Film Print Emulation: A Deep Dive Into The Filmbox OFX Plugin (for DaVinci Resolve)

July 12, 2022

In this deep dive into the Filmbox OFX plugin learn its basic operation, features, and how it compares to alternate film print emulators.


Series

Updated July 25, 2022 – Added Filmbox v1.5 User Manual PDF


Part 4: Exploring a popular stand-alone plugin

In this series we started by defining Film Print Emulation (FPE) and using the default FPE LUTs built directly into DaVinci Resolve. In Part 2 we looked at a popular Power Grade product, based entirely on nodes (PixelTools). We shifted gears in Part 3 and used a well-regarded DCTL (by Paul Dore). In this Insight, we are shifting gears again and to take an in-depth look at a very popular, very well regarded OpenFX FPE plugin, Video Village’s Filmbox.

About the Filmbox OFX plugin

Filmbox is a unique film emulation OFX plugin for DaVinci Resolve.  It’s designed to emulate the Kodak Vision3 film ecosystem, it goes beyond simple color transformations to include filmic properties such as grain, halation, gate weave, dust & more.  Its linear floating-point transforms yield very high-quality results, and it has a very natural and organic feel.

Video Village, the creators of Filmbox, want creators to think of the plug-in not as a “look” creator, but as a system (in the same way we think of the photochemical film processing chain).  They want DPs to preview their images through it, shoot tests with it, get a feel for the different stocks & controls, and think of it as their medium.  Its a pretty powerful idea.

On the other hand, Filmbox is an expensive subscription-based plugin, and not right for every project.  But if you work on a lot of projects that require the quality and features Filmbox offers, it might be worth checking out.  

In this insight, we explore the features that set Filmbox apart from the other FPE solutions in the series, apply it to our test images, and try to get a feel for the way it processes pixels.  Its a great entry point into the handful of other FPE OFX plugins we’ll be exploring in future episodes.

Key takeaways from this Insight

In this Insight you should learn:

  1. The features that set Filmbox apart from the other FPE solutions in the series
  2. Understand the difference between Kodak Vision3 and earlier versions of Kodak film emulsions
  3. Compare the Filmbox ‘look’ to the other film print emulation solutions we’ve covered in this series using our test images
  4. Use this plugin as a  great entry point into the handful of other FPE OFX plugins we are exploring in future episodes.

Resources mentioned in this Insight

– Peder

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Homepage Forums Film Print Emulation: A Deep Dive Into The Filmbox OFX Plugin (for DaVinci Resolve)

Viewing 7 reply threads

    • Tony S
      Participant

      Peder,

      Great review on Filmbox FPE plugin.  It is indeed my favorite “go to” FPE plugin as I have tested and compared several other FPE plugins and found them to be either overly complicated or not able to truly replicate the legacy film negative to film print lab process.

      The Filmbox halation and film grain are extremely well done.

      Overall Filmbox is worthy of investing and adding  to the creative arsenal available within Davinci Resolve.

       

      Tony Salgado

      Colorist

       


      • Peder Morgenthaler
        Participant

        Thanks Tony! I totally agree.  It’s a really focused plugin, with a clear goal and design philosophy.  It exposes just enough options to make it flexible within its stated purview (accurate simulation of the Kodak Vision3 film chain) without being overly complicated.  And the halation and grain really are top-notch.  Its a plugin I keep finding myself coming back to, and a look some of my clients have started requesting specifically.

        I often combine it with Scatter, the outstanding diffusion plugin from VideoVillage, to get some very organic looks.


        • Tony S
          Participant

          Peder,

          Indeed Scatter is another invaluable and great tools from Video Village.  If a colorist is looking for another solution to create a custom FPE it looks like your review of Paul Dore’s DCTL solution may be a solution.

          I have discovered certain FPE creators have a clear design goal to emulate the legacy film negative to film print workflow whereas others decide to invent an entirely different path which may or may not truly emulate a legacy motion picture film print.  Overall your FPE series is a great resource for those wishing to learn what FPE tools exist, which are free within Resolve, what are the pro and cons of each and which are best suited for a particular end result.

          In a recent TAC Masterclass Walter Volpatto, Senior Colorist at Company 3 mentioned he uses the Resolve’s Kodak 2383 FPE LUT due to the ability to interchange that Resolve Project with other C3 offices if needed instead of having to deal with licensing issues.  I recommend discussing the Pros and Cons involved in creating a long term archival LUT from a FPE plugin to overcome a licensing issue after a project is completed.  In the case of Filmbox it is important to consider the halation, grain, and dust weave etc cannot be carried through to a LUT.

           

          Tony Salgado

          PS – I noticed one of your GUI monitor is mounted vertically.  Is that monitor the LG Dual Up monitor or did you just rotate a monitor vertically?  Are you viewing the Resolve GUI on that vertical monitor?

          If it is the LG Dual Up monitor I welcome your feedback as I am considering that monitor.

           

           

           

           


    • Peder Morgenthaler
      Participant

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the series! Its been fun to put together.  I agree, there’s definitely a difference between FPE solutions.  Some are aiming to accurately emulate the actual photochemical process using empirical source data from film stocks, while others are using various tools to “reverse-engineer” the look.  And there’s none of the approaches is “right” or “wrong”, they’re just different.  Part of my point in this series is that these are all valid looks, unless you’re aiming for an accurate emulation of a specific film/print combination.  They all have a “filmic” quality to them.

      Walter’s point about interchangeability of grades is a good one.  Plugins are more flexible, but require licensing for every workstation.  I’ll be doing a wrap-up at the end of the series, and I’ll definitely include that note.

      My vertical monitor is just a standard ASUS, not the LG DualUp.  I’m trying the vertical orientation, and so far I like it.  In Resolve I stack the power grades, stills, keyframes and scopes there, and it works nicely.  But it really shines in day-to-day busywork, where I have my email, calendar, to-dos and music player all laid out.


    • Marc Wielage
      Participant

      I’ve worked with film for decades, so I’m intimately familiar with how it looked — all the way from the 1980s emulsions through the early Vision stocks through the latest Vision 3 films (like 5219, which has been the most-used film stock in the world for the last ten years). I’ve been down on a lot of film emulation LUTs out there because I felt like all it did was change the look in a certain way… but not really pushing it towards what film is.

      Filmbox, Dehancer, and some of the newer OFX plug-ins actually do a credible job, and I’ve had to sit up and take notice once they arrived a couple of years ago. Note there’s a big difference between how *print* looks and how *negative* film looks, and I also think a lot of the emphasis on Halation is kind of silly: to a lot of the lab people I used to work with at Technicolor and Kodak, Halation was something to avoid; that’s why there was an anti-halation coating in the film backing. Dirt, scratches, and jitter are all ugly artifacts to me… unless you’re specifically trying to grunge up the image. (Coincidentally,  I just saw the new “Jurassic World” movie in a theater, and it had none of these flaws… despite being actually shot on real Kodak 5219 negative.)

      I’m a big fan of diffusion, though, and I think that kind of softer look (available with Scatter and a few other plug-ins) can do an amazing job of taking the digital “edge” off a lot of newer digital cameras. You can do a lot more with Scatter than you can with the basic tools within Resolve.

      The biggest thing I like about Filmbox is that you can dial down any specific characteristic you don’t like and experiment with how much or how little you want in the image. Me personally, I actually don’t want the final color I make to get affected by a plug-in — to me, film should be neutral in terms of color, and all that should happen with a plug-in is a little change in contrast and sharpness and grain. If I want a split-tone look, I’ll dial that in myself. But the essential film characteristics of Filmbox are very convincing and work very well.

      BTW, anybody who wants to know more should go over to Video Village’s website and check out the manuals on their products. I thought their explanation on how accurate (or how subjective) Filmbox was designed is very thorough, and they basically say, “nobody can make it 100% mathematically accurate, but it’s close enough that it’s our best version of what film does to the image.” It’s a good philosophy, and I think it works for what they’re trying to do. Note they’re Mac-only at the moment, but I believe they’re considering a Windows version at some point.


    • Patrick Inhofer
      Keymaster

      @Marc – Do you have a link to VideoVillage’s Manual for Filmbox? I can’t find it. I’ll add the link to the main post for further reading.


      • Marc Wielage
        Participant

        Somebody else has posted the manual, but check out this “Filmbox FAQ” on their website. It answers a lot of questions, and (you know me) I was shocked I had nothing I could nit-pick. It’s an excellent explanation of how and why film emulation works and what the limits are.

        https://videovillage.co/images/filmbox/features/FAQ.pdf


    • Tony S
      Participant

      Patrick,

       

      Attached is the Filmbox V1.4 manual as of November 2021

       

       


      • Patrick Inhofer
        Keymaster

        @Tony S – Thanks for emailing me the Filmbox User Manual PDF. It’s now posted as part of the article.


    • R Neil Haugen
      Participant

      Film emulation is such a fascinating topic, SO many different ways to think of it. Like Marc, although in stills for the first many years, I’ve worked with film images through processing/printing/artwork and on for many years. And most of the time, we fought the media, rather than enjoyed it. I do not look back with gladness!

      Trying to match what you shot yesterday was bad enough if it was the same emulsion batch of neg film, same processor, same print emulsion batch, same processor. ANY change in those, all bets were off, other than … it was going to take a ton of futzing to get close enough the client *may* not notice.

      Something shot two months ago on a different emulsion batch, well … damn.

      And there were such limits on the lighting we could shoot under, camera position, shutter speeds, all of that.

      Digital … wow, that was like going from being the kid with the box of 16 crayons to the HUGE 128 color box! Amazing, all these other colors we suddenly had available to us. And so, although I find the discussions of FPE technically interesting, at times the goal seems like going back to a less-capable process.

      But when the discussion goes to the visual studies about human interaction with color, that’s … really interesting. And very useful for anyone.

      The only big advantage to the totally-film era that I can see … was that every shoot cost enough that only the professional could justify the cost. So if you were trained and fully capable of professional work, well … you were needed. Somewhere.

      I like the stuff Peder was showing especially in this last installment, btw. That’s … nice stuff there.


      • Marc Wielage
        Participant

        100% agree with everything Neil says here. One great thing about people shooting with film: they operated from an “Every Frame Is Sacred” philosophy, so shoots, angles, every take, every shot were planned very carefully. Film was (and is) so expensive, you couldn’t waste it. Hard to communicate that today.

        I saw a TON of bad film in the last 30+ years, so believe me, not all of what people call “the film look” is good. There’s a lot of bad there, too. I was there testing the original Arri D20 and D21 (prior to Alexa), and their engineers came in to my room at Technicolor and asked, “what do you think?” And I nodded and said, “this digital image feels a lot like film, more than anything we’ve seen so far.” And they were very pleased and said, “that was the idea.” The Alexa was the refinement of that a year or two later.


    • Peder Morgenthaler
      Participant

      Thanks Marc and Neil for your insightful posts!  It’s so valuable to hear takes on film emulation from folks who have actual experience working with real film. We take the ease of modern digital workflows for granted, and it’s important to remember the challenges and artifacts that were inherent to the photochemical process.

      For the many of us born after a certain date, who’ve never worked with film professionally, the word “film” has become more of an aesthetic than a medium.  We remember those great movies from our formative years that impacted us, their look and feel, and see film emulations as a way to replicate some of that magic.  And yes, that can include “undesirable” artifacts like halation, dust & grain.  Except now you can dial in the “perfect” amount of those elements without leaving it to chance.  For certain projects, it’s a great way to instill a sense of time and era.  In that sense, plugins like Filmbox and Dehancer are the perfect solution, allowing the artist to use whatever aspects of the film look they want while dialing the others out.  Marc’s comment about separating the filmic tone curve from the color effects makes perfect sense, and is a great way to create more subtle filmic looks.

      Film isn’t the only analog medium new generations of creators have fetishized in an attempt to add soul and texture back into digital formats. Musicians and producers work hard to replicate the warm feel of vinyl and tube amplifiers.  Some artists are distributing brand new music on cassette tapes.  Even the VHS aesthetic is having a strangely ironic resurgence, with all its tracking issues, dirty heads and tape hits, as part of the 80s/90s retrowave movement.

      So much of this retro-format culture is being driven by young people who weren’t yet alive during these formats’ heyday.  They’re in it purely for the aesthetics, the “feel” these formats (and their artifacts) lend to their projects.  And that’s a valid creative choice.

      Interestingly, there’s a new “hyper-pop” aesthetic emerging that seems to combine really awful “video toaster” computer graphics, DV glitches, blown-out clipped highlights and all other manner of “errors” that many of us would never consider including in a project.  So it seems the cycle is destined to continue;)


      • Marc Wielage
        Participant

        Yes, our tagline with our Hollywood post house Chroma is, “we approach digital with a film aesthetic.” I have no idea what that means, but if nothing else, we try to use good taste and good experience so digital cameras suck less. I’m a big believer in taking the edge off: film was not quite as pin-sharp as people remember it to be.

        Of course, if the client wants it super sharp, we’re prepared for that. But for most longform projects, a little Black ProMist can help a lot. I don’t think the ResolveFX Glow is good enough, but Video Village Scatter is bloody amazing. I use it on a lot of stuff these days — it gives things a little “gloss” that can give it a classy look. It helps to back off a little bit and keep it subtle, but it can be pretty cool and (dare I say) film like.


        • Evan A
          Participant

          Is there a OFX like “<span style=”background-color: #e5e5e5; font-family: roboto, arial, sans-serif;”>Video Village Scatter</span><span style=”background-color: #e5e5e5; font-family: roboto, arial, sans-serif;”> ” for PC?</span>


          • Peder Morgenthaler
            Participant

            Not that I know of, at least in Scatter’s level of detail in simulating a broad range of optical diffusion filters.  The Tiffen DFx software filter package included simulations of  some of their best-known diffusion filters, but I’m not sure if that’s being actively developed anymore.  I can’t find any information on it.

            Scatter really is unique and yields beautiful results.  Its definitely worthy of its own Insight, which I’ll do in the future.  I hope that VideoVillage considers porting it and Filmbox to PC. There’s definitely a market!


    • R Neil Haugen
      Participant

      “For certain projects, it’s a great way to instill a sense of time and era.”

      Precisely! And that’s a very fine, aesthetically based use of mimicking film.

      There’s also some fascinating articles and information “out there” on how the makers of various films worked to modify the spectral and tonal response of the emulsion to more closely fit certain human emotional and visual patterns, expectations, or “hopes”. Which are as interesting and useful for the human nature part, as for what they tried to do with the responses of their emulsions to light & chemistry.

      That’s another deep and very informative plus useful (to my brain!) area of discussion.

      A different tack to take with this sort of discussion, that always intrigues me, is the counter move. Think of it like this: so if “film” provided this image, and got X result from the viewer, how can I approach this from a very different visual effect, and still get X result from the viewer?

      This type of discussion seems to lend itself to a deeper dive into what say a viewer actually responds to. And also seems to lead to a broadening of the tools we can use to craft that viewer’s experience.

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