Topic: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

I am currently in pre-production of a short brickfilm that uses old LEGO characters. I want to make this film look like it was made on 70s or 80s film. I have a few questions on how to make my film look 70s/80s style. I hope someone can help. mini/smile

  • What aspect ratio should I use? I would like it to be widescreen and HD, not square. I understand that most of the old films are 4:3, but pretend that this is a holywood film not a back-of-the-basement films, and we can use widescreen film.

  • What kind of color correction is needed? Obviously, we want the colors to be not as vivid as today's movies, because it's supposed to made on film. I am going to watch lots of old brickfilms to see some more about this, but I just thought I'd ask about it. Also, should the white balance be warmer or cooler? I am unfamiliar with white balance on old cameras.

  • I want to add a wee bit of film grain on it to make it look even more authentic. Can someone recommend the best way to do that? I don't think the built-in film grain effect in Sony Movie Studio will do. Does someone know of someone who recorded just a plain white board with a film camera, so I can just overlay the film grain onto my film?

Those are all the questions that I can think of right now. Thanks for the answers in advance. mini/smile

-rioforce

Last edited by rioforce (January 13, 2015 (07:13pm))

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

I'd suggest just going for the usual 16:9 aspect ratio since it fits perfectly into YouTube's viewer.  I feel like anything that adds black bars to the sides or bottom is wasted space regardless of whatever feel you're trying to convey.  Unless, of course, your film's in a proper theater or really big screen, then it's okay.

I'm not sure how exactly you would want your film to look though, as there are a great many films made in the 80s and 70s, and they don't all look exactly the same.  Star Wars is the first to come to mind.  Although, they are all filmed with actual film, giving it that special film look we all know.  I'm still not sure exactly what makes a film-look look how it does.  Still, a specific example for a film you'd like to emulate might help.

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

I guess I should have specified. I'm looking for an effect like The Magic Portal, LEGO Sports Champions, or Liftoff, except that I dislike the 4:3 aspect ratio (though I do see that Liftoff has a 16:9 ratio, and it looks fine. Not sure if it was cropped in recent years, though).

Last edited by rioforce (January 13, 2015 (07:49pm))

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Thanks!  That helps.

Something I've noticed about those sorts of things is that there is a slight sort of softness to them, kinda like they are blurry but not in the typical Gaussian blur sort of way, as a certain sharpness is still present.

I've fond one can somewhat imitate this effect by having a semi-transparent blurred frame over the original sharp frame.  I'm not sure how much blur or how much opacity there should be in the top footage, though, you may have to play around with it to get something just right.  but it can help to give it that special sort of glow to it.

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

"Real movie" 70s and 80s films weren't 4:3; a majority are 1.85:1 which is not much different from 16:9. There are also some anamorphic films in that time (2.35:1 typically) but to get the true anamorphic look you'd need special lenses. The brickfilm examples are 4:3 because they were shot either on 8 or 16mm film (Magic Portal) or tape video cameras which were 4:3 as they were intended for television-style use.

Tape and 70s/80s film are different aesthetics, I think tape is generally pretty ugly but if you want to emulate it you just need to shoot in deep focus and some blotchy, colorful noise on top.

As for film, a very subtle soft focus effect would help. I'd do this by making a duplicate layer of the video on top of the original, blurring that layer a very small amount (fast blur) and making that layer between 5 and 15% opaque. If you make it too heavy it becomes more obvious that it is an effect. To add grain and get the kind of colors of filmstock, you could use something like the amazing and totally worth the money Filmconvert software, but if you can't afford that then maybe creating a noise layer (flat gray with some noise on it) overlayed via an "overlay" blending mode at 5-10% would give sort of a similar feel.

http://i.imgur.com/wcmcdmf.png

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Also, if you want to emulate those older films, use older bricks and building styles.
Yellow Smiley heads, classic space/town torsos, blocky enviroments, ect....

A slightly warmer white balance would look better, but don't overdue it.

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

You could just go out there and buy an actual film camera.

If you're going for a "classic" brickfilm feel, I would echo Pritchard in saying you should try use vintage bricks and building styles.  I'm not sure if it'd be possible to go all the way back to the 70s considering the minifigure only came out in 1979 (unless you're planning on not using minifigs).  That aside, I'd make the actual animation look different.  Back in the early days the "rules" of LEGO animation weren't around yet, so things like the 15FPS walk cycle hadn't been invented.  Maybe shoot at a slightly lower frame rate (such as 12FPS) and make the movements look more "wobbly".  All that aside, just watching a bunch of classic brickfilms, and analysing what makes them different from modern-day brickfilms, should be really helpful.

On a side note, I thought 4:3 was the same aspect as 16:9, with the only differing factor being that 4:3 is analogue and 16:9 is digital.

Squid wrote:

I'd suggest just going for the usual 16:9 aspect ratio since it fits perfectly into YouTube's viewer.  I feel like anything that adds black bars to the sides or bottom is wasted space regardless of whatever feel you're trying to convey.

I disagree.  Even if you do end up showing it in a theatre, it'll still be a different aspect when you upload it to YouTube.  I feel it's pretty negative to view letterboxing as wasteful simply because it does not conform to a certain aspect ratio intended for a different media platform.  I wouldn't say one is any better than the other.  It's like saying one painting is wasting more space than another simply because it uses a canvas of a slightly different shape.  (If anything, I'd say the weird aspect ratio used for the majority of The Grand Budapest Hotel is a waste of space, though it was used for a reason, albeit one that I don't understand.)

The frame of a professionally made film will have been carefully composed by the director/cinematographer, and the choice of aspect ratio will certainly factor in a substantial part into the composition.  There are different composition techniques for Widescreen which can lend a whole different feel to the film.  Films such as Lawrence of Arabia or Ben-Hur famously use extreme widescreen aspect ratios (in the case of Ben-Hur it was even narrower than 2.35:1, I think).  Lawrence of Arabia in particular uses this composition to create a feeling of the vastness of the desert, and it would be impossible to achieve the same effect using, say, 16:9.  It's not accurate to say that one aspect ratio is inherently more wasteful than the other, both have advantages and drawbacks.

EDIT: Whew, that ended up being a lot longer than I expected.  Sorry for the wall of text.  Better get back on topic.

Last edited by Mr Vertigo (January 14, 2015 (05:34am))

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Yeah, that is a good point you have there.

Just make sure if you do go for a wider one, make sure you also have a lens with a wider field of vision, as that will benefit the ratio better.  My macro lens zooms everything slightly, and I really would like a way to get wider shots and still be close.

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

I, too, have tried to emulate the look of film for several of my projects. However, I usually try for a more late 80's early 90's look - similar to films like "The Rocketeer," "Spy Kids," or "The Mummy."

Taking just a simple snap-shot from my webcam on a thrown-together Spaceship MOC gave me this:

http://www.brickshelf.com/gallery/DylandBrickfilms/Film/1_-_unedited_frame.png

I kept it a bit grainy because, well, film is grainy. It's no masterpiece, but, it's still a pretty nicely composed shot - the character being very far away from the background.

A lot of movies on film tend to have a very precise field of focus, and thus, would need to be recreated if you want a pretty nice looking effect.

Also, I thought the shot was a bit too bright, I wanted the spaceship to look darker - so, I also wanted to darken things a bit. This is really just personal preference on the lighting of your shot, however, once I made everything darker in GIMP, with just a few little adjustments, I really liked the outcome:

http://www.brickshelf.com/gallery/DylandBrickfilms/Film/2_-_edited_frame.png

Ok, so, not perfect, but, definitely a lot better than the original, unedited frame. Overall, what I did was I put the figure on a separate layer. Then, I blurred the background a minute amount, darkening the overall image, and lighting up some of the lights. Then, I tried to match the figure to the background's lighting, only, I didn't blur him as much.

This actually is a bit of a better simulation of "what film looks like on DVD" but, at the time, that's what I was going for.

I did this test about 2 years ago, and, since then, have messed with editing frame by frame, and the Sony Vegas tools much deeper. You really just have to keep pushing yourself to work longer and more intricately when editing to achieve effects more and more realistic.

Overall, in the various methods I've done to emulate film, I try to keep the workload to under 5 minutes per frame, if I must edit like that. That way, I get the quality I want without sacrificing too much time. In Vegas, I usually just mess with the color correction more than anything else. You want things to have a deeper orange-ish tone, while still boosting up the other colors a bit too. That's usually what works for me.

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Yeah, most movies were in one of the widescreen processes by 1970.  There are plugins for Vegas studio that simulate retro film effects.  Also, the Film grain effect is just fine for making something look shot on film.

There is a font I use that's really 1970s.  I have to look up its name, though.  It's the one I used in my minimalist Association video, which isn't currently online.  It's at about 5:30 in this video of mine:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7VFdKZoDXU

The 1980s are at about 6:00

Oh, here it is... the 1970s font name is FUTURA LT BT.   I see this all the time in indie films from that era.

Also, For HOO episode 2 and the script I just finished which has a lot of 80s flashback, I compiled a book of 1980s slang which I can email you (or anyone) if you want! I am 1980s obsessed!

One other things, I've noticed, especially with news & archival footage, the saturation seems to fade from the natural wear of the film, and often times black turns a bit greenish in film.

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Wow, I didn't expect so many tips. Thanks, guys! I'm going to answer a few of them, but I'm not going to go quote all of them because I don't have time. mini/lol

@Squid, I will try the blur effect later on when I take a test frame (probably this weekend). I'll try to post a picture here when I get it for you guys to see.

@Pritchard Yes, I am using exclusively classic pieces. (Homemaker and retro minifigs, but don't tell anybody... mini/wink ) I am also going to build using super basic bricks to emulate the classic style.

@Vertigo Haha, I thought about buying a film camera, but I have no place to get it developed (or even know much about film) mini/tongue I was thinking about using my normal animation style for the film, but actually, now that you mention it, I think I will make it slightly lower framerate. I want this film to look authentic.

@Squid (#2) Hmm. I only have a 58mm lens. I guess I could use my Nikon lens, but it has lots of light flicker issues, and I think that the Helios would look more authentic for the vintage look. I'll experiment, though.

@HOO Thanks for the font tips. I'm probably going to do everything in-camera, using some old stuff I have like my typewritter. I'm also going to see if I have an old label maker around (but I'm not sure if I have one...).

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Squid wrote:

Yeah, that is a good point you have there.

Just make sure if you do go for a wider one, make sure you also have a lens with a wider field of vision, as that will benefit the ratio better.  My macro lens zooms everything slightly, and I really would like a way to get wider shots and still be close.

Wut?! What?!

OK, so this isn't really how you should use focal length.

First off shooting with just one focal length is an EXTREME visual handicap and easily the biggest downfall of using a web camera. If you are trying to create a huge looking environment I strongly advise you use the longest lens you have on your wide shots. Using a wide angle lens on a wide shot will distort your objects making them appear to be miniatures while using extremely long lenses can make your miniatures look like looming monoliths in the distance. For example I shot this cityscape with a 300mm lens to make it look as large as possible, I realize not every one has the space to shoot with the camera 30 feet away from the set but in a situation where I didn't have access to my 300mm (it's on loan to Smeagol, and I'm not sure I had the space anyway) I shot this with my 105mm lens, which was the longest lens at my disposal (I wish I had 135mm and 10mm primes to round out my collection) to make the scene look as large as possible.

I am currently shooting at a 2:1 aspect ratio and am using both the shortest and longest focal lengths I have, the focal length has nothing to do with the aspect ratio, you need to choose what focal length you plan to use on your shot based on the artistic needs of that shot, while your aspect ratio will come into play it does not render any focal length invalid.

The easiest way to fully grasp the importance of focal length is to shoot with primes, if you could only use three I would get a wide(ish) lens somewhere in the 18-24mm range, a 55mm micro lens and a 105mm micro lens, and some lens tube extensions. If you think you can shoot a film with one lens you are shooting yourself in the foot. You need to experiment with different focal lengths and different time and play with what works and what does not work. It's about the right creative choice for each shot, not one lens per aspect ratio.

Understanding this took me a long time and I still have issues fully articulating what I've learned, and am by no means a master at it ether.

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

I concur with Sloth. Although focal length is a surprisingly confusing concept I did not fully grasp until after I made most of the brickfilms I've made. So while it appears Squid is confused about how focal lengths work, he's not showing any ignorance I did not have myself until relatively recently. It's unclear to me exactly what Squid meant, but there is a confusion of focal length and framing in his words.

Most of the time in filmmaking, focal length of a lens shouldn't really be about field of vision. They are about the look you're aiming for with a particular shot. It is common for grander, establishing shots to have wider focal lengths, and if you have very limited space (as in, you can't get the camera any further back because there's a wall behind you, rarely an issue in brickfilming scale) then that will dictate focal length choices. In general, you want a longer ("more zoomed in," higher number) focal length for closeups on people or in our case minifigs as this has a less dramatic, "distorting" effect on the shape of a face. But for wider shots, it's really a matter of how you're composing the shot; you can get a wide shot by putting that same 50mm lens further away from the set, which will give the feel of compressing the space.

Here's the best illustration I could find online of the concept. Tried to find something that wasn't portraiture, but this illustrates the concept clearly. The first column is a mid-shot at each focal length; the second is a closeup at each focal length, and the third column is a mockup of where the camera person would be in relation to the subject to produce each kind of shot.

http://annawu.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/focal-length-comparison.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/wcmcdmf.png

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

From what I understand, a longer focal length/higher number essentially compresses the foreground and background, making everything seem closer together, whereas a wide lens/lower number does the opposite, correct?  I've also heard that photographers sometimes use macro lenses for portrait photography as they supposedly produce really clear images.

I'm a bit unclear on how the mm on a lens relate to its effects (i.e. the difference between a 200mm vs a 75mm vs a 30mm).  I understand that the higher the number the narrower the field of vision (obviously) but I was wondering whether it denotes any other effects as well (such as minimum focal distance).  I've been confused by this for a while.

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

My apologies for the confusion.

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

I am unfamiliar with old 1970s/80s home movies, but am I right when saying that it was possible to record voices and sound effects using equipment that was widely accessible (as in, you don't have to be a super professional with a high budget to add audio to your film)? I know that most of the old brickfilms had no audio, but there are a select few like "Liftoff!" that included audio.

And that leads me to another question, not about the era, but just an opinion: Should I do my video no voices (as in English) with only (maybe) some grunts and sound effects, or do you think it would be OK to add voices? Obviously, you don't know what my movie will be about, so you can't answer which one would be more fitting, but I could do it either way. It would probably require some more time do do it silent, because I would have to work out all the visual gags and cues instead of relying on voices.

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

I'm in favor of no dialogue.

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Gentrystudios wrote:

I'm in favor of no dialogue.

Normally, I would be too, Gentry. However, I think you should go into scripting and plotting a little more open minded. Don't restrict yourself to no voices from the beginning, and then regret it during the editing.

Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Write Dialogue, but as a reference to the visual. That's what I always do, I write the dialogue for what's going on so I have a better understanding of how I want my characters to move and act.

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Re: Things to do to make a film look 70s/80s style

Mr Vertigo wrote:

I'm a bit unclear on how the mm on a lens relate to its effects (i.e. the difference between a 200mm vs a 75mm vs a 30mm).  I understand that the higher the number the narrower the field of vision (obviously) but I was wondering whether it denotes any other effects as well (such as minimum focal distance).  I've been confused by this for a while.

Okay. The higher the number, the more "zoomed in" (the real term is 'longer') the lens is. The longer the lens is, the narrower its field of view is. However assuming you have the space, you can get basically the same field of view you got on a wider (opposite of longer) lens by placing your camera further back. The end result is a shot with similar composition that is more compressed; it has less of a sense of depth to it. Depth of field also becomes more shallow as you get further back, although it flattens each plane out somewhat, so for instance your subject that is in focus may actually get to be more completely in focus as the camera is further back on a longer lens.

Here's a comparison image of the width of the field of vision on various lengths of lenses, standing in the same spot. The image in my previous post in this thread illustrates the depth effects I've talked about as achieved by moving your camera further back as your lens gets longer.

This leads to some paradoxes in lens selection. For instance, conventionally if you want an indoor space to look bigger, you shoot it with a wider lens so that it stretches further away from us into the distance. And yet, if you photograph an outdoors, mountain landscape hovering over a city, you may need a long lens to achieve the sense of scope, because otherwise your mountains will be dwarfed in scale compared to the city in the foreground. A longer lens, further back will allow for a sense of scope wherein the mountains are huge and loom over the skyline by compressing the space.

http://i.imgur.com/wcmcdmf.png