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Bleach Bypass

How to do it in your application By Stephen Schleicher

Made most famous in the film Saving Private Ryan, the bleach bypass method of treating film gives a very unique look to a project.  Since most videographers don’t have the luxury of spending money on film to achieve this look, they usually turn to mimicking the look in post.  In this exercise, I’ll show how to do the effect in Adobe After Effects, Avid Xpress DV, discreet’s Combustion, and Apple’s Final Cut Pro 4.

The bleach bypass process (also called skip bleach) is a process during film processing where silver is not removed from the negative.  Essentially you end up with a black and white image superimposed on a color image. The end result is increased contrast and reduced saturation. 

This process is usually done on the positive film, since it is a one shot only step. If you don’t do it right, the film is ruined.   In the case of the positive film, you can always go back and make another from the negative, but a few filmmakers, like Norimichi Kasamatsu, have opted to do it directly to the negative.  Since the re-do cost of this process is quite expensive (either on the positive print or the more valuable negative), doing it in post offers the option of a quick undo.

Since I have already defined that the bleach bypass is a black and white image superimposed on a color image, I am essentially defining the Multiply transfer mode:

Multiplies the underlying color by the blend color. The result color is always a darker color. Multiplying any color with black produces black. Multiplying any color with white leaves the color unchanged.

With the formula in place here is a step by step formula for each of the four applications mentioned above.

Bleach Bypass in Adobe After Effects

Step 1:  Import (Command+I on the Mac, Control+I on the PC) and place your footage in your composition.

Step 2:  Duplicate the footage layer (Command+D on the Mac, Control+D on the PC). 

Step 3:  On the upper (duplicate) layer, change the transfer mode to Multiply.

If you were to stop there you wouldn’t have accurately followed the bleach bypass definition.  While the Multiply mode does increase the contrast and darken the image, the duplicate isn’t black and white.

Step 4:  There are many ways you can make the upper layer black and white.  One option would be to apply the Hue/Saturation effect, and turn the Master Saturation all the way down.

Another option is to apply the Shift Channels effect and change the Red, Green, and Blue channels to Luminance.

There you have it for After Effects

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