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Ideas for really getting that silent film look...

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Eric BarkerIdeas for really getting that silent film look...
by on Sep 4, 2013 at 3:01:54 am

Okay, I've been doing shooting and post production professionally for about a decade now, so I've done everything from adding film grain, speeding up footage, adding scratches and dust, and it's all fine. But usually I was faking it for a quick turn around commercial client.

This time it's different, this time it's for real.

I'm wanting to shoot a music video for my band (well, obviously, someone else will behind the camera), and the tune we're doing of the album is very much in the style of old silent film music. It's lively and goofy, so I thought it would be really cool to get a nice sped up "keystone cops" feel. But it's going to take some serious figuring, and some consideration if I really want to nail it. Obviously, it needs to be in sync with the music, so I need to slow down the recording we'll be playing to, so that we'll be in tempo with the album track when I speed up the footage. I have a Sony NEX-EA50 (beautiful camera, BTW), which can shoot 24p, 30i, 60p.

Old silent film was hand cranked both in shooting and projection, so there isn't an exact standard, but it fell somewhere around 16-24fps, and they purposefully either shot it slower or projected it faster for goofy slapstick scenes. Now, obviously I'm not going as far as to change framerate, that would be next to impossible to create a dummy music bed to sync to that, and a recipe for disaster. But I'm trying to achieve a good steady 16 to 18fps then sped up to a final speed of 24fps, like we're used to seeing old movies projected at now.

Problem is, if I shoot at 60p, and just use every 4th frame, I get 15fps, which is probably TOO low, and the action will probably look absolutely ridiculous. If I use every 3rd frame, it'll be 20fps, which will probably only slightly look sped up. Any non-integer divisions will use interframe blending or pixel motion, and I'm concerned that that will just destroy the feel. But I'm not sure. Interframe blending is out of the question, as I KNOW that will look wrong, but maybe pixel motion is good enough now to not change the feel?

The other idea is to let AE drop frames as necessary, so it skips 3 frames, then 4 frames, or whatever it needs to stay in sync. That runs the risk of giving it a jerky look, but it might not be bad when we're talking 60fps, and old movies look kinda jerky anyway because of decay and bad splicing, but it might again give it a different look.

Has anyone here done anything like this, and what do they find works best?

Man, I wish the EA50 could should at 48fps, then I could take every 3rd frame and get 16fps!

Television Producer
KTVF-11 Fairbanks, Alaska

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Paddy UglowRe: Ideas for really getting that silent film look...
by on Sep 4, 2013 at 2:01:33 pm

Maybe actually shoot on real super8 film. There's the extra cost and faff of developing and telecine, but if you're seeking that "messed up" look, it might be worth it. Maybe even edit it as film and digitise the final result for distribution. You might draw in some extra audience from chemical film fans and get some publicity and good stills from the shoot.

Just one of my outside-the-box ideas!


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Eric BarkerRe: Ideas for really getting that silent film look...
by on Sep 4, 2013 at 6:34:56 pm

Interesting idea, but I'll admit, I don't think I'm willing to go that far, I have zero experience with real film and 10 years of daily video shooting/editing, I honestly think I'll be able to turn out a better final movie with video. Also:

- Super 8 is probably nothing like century-old 35mm, sure they're both celluloid, but that's about it. Super 8 cameras run at a constant 24fps and can't be changed, as far as I know. So while I'd be getting one step closer, I'd be taking about 3 steps back.

- I expect to do a lot of post work on this. One short section is going to require some serious rotoscoping (I'm going to make the piano look like it's playing by itself), and I expect to do a lot of multi-take editing, I can take some time on this, but I do need to get it out in some semblence of expediency.

- My camera has a number of features which bring it close enough to film that the differences will be fairly neglagable, especially since in any case I'll be doing some heavy treatment on it to make it look old. It has an APS-C sensor size, which is practically identical to 35mm, Super-8 is not. It has picture profiles that can bias toward shadow detail, giving a more film-like look (I actually shoot with that most of the time because its better for the harsh sunlight we get here in Interior Alaska), and as I said, I can shoot at 60p and use some method of pull down as I'm trying to decide on.

Fun idea, and I really would like to get to know film some day, but this isn't the project. Maybe if I had access to a real hand-cranked 35mm camera. But although I do have access to a Super 8, I actually think that be because of the sensor size and frame rate, I could get closer to what I'm looking for with video.

Television Producer
KTVF-11 Fairbanks, Alaska

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Dave LaRondeRe: Ideas for really getting that silent film look...
by on Sep 4, 2013 at 6:42:47 pm


24/16=1.5, so conforming 16 fps footage to 24 makes 1.5 times faster.

30/24=1.25, so conforming 24fps footage to 30 makes it 1.25 times faster.

How about a test: shoot anything with motion in it at 24fps: people walking, singing, jumping, what have you. Conform the footage to 30 fps. Nest it in a 15fps comp. Prerender it. Put the prerendered footage in a 60fps comp & render. See what you think of the result.

If it looks good, you lip-sync the footage shot for the music video to a playback audio track that's 1.25 times faster than normal and proceed as described above.

I'm sure you realize I mean 23.976 for 24, 29.97 for 30, 14.985 for 15 and 59.94 for 60. I didn't want to fool around with decimal fractions. The ratios remain the same without the cumbersome arithmetic.

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Eric BarkerRe: Ideas for really getting that silent film look...
by on Sep 4, 2013 at 9:13:51 pm

Good ideas, very realistic in terms of ease of putting it together. However, wouldn't a final framerate of 30fps (progressive) just feel different from 24fps? There's a huge difference in the feel between watching film and TV, I know that's largely due to interlacing, and I've never really done a side-by-side A/B comparison, but I always figured the framerate difference just psychologically changed the flow of it. Though, doing a little more reading, it seems that some people think that is a myth, and the change in feel is more our association with film, which has many larger differences (shallow depth of field, shadow bias, non-interlacing).

However, if what you're suggesting is a good idea, let me one-up you a bit. I think even closer would be shooting at 60fps and pulling every 3rd frame to get 20fps before transitioning to to 30fps, getting the same 1.5 ratio as 16/24. I may just be able to do all of this in Premiere by just changing the "interpret footage" framerate to 90fps, and editing on a 30p sequence! Unless it tries to do some kind of interframe blending (which it's not supposed to unless the option is turned on), it should just pull every 3rd frame and speed it up by 150%.

Just to double-check my math, I'll need to slow the music down to 66.67% (150% duration) before shooting in order to achieve the right final sync.

I'm going to go shoot test footage, thanks!

Television Producer
KTVF-11 Fairbanks, Alaska

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Dave LaRondeRe: Ideas for really getting that silent film look...
by on Sep 4, 2013 at 10:00:42 pm

Your ultimate frame rate is going to be so mucked-up that any semblance of that ol' Film-School-24-Frames-Per-Second-Is-Best nonsense goes flying out the window in the first place.

I, for one, wouldn't worry about it.

Dave LaRonde
Former Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA

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Eric BarkerRe: Ideas for really getting that silent film look...
by on Sep 5, 2013 at 12:39:21 am

I just tried it with some 60p Martial Arts footage I had laying around, and it worked great. Threw it up to 90fps, put it in a 30p sequence, and Bob's yer uncle. Checked for any behind-the-scenes interframe blending or other BS, and none to speak of, just pulled every third frame as expected. Then I had some fun with it and threw it in an AE template that I had made that added dust, scratches, film grain, and level adjustments, not to mention a slight bit of blur (since the optics on old movie cameras wasn't as precise as it is now), light jitter and vertical position jitter... and it looks right out of 1910... though, of course, Americans were doing Taekwondo in the teens ;)

Here's the result!

Television Producer
KTVF-11 Fairbanks, Alaska

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Rich KaelinRe: Ideas for really getting that silent film look...
by on Feb 16, 2015 at 8:28:56 pm

I was going to post a very similar question, but searched first. Well, your video is no longer available, I'd love to have seen it. I just got a call today from a client that wants to accomplish this "old silent film" effect. Did you end up shooting at 60p bumping to 90 and playing at 30? Also, and forgive me I am traveling and on my iPad unable to check premiere or after effects, how did you create the film scratches and dust? I would assume there is an existing effect or plug in, no need to reinvent the wheel. I might also like to add a couple of rough splices. I am what I would describe as a high level intermediate user, so I could likely do all from scratch...but like I said, why reinvent if there are some existing resources to tap. Any insights from your experience are appreciated.

Rich Kaelin
Kaelin Motion Production Services
New York

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