Getting Grainy: 3 Different OFX Grain Plugins

February 20, 2016

In this Insight Robbie explores 3 different OFX grain plugins for Resolve from Film Convert, Boris, and GenArts and explains which is his favorite and why

Adding Grain Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult

When I think about grain I always chuckle a bit.

For years, the industry as a whole has been working to remove noise and grain!  Think about it – better ISO performance (less noise) on camera sensors, more sophisticated grain reduction plugins, getting away from film and going to digital projection.

There are countless ways that grain has been marginalized.

And while there has been a push towards cleaner and sharper images, there has simultaneously been an ongoing love affair with grain and the texture it provides.

I know many colorists who love the clarity of digital footage but long for the organic feel of film grain.

Even just a few short years ago, grain plugins were really nothing but random noise generators. While they could work, and be massaged to ‘feel’ like grain, for me, and for many, there was something clinical about the look they created.

Enter grain libraries.

Realizing the blah feel/look of so-called grain generators, quite a few enterprising folks went about scanning and modeling grain from actual film stock (gasp!).  In postproduction, these grain clips would be layered and composited on top of footage to create a much more realistic film grain feel/look.

For the longest time, when a client would ask me to add some grain or if I thought a shot(s) could benefit from a more gritty feel I’d pull from my grain library and layer in the grain.

Late last year when working on a recreation heavy series I got sick of the work involved with layering/compositing or using grain clips as a matte.

I wondered if plugins like the OFX ones used in Resolve had a good solution for realistic-looking grain and in this Insight, I’d like to share my thoughts on a few of these plugins.

Plugins?  Bah Humbug!

Let me get one thing out of the way – I understand that there is going to be a certain subset of folks that are never going to buy into the idea of using a plugin for something like film grain.

The argument is that there is no substitute for the real thing.

I totally get this argument, and if you’d like to purchase or continue to use a library of grain clips no one is stopping you!  Companies like CineGrain, GorillaGrain (their site appears down at the moment), CrumplePop and others all have good grain clip options.

Indeed, there are quite a few advantages to working with grain clips compared to a plugin including:

  • Trimmable – Instead of having to depend on keyframes, simply layering a grain clip in a timeline makes it easy to trim and time exactly how you want.  Add in using transitions, you can easily create customized grain loops.
  • Composite Options – When you layer grain using different composite modes adjusting opacity is a great way to dial in the right amount and look of the grain.
  • Easy To Grade – Don’t like the tonality of a grain clip, well just grade it like any other shot.

If none of that makes sense check out this great Insight by Patrick and this one from Dan about the ‘manual’ method of working with grain.

3 OFX Grain Plugins

While there appear to be quite a few grain plugins compatible with NLEs, I’ve only found a few for OFX.  Since I spend about 95% of my grading time in Resolve, I’ll focus on three plugins that use this architecture.

Sapphire v9 ($1699, $499/yr Subscription) – A stalwart in the plugin world.  While the package is a bit bloated (IMHO) there are several plugins that I use all the time like S_Light Leak, S_Lens Flare, S_Glow, and S_Glint. There are also two plugins in this package for grain, there are others that do scratches and other ‘film like’ effects but for this Insight I’ll focus on S_Grain & S_FilmEffect

Boris Continuum Complete ($695, Film Style/Color Tone Units $299 each) – Another hugely popular package also provides a billion different effects including some pretty powerful color correction tools, tracking and matte integration (thanks Mocha!) and different ‘units’ can be purchased based on your needs.

Film Convert ($199, $299 For All Compatible Platforms) – Heralding from New Zealand, Film Convert is one part color correction tool and one part stock emulator.  It works on multiple platforms and it allows for a super-easy way to add grain to footage as well as an easy way to improve color accuracy of its color correction tools with camera profile add-on packages.

Just keep in mind, by no means do I provide a full and complete review of each plugin in this Insight but rather my opinions on each. Please check out the various company websites for more detailed info of each slider, etc.

A Value Proposition

When I was looking at these three packages, my first consideration (like many of you) was the price.

At $1699 for a buyout, Sapphire is clearly the most expensive of the lot.  But that price includes literally DOZENS of plugins for VFX and compositing work.

In other words, you have the entire Sapphire tool kit that has been used on all sorts of award-winning projects right in your hands and right in Resolve.

But… if all you’re looking for is grain and film stock emulations, you might be better served (at least on price) elsewhere.

I really like the Boris FX model with Continuum.  You can buy the entire collection for a pretty reasonable $699 or purchase the units that fit in your workflows and use cases.

Like Sapphire, The Continuum Complete package is full of dozens of VFX and compositing plugins that you may never need.  With that said, one of the most compelling parts of the Boris package is its integration with Mocha for tracking.

A good friend of MixingLight and soon to be contributor Jason Bowdach shows off a little of this integration on the Boris website

That leads us to Film Convert. At only $199 or $299 to get the plugin for all compatible applications, it’s hard not to like this plugin!

However, that price point means that it’s not in the same class as Sapphire and Boris as a complete effects package – after all, it does really only a few things – stock emulation, grain, and color correction – but it does all of those things really well.

Just keep in mind when it comes to grain in Film Convert, it’s not as customizable as a Sapphire or Boris, but as you’ll see in the video, and in my opinion, it’s a bit more organic looking than those two packages.

If all you need is stock emulations and grain – the clear winner is Film Convert, especially considering the price point.

If you’re looking to stretch your dollar a bit more and get dozens of effects for all sorts of situations, then the choice becomes more difficult.

Boris has a better price point and Mocha integration, but Sapphire in a lot of cases has, in my opinion, more natural-looking results.

But buying either Boris or Sapphire just for grain is in my opinion not worth it.

The good news?  There are OFX trails of all three plugin options!

As always if you have something to add to the conversation or have questions, please use the comments below


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Homepage Forums Getting Grainy: 3 Different OFX Grain Plugins

  • Great grain OFX overview! May have to try these more often for variety. Never realized how fast FC was copmared to other OFX plug-ins

    Thanks for the mention! Hope to show more of that workflow ! BCC 10 for OFX is unfortunately not available yet, but hopefully soon!

  • Robbie Carman

    yes, its pretty crazy. Even on my surface book (with a lowly 1GB Nvida GPU) it works in real-time. Now I should mentioned that my ‘nearly always in real-time’ comment is with 1080 footage. I’ve had it choke a bit with UHD + But that’s sort of to be expected.

    I’m dying to know more about the BCC mocha workflow – so looking forward to you sharing more!

  • Although I love adding grain via filmconvert I find that it destroys my vimeo playback quality. Vimeo recompresses your movie even though you prepared it based on their recommended settings. . So I tend to put the gain on the timeline level and render a version out without grain

  • Robbie Carman

    yeah – you’re right. Grain in general is seen as noise by encoders -that noise screws up many highly compressed codecs and makes for larger file sizes. You make a great point about timeline level grain and turning on/off for different output needs

  • I find myself using this strategy a well. Clean pass for online and a grain pass for the “master” for cinema, BluRay and such. Unfortunately, I found even adding VERY slight grain (at like .10) to help dither without adding visible grain still trashed online compression in Vimeo YT. Still looking for the holy grail where I can see detailed grain on a streaming source.

  • It so lame vimeo gives you guidelines then ignores them and resizes you move to a 1/3 of the size for 1080. I can see it for < 1080 but dam. One option would be a grain layer in the player that vimeo could one day enable as an option.

  • Dan Moran

    I like to ad my grain on a per shot basis so when I need to turn it off for a online render it takes me AGES!!! I’m still stubborn and do it every time thought. I love tweaking the grain per shot

  • David Jahns

    In Resolve, the problem with compositing real grain on V2 is that you can’t render out individual shots with the grain added – so I was thrilled to find FilmConvert a while ago. I never use the color grade elements, but multiple grain selections and the intensity sliders can provide as much flexibility as the CineGrain library – well, except for the scratches and hairs effects, which I’d only use in creating faux-vintage films.

  • Dan Moran

    You can actually use real grain is you add it as a matte or track matte and then plug in the video instead of alpha connection. That will then render out with grain as individual clips.

    I use it that way for most of my grain adventures!

  • Marc Wielage

    I would add that the grain in the Tiffen DFX plug-in isn’t bad. I generally prefer to use external grain files as mattes, but I agree with Dan you have to keep your eye on it shot by shot. Ian Vertovec of Light Iron has an interesting trick where he’s created a full-screen grain pattern out of two images using a window — less grain on the outside, more on the inside. (Or vice-versa.) Interesting idea.

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