What are film overlays?
Film overlays are graphics placed over images or video clips to produce a visual effect. They can be manipulated and edited to create a look such as film grain on screen.
Many video editors use them to add an extra sheen to their compositions, improving the overall professionalism of their production. They’re also a huge timesaver, as they can be simply ‘overlaid’ on top of an existing clip.
How is film grain measured?
Whether it’s a fine grain or a coarse grain, ISO is the primary method for referencing how much grain exists in an image. ISO is not an indicator of how many grains are present in a film, but a measurement of the film’s sensitivity to light. Higher ISOs are more sensitive to light and, due to the size of the light-sensitive particles, are much grainier. Lower ISO settings are less sensitive to light and will produce an image with much higher resolution.
Film grain does not exist in digital photography as digital photographic sensors do not have particles of silver halide floating around inside them. However, ISO settings in digital photography will still produce differences in film grain and image brightness. In a sense, your digital camera’s ISO setting is the computer in your camera attempting to modulate the light that hits its sensor. It can be thought of as roughly approximate to ISO grades of film stock. You can also see film grain effects in the world of graphic design.
Is film grain good or bad?
Film grain used correctly can infuse films with character, nostalgia and emotion. Used incorrectly and it can make your film memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Take note of the:
- Amount of grain. Don’t go too strong on the number of crystals you’re adding to the film. Otherwise, it might obscure the footage you’ve captured, rather than enhance it.
- Size of grain. Related to this, the size of grain is important as larger crystals will be more noticeable – even when used in lower amounts.
- Roughness. How rough or smooth do you want your grains to be? It will likely vary based on the footage you’re working with.
Now, let’s look at some best practice examples of film grain used well
Film grain in games, movies and photography.
“In the present, time has no meaning anymore,” Panos Cosmatos, director of the grindhouse film Mandy, says. “Choosing an era for your film is almost like choosing a colour.” The creative choice with film overlays is yours to make. The goal of your work should inform this decision.
A sense of historical weight or nostalgia can be added with film grain. It sets a tone. “The more we get to a clean digital world, the more we long for analogue things that make us feel a sense of texture and connection,” filmmaker Nick Escobar says.
Having an era in mind or an example of how you want your photos or videos to look is a great way to start thinking about where and when to use film grain in your work.
Here are some inspiring film grain examples:
- Christopher Nolan: •Many Nolan films utilise film grain to great effect, and you can see this in Dunkirk.
- The Third Man: In this iconic 1949 film noir, the night and darkness scenes in this movie use the graininess of film at the time as an asset.
- Louis Faurer: The photographer was known for taking candid street photographs, especially nocturnal scenes, where he tried to capture the deeply human aspects of life.
- Amy Lombard: While she doesn’t limit herself to only using grain, Lombard’s photography can be a great source of inspiration for how colour and film grain can interact.
- Call of Duty: Many of the titles in this gaming franchise have cinematic scenes set in the past. The developers have added film grain overlays to add a movie-style visual element to simulated aspects of the game.