How to use After Effects to clean up crappy DV footage?
November 8, 2006 10:01 PM   Subscribe

How do you clean up ugly DV footage? What are some specific techniques you use in Adobe After Effects to turn amateur DV footage into something cleaner?

I'm trying to help a client make an ad, but the footage they gave me is really raw. They want a polished look, even though I explained its never going to look like TV. I just want to come as close as possible given that I have crummy footage.
posted by idledebonair to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I usually run some levels filters on it to enhance the contrast and color. Clean whites and dark blacks help give the illusion that you had nice lighting as opposed to gray and murky footage. Although if it's badly under or overexposed youre going to get a lot of noise so noise reduction is a must.

You can look into Magic Bullet here as its pretty highly regarded in the insustry, but the full version is expensive. Its slow to render but the look suite is pretty fun to play with. It performs 24p conversion and de-interlacing to make the end result look more like film and less like DV footage.

Theres also Film Magic Pro here which is much cheaper but I havent personally used it yet.

After that youre really stuck with extreme-stylizing. Color tinting, black and white, lots of grain and vignetting etc...
posted by skrike at 10:56 PM on November 8, 2006

Best answer: I actually do this for a living, and am regularly called upon by directors to make shitty DV footage look "amazing". Color correction is THE single most important thing you can do to make *any* DV footage look decent and professional. You'd be amazed at how far you can take even the crappiest DV footage, using the color-correction tools in AE.

It's a simple fact that ALL footage that originates on DV inherently looks like crap, straight off the camera (the most apparant characteristic of DV is elevated black levels, which makes footage looked washed out and flat), and will never look like "polished" stuff, unless you take the effort to do at least some basic color correction.

As skrike mentioned, first set your black and white levels using the Levels filter. If you know how to do this in Photoshop, it's pretty much the exact same process in AE--look at the histogram, and close up the gaps at the front and back of the histogram so that the output levels are remapped to maximize the full tonal range of the the image

Magic Bullet is a nice plugin, but you don't really need it, especially if you're running Final Cut Pro, where there are many, many cheaper alternatives to Magic Bullet. 75% of the "Magic" that makes plugins like this seem impressive is that it deinterlaces your footage in order to output progressive scan frames (which is why film looks the way that it does.)

But again, color correction is the key. keeping your whites/highlights bright (in the 190 to 235 RGB range) and your blacks truly black (below 16, and close to zero as possible) without losing detail gets you most of the way there. After that, you can start doing tweaks to the color, either on the overall picture (known as a "primary grade") or regionally, using masks ("secondary" grades, or as film guys call them, "Power Windows").

It's hard to explain in words how to do colorcorrection, as it's largely a subjective artform. Check out an awesome book by Steve Hullfish, called "Color Correction for Digital Video" if you wan't to get into the nitty gritty of doing color-grading for video.

Also, check out a recent thread on the DVXuser forum, showing before and after screenshots of a color-corrected indie film shot on a DV camera. The poster used Final Cut to do the CC, but you can accomplish the exact same thing in AE, as well.
posted by melorama at 1:27 AM on November 9, 2006 [4 favorites]

There are programs out there that do after-the-fact image stabilization. If the footage is handheld and shaky, one of those may help.
posted by kindall at 1:59 AM on November 9, 2006

kindall: After Effects already has image tracking and stabilization built-in.
posted by melorama at 2:10 AM on November 9, 2006

great post melorama, thanks. would love to hear more.
posted by fake at 5:55 AM on November 9, 2006

I second the Steve Hullfish book, sadly there isn't much out there in regards to colour correction how-to's.

Stu Maschwitz, a director and one of the founders of the Orphanage (which developed Magic Bullet), has a great blog and is a great proponent of DV and DIY film-making. He has a book coming out in a few days The DV Rebels Guide: How to Make Killer Action Movies on the Cheap. His stuff is very after effects-centric.

The one thing about the DVXuser shots mentioned above is that the originals are very well shot, with lots of information in the shadows and highlights. The tell tale sign of crummy DV is noise, clipped whites and crushed blacks. You can always try the old standard of layering a shot on top of itself and on the upper layer apply a fast blur and set the transfer mode to screen. This can soften some of the highlights, eliminte some noise and give a glow effect.
posted by phirleh at 6:31 AM on November 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh BTW Stu's blog is Prolost.
posted by phirleh at 6:38 AM on November 9, 2006

After stabilizing and color correction, grain and contrast. Don't underestimate what just a tiny bit of film grain filter (or even just some blurred 2% monochromatic noise) can do to give a subtle "film-y" look.
posted by brownpau at 7:10 AM on November 9, 2006

melorama: Actually those 'screenshots' are from 'Half Nelson' (which is very good and everyone should go see) which was shot on 16mm film. I found the film to be fantastic in a cinematic sense; the grain really shows up on the big screen, however, its quite lovely for the subject material.

Just a matter of clarification.
posted by tev at 8:12 AM on November 9, 2006

or, not... damn, i'm going to go hide in the corner now, hanging my head in shame.
posted by tev at 8:14 AM on November 9, 2006

I have this DVD. I took a class taught by the guy that did this and found it to be really helpful. Its geared toward Final Cut Pro but the concepts carry across to after effects and color correction in general. I highly recommend it.

They have some newer ones as well that I havent seen yet.
posted by skrike at 8:55 AM on November 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, guys good tips.

@brownpau: I don't really want film look, I want more like clean digital.
posted by idledebonair at 10:41 AM on November 9, 2006

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