How to make your videos look like a Hollywood film without spending a fortune

Advanced filming tips and techniques.

First of all I do recommend to read my first guide before carry on reading this article.

The combination of advanced technical gear becoming more affordable and editing software becoming more powerful has revolutionised the production and post-production processes. Overall the quality of the output is technically getting more advanced and we can admire some of the best work in the Staff Pick section on Vimeo.

Few months ago I had the opportunity to work on a video project in Lanzarote in which I have used few techniques that I reveal in this article.

Before you start

“A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” ― George Lucas

This is a very revealing statement from the man who brought the world “Star Wars”, a film that surely ushered special effects into the mainstream of 20th century filmmaking.

Nowadays there is plenty of well-crafted video online however although those abound of jaw-dropping special effects and transitions few have an effective building of theme and development of a compelling story line.

To understand whether your film could resonate to your audience or not, make sure the video doesn’t include special effects, colour correction and fancy transitions. Watch it few times and let other people similar to your audience watch it. If the feedback is negative, there is no post-production technique that can make your output a hit amongst your audience.

About the transitions

First of all, I believe that it is crucial not to overuse fancy transitions as the viewer could get tired of those. I do tend to use them only in few occasion within a video just to make complicated scenes flow seamlessly.

My second takeout is: make sure the focus is on a subject in the middle of the field, that subject could then reveal a hidden scene. I never use any plugin and I do apply some manual adjustments to the motion of each clips to make it look smooth and sharp.

Same applies to aerial footage captured with the drone, revealing unexpected landscapes followed by chromatic consistent footage could deliver the wow factor.

Transitions must be the last pieces of the project you need to work on, focus first on making sure the storyline works. Once you, and your audience, are happy with the edit you can start enhance it with transitions.

What is the best camera?

The perfect camera that could fit any type of use doesn’t exist. For example I have used 4 cameras and lenses to produce the main scene of Lanzarote:

4 Cameras — One scene.

This scene has been shoot backwards. My first position was few centimetres away from cyclist and then I moved backwards using different cameras according to the distance from the him.

The first part (the close-up of the eye) has been shot using an Olloclip mounted on an iPhone 6s.

The Olloclip is able to turn 4k clips shot with an iPhone in amazing macro shots, all of that for a very competitive price.

The second part of the video was shot with a Sony A7r2 mounted on an electronic gimbal whilst we filmed the third part using a DJI Phantom 4 Drone.

Finally the camera movement between rocks seems like has been shot using a drone but actually it has been produced using a GoPro Hero 4 stuck on a stick and made it seep and moved between the cracks of the rocks.

Why shall I film in 4k?

Although more devices support a video in 4K I rather export all my videos in 1080p as most of the viewers watch videos on a smartphone. This provides the advantage of cropping the images without losing quality or applying some movements even if the camera is mounted on a tripod.

Basic level Techniques

I have previously mentioned of the dolly zoom technique: it is an unsettling in-camera effect that appears to undermine normal visual perception. (Click on this link if you want to discover more).

Dolly zoom effect using 4K footage.

You can achieve this effect by zooming in the opposite direction of the drone or generally of the camera movement. Once you place the footage in the timeline, find the start and end points of the track movement and then set your work area around those positions. If you’ve moved the drone forward, you should de-scale the image using keyframes to control scale and speed at the same time as these both will essentially create the zoom effect.

Camera rotation using 4K footage.

Alternatively, you could rotate the image. This effect is quite impactful if used on drone footage. It is always advisable to use a thirds grid to keep the subject in the centre by using a simple keyframe automation while adjusting the position of the image simultaneously.

Intermediate level Techniques — Tracking and stabilization

The Warp-Stabilizer effect will help you out in many occasions but unfortunately it is not able to solve all the issues.

After Effects Tracker Tool.

I tend to use the “Tracker” tool that comes with After effects — click here to go through this tutorial on how to use this exceptional tool — especially when I want to create an handheld hyperlapses.

I don’t’ meant that the automatic warp-stabilizer should not be used but I experienced that to output a 100% stable clip, the warp-stabilizer could often lead to awkward warping.

It is fundamental that the tracking tool is positioned on the same fixed point across all images.

This could be used for a sequence of photographs or on a video clip. See below the difference between a raw clip and the same clip adjusted with the tracking tool.

In this Cuba scene I have filmed and walked at the same time for circa 500 meters, although I had an electronic gimbal, you can see that once the speed of the clip increased the output clip is definitely not looking good.

RAW Footage.
Applying the Tracker Tool on the tip of the Havana Capitol.
Same footage after tracking and color correction.

I am always surprised by the results you can sometimes achieve by images you think cannot be used.

Advanced Techniques — Layering & compositing.

By separating the background, mid, and foreground, you can animate your photos creating a parallax effect that will turn your simple 2D still images into moving 3D storytelling devices.

This is the technique I have used in the scene in which the camera enters the keyhole in my video R O M A.

The keyhole scene revealed.

I have basically cut out some photos and layered them over each other in a 3D compositing in After Effects.

Final scene in slow motion.

By speeding up the camera movement and linking the end frame to a video I managed to obtain a great result. I think that the presence of the birds also provided an extra touch of realism.

Color correction & matching

Many people are faced with the difficulties associated with grading S-Log footage. Anyone who’s done it knows that the process could be quite overwhelming, especially for people who don’t have much experience with colour grading.

I always recommend to overexpose the image by 2 stops when shooting in this mode. Be careful with the highlights, though, and make sure they are protected and not clipping. During the daylight I do recommend to use the “Sun” white balance settings, if you are unsure set your white balance to AWB (I select this mode when filming during the night).

LUTs offer a great added value but if the original exposure is not great they fail to deliver.

Taking this into consideration my takeout for you is: apply first a “Luma Curve” Filter to recover some of the “overshot” material. Another interesting aspect is to see how you can have a clear idea on how the LUT will react when you change the curve.

One of the most complicated jobs is to match clips that have been shot with different cameras, settings or lights. There is not an automatic tool that could solve that issue, you will need to manually place both shots side by side.

To do that, go to Window in the main menu of Premiere Pro CC, scroll down and select Reference Monitor.

This way you’ll be able to display the two different clips next to each other. Select the shot that you are about to colour correct and access the Lumetri Color Panel on the right.

Further, here’s the suggested order of doing your color corrections. The three main settings that will have the most impact on your images are color temperature, exposure, and saturation. But all of these parameters will influence each other. Therefore, it’s important to change these settings accordingly. As recommended, you should start tweaking the exposure and contrast first as these both will influence the saturation. Next you have to modify the saturation. And finally, you can change the color temperature if required.

My recommendation on the editing hardware

Many video-makers ask how I manage to work with 4k clips. I don’t manage 4k clips as I convert those into ProRes LT 1920x1080 format first.

The H264 format, and more recently the H265 format, has not been conceived to be edited and it does massively affect the CPU of your computer. On the other hand the ProRes format has been created for editing hence it is much easier to work with those clips.

Both Adobe Premiere and Final Cut X are able to convert from 4K to ProRes in background but I rather use an utility software called Edit Ready that allows to even apply a LUT before placing the clips in the timeline. It is a great advantage as I can see how the clip looks like before using it on my project.

Once I finished the edit I replace the folder containing the clips in lo-res with the original ones. If you are editing in a 1080p sequence with 4K source files, you will be able to use Set to Frame Size, which will appear to scale the 4K down to 1080p, but you will still be able to scale the clip above 100% and utilize the available 4K pixels. The effects palette will display the actual scale values for the full-resolution source.

Then all that is left is a final colour edit and to export the final 4K file.

Exporting to Vimeo & Youtube

I never use the standard H264 YouTube presets will screw it up. If video quality is your number one priority, then by all means, upload ProRes, DNxHD or uncompressed HD video files. You’ll get fewer video compression issues on YouTube when you upload high quality video formats, as opposed to low bit rate files. So if you’ve got the time, upload the best video you’ve got.

Thank you for watching!

Please, feel free to leave any comment or feedback on this piece. I’m also working on few interesting projects that could see the light of day pretty soon.

My videos and photographs can be found on my social media channels: Instagram, Facebook and Vimeo.

And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more tutorials and insights about my gear and techniques!