With most movies, you can tell at a glance, if it is (or supposed to be) a blockbuster or not, by how the image looks.

Even some American TV-series look better (in my oppinion) than most european films.

I don't want to adress any content here, it's just about the look and feel of the final image.

Sometimes, when you can see some "raw" footage of the films (on the making of), it looks similar to final products of the others.

Now I was wondering, what makes that distinctive difference, of the cinematic feel, to all the other films.

I know that they have a higher budget and a lot more crew members, but what makes that distinctive difference? And what do these additional people do? so that you can tell the difference in the end.

Is is the lighting, the camera, the lenses, the color grading at the end... or something completely different, I haven't thought of?

I'm not interessted on how Motion Picture differantiates from News or Sports Photography, because they want to acchieve different things. I'm especialy interessted in the differences of european and american blockbusters (Excludeing England, because they are similar, by the quality of produced video as the Americans). (I know, that the budget is a big factor and that for example German films seldomly have a budget higher than 10 Millions, and that 200+ Million Dollar films are almost a standart in Hollywood (for Blockbusters).

  • @MoritzLost well, I'm not Interessted about the sport or news part, I'm wondering, why there is a difference in movies. Because Movies and other media - obviously - try to achieve different things. AND - I'm interessted in how to duplicate that look.
    – Frezzley
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 16:45
  • Well you haven't actually told us what difference you want to know more about. Difference between movies? All movies look different. Are you talking about specific genres, origins, styles, filmmakers? Provide details and screenshots, than you can get a less general answer. As it stands, thsis question is a duplicate of the one I linked. The specific look is a combination of many factors including lighting, cameras, props, makeup, post-processing and much more.
    – MoritzLost
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 16:54
  • If you want help achieving a specific look, provide examples and screenshots showing the look you want to replicate, tell us what you have tried to achieve that look and why it isn't working/which part you need work with. Your comments reads a bit like 'what button do I press in my editing program to make my movie look like a multi-million dollar hollywood production'. Sorry, but that's not going to happen ...
    – MoritzLost
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


There are a few important things to consider:

  1. Lighting is perhaps the most important aspect to creating a filmic image. A lot of filmmakers like to use natural light such as Innaritu on The Revenant. I remember from the BTS that they had maybe 2 hours a day for a week or so to film the 3 minute scene because he only wanted to use natural light. In the studio, however, there are a whole slew of LED lights, fresnels, bounces, softboxes, diffusion, .etc. all set up to make the scene, and the actor look perfect. Almost every angle is thought of, from the lighting of a plant in the background to the color temperature of each light. This is a massive undertaking, and I wouldn’t be surprised in any given scene of a blockbuster movie you will have upwards of 100-200k worth of lighting working on set.
  2. Dynamic range/camera. More and more, directors and cinematographers are opting for using digitial cameras because of their epic post production workflow and there easy integration into vfx. Cameras like the Arri Alexa and the Red Epic can record up to 18 stops of dynamic range. Take the Sony A7Sii for example, a rather pro-sumer grade camera used in a lot of indie productions, with only ~11 stops of dynamic range it is miles behind the Red in terms of the latitude one can get in post-production. This latitude, or the ability to adjust the exposure of minute details to larger troublesome areas such as a blown out window is why dynamic range is so important. Naturally, in order to get the most out of a cameras dynamic range, blockbuster films typically record in logarithmic formats. Arri and Red cameras can record in a RAW format (sensor data, rather than processed sensor data is recorded) which is just like DSLR raw where exposure and color temp (among other things) can be altered after the fact without loss in quality.
  3. Color grading/color correction. Dynamic range would be almost useless if it weren’t for a skilled hand behind the knobs adjusting each and every aspect of the scene to perfect exposure, color temp, .etc. Using power windows with track masks the colorists can add definition to one side of an actors face, or darken it more to fit an ominous scene. They can color a certain act to be warmer when the actors get married, and then can color the next act to be bluer when they get divorced.
  4. Lenses. Lenses have the power to imbue a certain je ne sais quoi to a scene. Cinema lenses such as those produced by Cooke or Panavision are made to a technical standard that most consumer or pro-sumer manufactures couldn’t economically match. In addition, these lenses all have different characteristics that distort the way the camera, and by extension, the audience, experience a space. Some directors prefer to use anamorphic lenses because it instills a classic cinema-type vibe, and gives the movie a certain look.
  5. Audio. No-brainer. Good audio can make or break a scene. From ADR to using multiple mics on an actor; picking the right mic for the job .etc. a good image is nothing without good audio. Naturally, this audio is mixed to perfection in post. So in general, if you are a small-producer of wedding films or corporate docs; whatever the case may be. You can take some tips from Hollywood. Focus on lighting. I cannot stress this enough. A 70d can look cinematic if you have the right lighting. Learn about large diffuse light sources, negative fill, bounces, .etc. You may not have a big boy toy such as the Alexa or the Epic, but you can get the most out of your A7S or whatever the camera you may have by spending time doing color grading and learning about how to properly expose for and use LOG. Experiment with different lenses. And of course, don’t let your audio fall by the way side. Overally, what makes a blockbuster a blockbuster is the combination of many many different skilled professionals acting in unison. It is unlikely you can economically match the level of a blockbuster film, but you can get close.

** I’ve only focused on technical aspects. If your actors suck, or your setting sucks… well you won’t have a very good video.

  • I was/am only interessted in the technical Aspects of this topic. I fully understand that you can't save a bad script or bad acting.
    – Frezzley
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 7:22
  • What your saying is, that there is no field, that is beeing overlooked by european film producers, they are just overall working on a lower level (because of budget reasons)?
    – Frezzley
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 7:24
  • You'd have to specify a specific program and back it up with examples. But based on you saying that you perceive the quality is lower or not blockbuster-ish then maybe they are operating at a lower level. This may be due to budget, or merely due to a lack of available talent. Let us not forget Hollywood is like the epicenter where all these really good professionals flock to.
    – Alex
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 4:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.