Low Budget Filmmaking
Films shot in the Anamorphic process are instantly recognizable. They have a quality and resonance that other lenses can’t capture. Anamorphic films seem to capture an almost 3D quality onto film’s 2D medium. The process makes creative use of aberrations such as long horizontal lens flares, oval bokeh and highly curved corners that all add a sense of heightened reality. Films are real but not necessarily reality…and the subconscious effect of Anamorphic lenses delivers an exaggerated look that is hard to replicate. This process is much more than just a wide aspect ratio..as demonstrated in The Ultimate Aspect Ratio Guide.
Films shot in the Anamorphic process include: Jaws, The Royal Tenenbaums, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard, The Parallax View and countless others. Getting your hands on Anamorphic lenses is very difficult for the low budget filmmaker…so I created my own After Effects project that replicates the look and feel of the Anamorphic process. If you drop your footage into the timeline…you will have access to 3 options that help you achieve the magical look without resorting to additional adaptors or lenses. This workflow has been optimized for cameras that capture 16:9 footage and for lenses between 28mm to 35mm (Full frame equivalent).
The Anamorphic lens that I chose as the holy grail to emulate is the Panavision Primo 40mm Anamorphic. It was the ONLY lens used on Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and used 95% of the time on Wes Anderson’s films Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
I am proud to share with you my free After Effects Plugin Project…VashiMorphic40.
The VashiMorphic40 After Effects project was designed so that every filmmaker, on any budget, can capture the aesthetics and visual style of the Anamorphic lens. The plugins used in this project are included in After Effects or are free to download. I focused on matching the curvature and look of the 40mm Panavision Primo Anamorphic lens. It is often said that a 50mm (spherical) lens is the closest field of view (FOV) to human vision…but I don’t necessarily agree. If you look through a 50mm, the peripheral view is nowhere near as wide as what the eye sees. I feel we view the world with more of an Anamorphic field of view. The 40mm Panavision Anamorphic has a 40mm vertical FOV but a 20mm horizontal FOV. This wider view approximates what to me feels more like the “real world”.
I built this free project specifically for the low budget filmmaker. If using a full frame sensor…I recommend a 28mm or 35mm lens. These focal lengths can be found inexpensively as prime lenses from every vendor. Also, the most popular zoom lens: 24mm-70mm contains both lengths. For APS-C sensors I recommend a 20mm or 24mm lens. For BMCC use 10mm or 12mm.
These two focal lengths split the difference between the two different FOVs (40mm/20mm) that the 40mm Panavision lens provides…and the settings in my project use matched curvature to further enhance the look. I used the Bezier Warp effect and adjusted the flat image until it matched the curved lines of the 40mm Panavision Anamorphic. I massaged the 12 control points in the Bezier Warp until I duplicated the exact curvature.
I tried optics compensation, lens distortion and various other methods but they all need resizing of the footage to fit the full 1920×1080 frame. I needed a better solution…so I did it by hand with the Bezier Warp so we could retain the sharpness of the raw footage. This first effect in the project is the 40mm Primo Curve. This matched curvature adds the subtle 3D quality that is prevalent in the Anamorphic process. Straight lines are bowed at the top and bottom of the frame. This causes a perceived “bulge” in the middle of the frame…as if that section of the image is closer to the viewer. It is inherent to the Anamorphic process and now you can add it to your “flat” footage. The 40mm Primo Curve effect does the heavy lifting and gets you closer to the Anamorphic look.
I find the lens distortion is the most appealing aspect of the 40mm Panavision Primo Anamorphic lens. It’s not exactly barrel distortion and it’s not a fish-eye…it’s a more complex curvature and I find it very pleasing visually. It has a tell-tale bulge in the middle of the frame that protrudes out of the frame. This is what gives it a faux 3D “pop” that helps DPs and Directors to stage such dramatic shots. Wes Anderson used the 40mm Primo almost exclusively on: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. The curvature is the heart of the VashiMorphic40 project. The vignette and corner blur options enable you to further replicate a “vintage” or stylized look.
The second effect is the CI Vignette effect. It is a free plugin designed and graciously approved by Bart Walczak of Creative Impatience for this project. It installs in both After Effects and Premiere Pro and creates the gentle fall-off that many older lenses possess. I have set up the effect to subtly darken the corners of the frame. You can further adjust this effect to taste. What this does is subtly add depth to the flat image. By darkening the edges…the center of the frame will be more prominent and so will your subject/object if it is positioned there. Not every lens has fall-off in the corners, but I feel it adds to the illusion and expands the perceived depth of the final image.
The third and last effect is Blurred Corners. Many older lenses, including Anamorphics, get very soft in all 4 corners. The focusing mechanisms of these lenses have to focus across two different focal lengths and the result is often soft corners. I created a mask that matches the areas affected after researching films and photos of this phenomenon. I used the Fast Blur effect so that rendering would be kept to a minimum. My default setting of 3 pixels is visible, but subtle. The overall goal is to approximate and capture the sensation of the Anamorphic traits…something almost impossible with spherical lenses. For shooting stylistic or experimental footage it can really add that something special.
The VashiMorphic40 project also contains a 2.35 Anamorphic matte to replicate the projected aspect ratio of the 40mm Primo lens. When you shoot footage for this project…you must frame and shoot with the 2.35 ratio in mind. Please mark your screen or turn on 2.35 overlays on your screen/monitor so that everything you want in the shot falls within the 2.35 frame.
AFTER EFFECTS PLUGIN PROJECT WORKFLOW:
1. VASHIMORPHIC is by default 1920×1080 / 23.976 FPS / 16:9 aspect ratio.
2. Use a full frame camera with a 28mm or 35mm lens.
APS-C camera use a 20mm or 24mm. BMCC use a 10mm or 12mm.
3. Capture your footage in 16:9 format and frame for 2.35 during the shoot.
4. Import your footage into the “Your Footage” layer of After Effects.
5. Adjust CI Vignette settings to taste.
Default setting is 10% Opacity and 200 pixel feather.
6. Adjust Corner Blur to taste. Default is 3 pixels with repeat edges on.
7. Render out footage to the codec of your choice.
VashiMorphic will not replicate lens flares or the oblong out-of-focus areas like an actual Anamorphic lens. It will however…for the very first time…give you a free and easy way to morph your normal DSLR or other 16:9 footage into a convincing and controllable simulation of the Anamorphic look. It’s by no means perfect, but I spent a lot of time trying to find a way to duplicate the aesthetic of a filmmaking tool that I really love. I hope it will find a home in your filmmaking arsenal and give you the opportunity to enhance your footage and help you tell your story.
Please feel free to download the project and share this post. It is not for resale and I only ask that if you chose to repost this article…please give proper attribution to VashiVisuals.com
Thank you so very much and enjoy!
For more information on low budget Anamorphic solutions and lens options:
Until next time…