Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Digital Audio, Video > Adobe After Effects

Like this article? We recommend

The Role of Grain

Literally beyond lens effects stands another attribute of images shot with a real camera. Grain is essentially high-frequency noise that can be found in each channel of most footage, to varying degrees. Far from being a mere annoyance or problem, grain can be your friend, given its due. Grain adds texture and life to images and can help to conceal a multitude of small details, enabling compositors to get away with all kinds of stuff (in particular, adding life to a still image source in a moving image composition). Just like depth of field and motion blur, moderate amounts of grain are part of the key to a cinematic look. For compositors, perhaps the most important role of grain is its role in integrating a flat, static layer with moving footage, adding life to an element that otherwise looks oddly suspended out of the time and place of the rest of the scene (see Figure 27).

Figure 27

Figure 27 Solid areas of color without fine detail such as this section of blue screen (zoomed to 800%, blue channel displayed) are the best to sample and evaluate grain. At right of frame is a color-matched solid that evidently fails to blend with the background.

Proper grain isn't simply switched on or off, however; it needs to be adjusted carefully. You can become quite theoretical about all this, but really you need to concern yourself with only two basic factors:

  • Size of the grain, per channel
  • Amount of grain, or amount of contrast in the grain, per channel

The emphasis here is that these factors typically vary from channel to channel. Blue is almost universally the channel likeliest to have the most noise; happily, the human eye is less sensitive to blue than to red or green, but this can be bad news for blue-screen shoots.

How much grain is enough? The goal is typically to match what's there already. If your shot has a background plate with the proper amount of grain in it, you match your foreground elements to that. In the case of a fully computer-generated scene, you might have to match surrounding shots that have plate reference, which you would match in the same manner.

Grain Management Strategies

After Effects Professional includes a suite of three tools for automated grain sampling, grain reduction, and grain generation: Add Grain you adjust entirely manually, but Match Grain and Remove Grain sample a noise source layer to give you an initial result that you can then adjust.

If you've been reading closely up to this point, you know that I'm not a fan of using the automated solutions. Not so in this case. The Match Grain effect doesn't seem to be appreciably slower due to grain sampling than Add Grain, which doesn't perform any sampling and includes all of the same controls. Therefore, I recommend that you see what Match Grain can come up with as a starting point, and then work from there. In either case, the steps are the same:

  1. Look for a section of your source footage that contains a solid color area and little or no motion for 10 to 20 frames. Most clips include an area satisfying these criteria, and those that don't may let you get away with less precision.
  2. Zoom to 200% to 400% on the solid color area, and create a Region of Interest around it. Set the Work Area to the 10 or 20 frames with little or no motion.
  3. Add a solid that's small enough to occupy part of the Region of Interest. Apply a Ramp effect to the solid, and use the eyedropper tools to select the darkest and lightest pixels in the solid color area of the clip. The lack of grain detail in the foreground gradient should be clearly apparent (see Figure 28).
    Figure 28

    Figure 28 Insert a small solid and add a Ramp effect; then use the eyedropper tools in Ramp to sample the brightest and darkest areas of the background. This technique offers a clear evaluation of a grain match once Match Grain or Add Grain is applied.

  4. Apply the Match Grain effect to the foreground solid. Choose the source footage layer in the Noise Source Layer pull-down. As soon as the effect finishes rendering a sample frame, you have a basis from which to begin fine-tuning. You can RAM Preview at this point to see how close a match you have. In most cases, you're not done yet.
  5. Twirl down the Tweaking controls for Match Grain, and then twirl down Channel Intensities and Channel Size. You can save yourself a lot of time by doing most of your work here, channel by channel.
  6. Activate the red channel only in the Composition window by pressing Alt-1 (Mac OS: Option-1) and adjust the Red Intensity and Red Size values to match the foreground and background (see Figure 29). Repeat this process for the green and blue channels by pressing Alt-2 (Mac OS: Option-2) and Alt-3 (Mac OS: Option-3), respectively. RAM Preview the result.
    Figure 29

    Figure 29 As with color matching, grain matching is best performed channel by channel. Match Grain is the best type of automated plug-in because it's really only semi-automated, enabling you to control and improve upon the initial result easily.

  7. Adjust Intensity, Size, or Softness controls under Tweaking, according to what you see in the RAM Preview. You may also find it necessary to reduce Saturation under Color, particularly if your source is film rather than video. In most cases, these steps yield a workable result. The effect can be copied and pasted to any foreground layers that need grain. If the foreground layer already contains noise or grain, you may need to adjust the Compensate for Existing Noise percentage for that layer.

Obviously, whole categories of controls are untouched with this method (see Figure 30). The Application category, for example, contains controls for how the grain is blended and how it affects shadows, midtones, and highlights individually. Typically these are overkill, as are the Sampling and Animation controls, but how far you go in matching grain before your eye is satisfied is up to you and your team. This is one more case in which slamming the result can help ascertain its effectiveness (see Figure 31).

Figure 30

Figure 30 Highlighted are the essential controls in Match Grain, which contains a lot of properties. It's best to proceed top to bottom through these, adjusting overall Intensity, Size, and Softness, and then refining the individual Channel Intensities and Channel Size (as shown earlier in Figure 28).

Figure 31

Figure 31 Slamming the result—with an adjustment layer containing a Levels effect, in this case with Gamma and Input levels adjusted—reveals the effectiveness of the match (and the full gnarliness of the grain).

Grain Removal

Removing grain, or sharpening an image in general, is an entirely different process from adding grain. On a well-shot production, you'll rarely have a reason to reach for the Remove Grain tool.

If you do, the reason for doing so may be unique to your particular footage. In such cases, you may very well find that Remove Grain at the default settings gives you a satisfactory result. If not, check into the Fine Tuning and Unsharp Mask settings to adjust it.

Remove Grain is often best employed "behind the scenes"—not across the entire frame (see Figure 32), or intermediately in combination with other effects.

Figure 32

Figure 32 It may suit a still figure in a book (applied at the right side of this image), but Remove Grain on an entire shot with the default settings is rarely desirable. In full motion, the grain-reduced shot looks a bit strange and retains a certain soft lumpiness.

When to Employ Grain Strategies

The most obvious candidates for grain addition are computer-generated or still image layers, because they lack any of the moving grain found in film or video footage. As soon as your shot has to match anything that came from a camera, and particularly in a large format such as HD or film, you must manage grain.

Blurred elements may also need grain addition, even if they employ matching source footage. Blurry source shots contain as much grain as focused ones because the grain is an artifact of the medium recording the image, not the subject itself. Elements that have been scaled down in After Effects contain scaled-down grain, which may require restoration. Color keying can also suppress grain in the channel that has been keyed out.

Other compositing operations will instead enhance grain. Sharpening, unless performed via Remove Grain, can strongly emphasize grain contrast in an element, typically in a not-so-desirable manner. Sharpening also brings out any nasty compression artifacts that come with footage that uses JPEG-type compression, such as MiniDV video.

Lack of grain is one of the dead giveaways of a poorly composited shot, however. It's worth the effort to match the correct amount of grain into your shot—even if the result isn't apparent as you preview it on your monitor.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020