.
How to use
- Set up a composition
- Imported the video clip you want to add film grain to
- Dragged the clip to the timeline and
- Selected the layer
- Navigate to the 'Effects' menu > Noise and Grain > Add Grain
- From there, you can adjust the levels of intensity, size, softness and more.
- Once you've settled on what you want to do, change the viewing mode from preview to final output to apply the film grain to the clip.
In preparation, we upscaled and enhanced the source material from SD to HD using our Deep Restoration 2 algorithm. Once that was done, we applied film grain using After Effects' film grain effect and adjusted the levels of intensity, size, etc until we were happy with the result.
Film Grain using Adobe After Effects. View in full screen for best results.
Another option to add film grain to videos (provided you already have access to video editing software like Premiere Pro or After effects) is downloadable film grain overlays.
For this article, we downloaded Holygrain's free 35mm film grain overlay and used Adobe After Effects to apply it to our sample video.
This depends on the type of film grain you want to download. Some are free, others you have to pay for.
Not applicable. Although keep in mind that since these are overlays, you'll need a program you can use (like After Effects or Premiere Pro) to apply them to your video.
Film overlays are a convenient option if you already own video editing software and want to add just the right film grain to your footage. There are dozens online, so it shouldn't be too hard to find one you want to use.
How to use
This how-to relates specifically to Holygrain's film grain overlays.
- Head over to Holygrain and download the film overlay you want to use.
- Once you've downloaded the file, drag and drop it into your AE composition timeline
- Once it's been added, change the composite mode to 'Overlay'
- Change the opacity if desired.
In preparation, we upscaled and enhanced the source material from SD to HD using our Deep Restoration 2 algorithm. Once that was done, we downloaded Holygrain's free 35mm film grain overlay and used Adobe After Effects to add it to our footage.
Film Grain using Holygrain's 35mm overlay. View in full screen for best results.
So there you have it folks, three easy ways to add film grain to your footage!
Though all three options work well, Pixop is great for those of you who are looking for an automated cloud-based solution that doesn't require too much investment to set up. With Pixop, you don't need to buy expensive hardware or NLEs — we've worked hard to simplify everything, so all you need to bring to the party is an internet connection and a Pixop account to get started. Our film grain filter costs as little as $0.009 / gigapixel to apply, so it's an extremely cost-effective way to give your footage a vintage, cinematic quality.
Our film grain filter is also extremely easy to use, given the fact that our interface is designed to be as intuitive and automated as possible. Another huge plus is that you can use our film grain filter in connection with the other filters we offer to essentially create a one-stop solution for enhancing and upscaling your footage at essentially the touch of a button.