How to Put a Vintage 8mm Look on Your Digital Video
Art and Experience:
Want to turn your super crisp digital footage into grainy, nostalgic 8mm footage?
There’s something about movies shot on an 8mm camera that makes you get all misty and nostalgic, right? This look has always had a following, but lately, it has come back in style among videographers, social media influencers, and even filmmakers. (American Honey, A Ghost Story, and First Reformed were all shot with the same 1.33.1 aspect ratio as typical 8mm film.)
So, whether you want to infuse your next project with a little bit of a vintage feel or if you’re just dinking around for fun because Super 8 films are awesome, filmmaker Peter McKinnon has a few tips and tricks that will help you make it as authentic-looking as possible in Adobe Premiere Pro despite shooting with a high-tech digital camera. And I’m not just talking about throwing on an 8mm film grain overlay and adding a sweet vintage LUT. Check out his tutorial below:
Here are the tips McKinnon shares in his video:
Adjust Your Camera Settings
The first thing you have to do is change your picture profile. Remember, you’ve got a super high-tech piece of equipment in your hands and it needs to replicate something that is…not as high-tech. So, one of the big changes you can make in-camera before you shoot is dial back your sharpness and contrast.
Opt for “Natural” Cinematography
If you’re trying to give your footage that nostalgic, vintage look, you might want to stay away from the techniques you use on your more professional shoots. Usually, you’d want smooth camera movement, shallow depth-of-field, and aesthetic compositions, but one of the things that make us love 8mm footage is that it looks like a home movie.
It has that camera shake, it has that unpolished framing, it has that amateurish quality to it that makes it feel warm and familiar and awesome.
Zoom In and Out
What will you, without a doubt, see in an old 8mm home movie? Tons and tons and ridiculous amounts of zooms. I’m talking zooming into your kid sister riding her bike for the first time. I’m talking zooming in and out to see you in full effect at your dance recital. I’m talking zooming in to see a close-up of you and your cousins eating hot dogs on a dock and zooming out to see the beautiful lake in the background.
So, do a lot of that. Zoom in and out on different subjects and try to make those zooms slightly unpolished. You’re not trying to win any awards for your zoom work here.
Try to Avoid Subjects That Date Your Footage
If you’re really going for the most authentic Super 8 experience, you might want to avoid capturing footage of stuff that will easily date your footage. So yeah, maybe don’t shoot that new Ford Mustang speeding down the street or that gaggle of youths taking #starbucksfail selfies as they wobble past you on their hoverboards. McKinnon suggests focusing on relationships, people, nature, and things that are more timeless, and frankly, more interesting probably.
Say NO to Shallow Depth-of-Field
Yeah, you’re going to have to stop down big time if you really want to sell that authentic Super 8 look. 8mm cameras weren’t capturing all that beautiful, smooth, glittery bokeh, you guys. They were capturing everything crisp and in-focus, from you opening your presents in the foreground to your grandpa taking a snooze in a floral recliner in the background. So, say “no” to shallow depth-of-field.
Plan for the 4:3 Aspect Ratio
As I mentioned before, 8mm film typically had that boxy 1.33.1 (4:3) aspect ratio, so be sure to plan for that as you’re composing your shots, as well as when you head into post-production, since you’ll most likely have to throw a matte over your original footage.
Think About What You Wouldn’t Do and Do It
Every choice you make as the brilliant and talented filmmaker that you are is most likely going to count against you if you’re trying to capture the Super 8 look. Knowing that, try to do things the way you wouldn’t normally do them. For example, if you would never dare incorporate nasty background elements, throw ’em in. If you would never dream of cutting your subject off at the knees or the neck, slice ’em up. If you would never walk like a lumberjack to get a tracking shot, friggin’ lumber away, my friend. Think amateur. Think garbage. The result will look awesome.
Do It Up in Post-Production
Okay, now that you’ve got your beautifully bush-league footage, you can work your post-production magic to give it that 8mm look. You’re going to need to do few things:
- Crop/Matte: You need your footage to have a 4:3 aspect ratio, remember? To do that, you can either crop your footage or apply a matte.
- Vintage Effects: 8mm film is grainy and dirty. Digital film is not (usually). This is why you should go find a good film grain, water spot, film burn, dust, or dirt overlay online and apply it to your footage. There are a ton of great ones out there, some of which are for free. There’s no trick to it, just find the one you like best.
- Color Grading: Ah, that iconic 8mm washout! I friggin’ love it. You can either grade your own footage using the tools inside Premiere Pro‘s Lumetri Panel or you can go look for a LUT you like online.
- Sound Effects: Now, if you’re going for the whole vintage enchilada (don’t eat vintage enchiladas…you’ll get bad chorro), you’ll want to get yourself a projector sound effect that you like. Stock sites carry a lot of ’em, so start a-Googlin’.
If you want to learn other ways you can approach giving your digital footage the 8mm look, check out this tutorial, as well as this interview with cinematographer Ed David, who utilized SD cameras to mimic 8mm film.