Video editing, like graphic design, will see trends that come and go, becoming hugely popular for a time and then fading away as they become cliché. Some trends last (shallow depth-of-field, for example) while others we see today have a shorter shelf life. Even if you don’t particularly want to employ today’s trendy retro techniques on your own projects, all the visual tricks we’ll be looking at here are in wide use today, and it’s pretty likely that a client could request one or more of them. So how do you implement “retro” in FCP X? Let’s take a look.
Just one factor in the “make it look like film” trend which has been with us for a few years now, film grain’s aim is to simulate the organic, moving grainy structure often seen in motion picture film. That’s right, now that it’s become very hard to shoot on film, it’s fashionable to look as if you have. While film does indeed have desirable characteristics with regard to color reproduction and dynamic range, if you want grain, you’re probably just trying to complete a nostalgic look—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Anyway, this one’s easy, but you’ll need an Adjustment Layer if you want to apply grain to multiple clips at once. Many third parties provide Adjustment Layers for free, and we’ve given instructions before on how to make your own with Motion. However you get one, look in Titles for your Adjustment Layer, then drag it to above the clips you want to adjust.
In Effects > Stylize, you’ll find Film Grain. Drag this to the Adjustment Layer, then tweak the settings in the Inspector to affect every clip below it. There’s a Realistic and an iMovie-style sepia-tinted version, and you can adjust the strength as you wish. Remember, though, that if you’re going to upload this movie to YouTube or Vimeo, the compression is going to give you trouble. Subtle grain may not survive, and heavy grain could cause compression artifacts. Use with caution.
Another nostalgic favorite, this one simulates too much light being let into the camera and blowing out the film. There’s no effect involved, though. Instead, we’ll apply a pre-made “light leak” clip with a special technique. Some of these clips are true light leaks, while others are simply blurry lights moving around the frame. Both can look great in the right context, and while most leaks are colorful on a black frame, you can get bright frames with blotches of black too.
So where to get some lights? Google away! There are free ones available without looking too hard; worst-case, you’ll have to share your email address. Quantity is important, as if you’re going to use a lot of these leaks you don’t want a single effect to repeat.
Here’s a link to some google images for Light Leaks:
You can also make your own if you’re up for a bit of “lens whacking”. Set a fast lens, wide open, out of focus, handhold the camera, and move slowly around some Christmas lights in the dark. For true light leaks, find a lens adapter for an outdated lens system, plus a vintage lens that you can disconnect and hold it just in front of the adapter. Start recording, then move the camera and the lens around a little for out-of-focus shifting lights.
And how to apply? Place your “light leak” above other clips in the timeline, then select it, look in the Video tab of the Inspector, and under Compositing, choose Screen or Overlay. If the shot is mostly white with streaks of black, try Multiply. Change opacity to tone the effect down, or experiment with other blend modes if you wish. Also worth noting: if you have a “film grain” clip, you can apply it in the same way instead of using an effect.
Super slow motion has been fashionable for a few years now, and though it’s possible to use Optical Flow to fake intermediate frames from regular real-time footage, these days you can get fantastic results shooting on your iPhone (or other camera). The iPhone 6 can handle 720p at 240 frames per second, while the 6s matches that and adds 1080p120, for occasions when a higher frame resolution is more important than temporal resolution. (Switch between these in Settings or with a third-party app like ProCam.)
While the slo-mo is easy to see on the phone, when you bring it into an FCP X timeline, it will play in “real time”, skipping most of the extra frames. It’s easy to access them, though. Start by using the Range Selection tool to drag a range over the area to be shown slow, or simply select the whole clip. From the Retime menu, choose a slower speed (anything you like) or to see all the frames you shot, choose Automatic Speed instead. That’s it!
Final note: if you were planning on shooting a music video, you’ll need to make a high-speed version of the music for the singers to lip-sync along to. Record the chipmunk lip-sync session (it won’t take long, but might need a few takes) and then slow it down for all the magic to happen.
The other major trend which music videos have seen is the very flat Log-style color look. This is a curious one, because it’s not exactly “retro”, though it feels similar. It’s not quite “Instagram” either, because that usually requires contrasting colors, where the shadows and highlights are pushed in opposite directions to create color contrast. No, I’m pretty sure that the current “flat” look is with us simply because many current cameras can shoot in “Log” and not everyone is comfortable with the color grading required to return a Log image to a more normal, more contrasty look. After several hours in the editing room, the editor and director have become used to the flat look and decide it’s OK as it is. And now it’s fashionable—slow-mo Log footage doubly so.
How to achieve the effect, then? Well, if you have access to a camera that can shoot in a Log mode, job done—simply don’t correct your footage. If you can’t shoot in Log, you might need a tool like Color Finale that can apply a reverse S-curve. Normally you’d add an S-curve to increase contrast, but a reverse S will reduce it, without shifting the brightest whites nor the darkest blacks. For extra trend points, use the color board to shift the highlights one way and the shadows the other.
Retro has always been in fashion to some degree, but it’s really in vogue at the moment. Heavy grading has never been more popular, and while the style might not last forever, it’s been here for a while already and shows no sign of leaving. If you do decide to implement one or all of these styles, just remember to apply them well. A year or so ago, you couldn’t make a music video without slow motion and a flat Log look, and while that’s not necessarily true today, the techniques are still popular. Master them now, and use them when your clients ask. Enjoy!