Film Restoration

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Six Steps For Restoring Your Old Films

Six Steps For Restoring Your Old Films

Did you know that 50% of all full-length features produced before 1950 have vanished? Fewer than 20% of features from the 1920s survive in complete form; survival rates of 1910s is <10%?[i]

While more than 90% of the world cinema produced before 1929 can no more be restored and are lost forever, the major players – from restoration agencies to film production houses – are trying to revive old classics digitally.

Film restoration is an archaeological expedition for curators. Apart from factors like dust, scratches, film grains, shrinkage, and color fade, heritage films are also at-risk due to climate conditions, lack of training in film preservation, and sometimes, unstable political conditions.

Film restoration is crucial for the preservation of films, especially those whose original elements have substantially deteriorated. The critical steps of restoring a film are as follows:

  1. Film identification: Film restoration is a costly and labor-intensive process, sometimes consuming more than 1,000 staff-hours to repair a film. Therefore, it is essential to identify the films that need to be restored.
  2. Film treatment and repair: Curators clean the films using chemicals, cleaning machines. Further, they use splicing tape, film cement, or ultrasonic splicers to repair perforations and tear on a film before using it on projectors, printers, and other sprocket-driven film equipment.
  3. Digitization/ Scanning: Curators scan each frame into a digital file before proceeding with restoration. The back-up copy replicates the video and audio content of the film and ensures the copy can be used in the future to create subsequent viewing copies.
  4. Film comparison: Before proceeding with the restoration, curators compare all the known surviving source materials to ensure the chosen version is the best available version for restoration.
  5. Digital restoration: A widely used restoration format today, the films are restored using digital or hybrid techniques, and the output can be in film or digital form. Digital restoration also incorporates the following:
    • Comparing each frame to its adjacent frames
    • Fixing the frame alignment
    • Restore areas blocked by dirt and dust by using parts of images in other frames
    • Restore scratches by using parts of images in different frames
    • Reducing film grain noise
    • Restoring sound
    • Correcting flickering, lighting, and color changes, even minimal, from one frame to another due to the aging of the film
  1. Digital asset management: It is essential to create a set of database records with metadata and other relevant information that allows end users to identify, locate, and retrieve a film from the archive.

 

From documentaries to fictional narratives, newsreels, industrial films, home movies, political ads, and travelogues, films are a witness of the past. By restoring these works, we can illuminate our heritage with the power and immediacy unique to film. To know more about film restoration, read:

 

[i] http://besser.tsoa.nyu.edu/howard/Talks/cineteca-mexicana.pdf
5 Classics Films Restored for the Digital Age

5 Classics Films Restored for the Digital Age

Movies made with photosensitive films and analog cameras until the 1990s had great details, but was also susceptible to dirt, temperature changes, and rough handling. As classics and old movies fall prey to the effects of time, content producers are digitizing to restore them.

With easy access to video on demand anytime anywhere, film producers and archives are leaving no stone un-turned to make the classics available to the viewers. While the film makers are setting new aesthetic standards with high quality and clarity of 4K resolution for restoring oldies, it comes at a time when watching movies on smartphones is more popular than DVDs or Blu-rays.

However, film restoration isn’t as simple as scanning the original 35mm film to produce a new version. It involves multiple steps like manual and automatic cleaning of the film to remove dust, scratches and other signs of aging, enhancing colors, sound and editing into single segment and adding special effects if necessary.

As the efforts are underway across the world to re-master and preserve classic films, we look at Hollywood’s past to list some of the best digitally remastered classics.

  1. Casablanca
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Credit: Google Images

With the Blu-ray 4K restoration, released in May 2017 to mark the 75th anniversary of the film release, the 1942 classic Casablanca never looked better. The scan restores the most dynamic and richest image and sounds possible, making the hard work behind the restoration job evident.  The film have been earlier restored twice for its 50th and 60th anniversary.

Casablanca, the winner of three Academy Awards, is a story of a romantic triangle between Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her ex-lover Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart).

  1. North by Northwest
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Credit: Google Images

To mark the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s sleek masterwork, Warner Home Video restored ‘North by Northwest’ in 1080p from original VistaVision and made it available on Blu-ray and DVD. Each frame was painstakingly transferred into the digital domain at 8k for the restoration, revealing a depth of field and clarity that was unimaginable before, thereby heightening the thrill of the classic.

  1. Dr. No
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Credit: Google Images

The 1962 adventure of James Bond – his first adventure to be precise – is given a new life (and look) by the Lowry Digital. With a fresh 4K scan and clean-up, the remastered film in Blu-ray looks amazing with bright, clear picture, and sharp resolution.

  1. Gone with the Wind 
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Credit: Google Images

The new 8K scan of the 1939 Civil War epic based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel has cleared the dirt and age defects away from the classic. Although the image is soft at times, details shine through. According to the critics, this edition is the best the film has looked to date, and that includes the theatrical release.

  1. Sleeping Beauty 
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Credit: Google Images

Restored from the original 2.55:1 negative, the 50th edition of Sleeping Beauty is a beautiful rendition. The original soundtracks were converted from Berlin Symphony Orchestra to DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack. Both the picture and sound quality are superb, making the edition better than the original version.

Some other classics that have been digitally restored are The Third Man, The Godfather, Star Trek Original Series Seasons 1 – 3, The Wizard of Oz, and Pinocchio. Remastering classic movies in 4K not only preserves the cinematic heritage for the new generation but also make movies look better than the past.

Film Restoration: From Pix to Pixels, Celebrating the Yesteryears in Reels

Film Restoration: From Pix to Pixels, Celebrating the Yesteryears in Reels

As King of Jazz (1930) made its world premiere last month at Universal Pictures: Restorations and Rediscoveries, film enthusiasts were introduced to a genre of films which they thought are lost in time. The event, which celebrated lesser known European works like Broadway (1929) and the Kiss before the Mirror (1933), highlighted the effort production houses are putting to bring Technicolor back to theaters in a new form.

Film curators all over the world are celebrating the yesteryear’s in reels. The recently held San Francisco Silent Film Festival (June 2- 5, 2016) brought five such gems from the silent era into life. Rob Byrne, board president of the Film Festival was quoted saying that he grew up watching Chaplin’s silent films like Modern Times (1936) and City Lights (1931) and wanted to bring them back to the theaters for a larger audience.

Film restoration is more of an archaeological expedition for curators. While finding an old film is like a treasure hunt, the effort that goes behind bringing back the movies to life is overwhelming. Byrne says that sometimes the curators need to go through exhibitor publications to understand the exhaustive details before reconstructing the missing shots.

The amount of effort that has already been put in film restoration is notable. From global film production houses to mid-size restoration agencies, the major players are putting all their efforts to digitally restore old classics – some even in 4K. And what makes the restoration effort noteworthy is some of these films have never even been released on DVD, leave alone Blu-ray.

Film curators hope that the digital restoration will introduce the old works to new eyes, apart from bringing back old favorites to life. From Kurosawa to Chaplin, old classics that were almost once lost has been digitally restored – some even in 4K. The list is varied – from classics of world cinema like The Third Man (1949), The Bicycle Thief (1948), and Notorious (1946) to cult hits like Dracula and Frankenstein. What makes the list more interesting is many among these have never been released for home viewing.

While some classics in the first half of the 20th century – the era of silent movies has been lost forever, curators are experimenting with classics that can be restored. Notable among the effort is John D. Lowry, a Canadian film restoration expert who developed his own technique called the Lowry Process to restore films. The technique reduces visual noise in motion pictures like dirt scratches and flicker, sharpening the quality of existing images, before making it possible to restore the complete film.

Lowry has restored more than five hundred classic films using this process, which includes some popular classics like Sunset Boulevard (1950), Casablanca (1942), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom(1984), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1965), and James Bond Film franchise to name a few.

Taking Lowry Process further, production houses has restored Hollywood classics like the original Star Wars trilogy, North by Northwest (1959) and Gone with the Wind (1939).

To cater to the diverse formats in which millennials consume content, curators are now restoring movies from celluloid to 4K digital where each frame is digitally polished to remove noise, colors and contrast are enhanced so that the film looks as good as new. For example, the Warner Bros Motion Pictures restored Citizen Kane (1941), which was recently premiered at the 68th Cannes Film Festival.

Who said you can’t relive yesteryear’s?