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August 2014
Issue: HD - Aug 29, 2003

FRANK SINATRA PLAYS RADIO CITY

By: By Matthew Armstrong

NEW YORK - Radio City Entertainment and NYC-based visual effects house Guava (www.guavanyc.com) are bringing Ol' Blue Eyes back to Radio City Music Hall next month.

Culled from never-before-seen video footage and home videos, as well as 35mm images from classic television and film appearances, the Frank Sinatra imagery will be projected in HD onto seven or eight screens, with a live stage production interacting with the footage and a live orchestra and gospel choir accompanying the singer for the 90-minute extravaganza. Interspersed among the archival footage will be recent interviews, shot on Sony's HDCAM, with people who knew Sinatra.

The decision was made that the projected footage should just be of Sinatra himself against a black background. For Guava, who was in charge of over 40,000 frames of film, this was an enormous task. For every one of the songs, Guava had to rotospline Sinatra out of the environment and composite him onto a black background. "It was really quite hard," relates Guava producer Mary-Joy Lu. "The splines were very difficult to work with because we were sometimes working with really bad quality negatives and even some scanned workprints with grease marks on them."

While rotoscoping the filmed images were difficult, trying to do it on the old video footage was nearly impossible. "Video songs were very difficult because they came from horrible 2-inch tapes, and that footage doesn't work in a traditional environment of rotosplining and compositing on black," explains Lu. "It was shot on those horrible tube cameras, so there's a lot of burn-in. You try and rotospline the arm but it would disappear in the tube burn. So we could not approach those songs in the same way. Instead of compositing on black, which is completely unforgiving, we composited it onto the same background. We then crushed the background down and gave it a beautiful moody, saturated deep gray."

Guava used a mix of Apple Shake and Pinnacle Commotion for rotoscoping and compositing. The studio is also performing frame-by-frame restoration on the footage with Discreet Flame and Shake. Final digital effects and finishing will be done in Inferno. In addition to rotoscoping, compositing and restoring, simply managing the amount of data was a challenge in itself. All the footage was brought to Guava as 2K files (Cineon and SGI files). The 2K resolution was maintained throughout the pipeline and then downconverted to 24p HD when making the masters. But why allow the system to be clogged with huge 2K files if they are only going to be downconverted to HD upon output?

"They started out at 2K to give them as many options as possible for the final output and aspect ratio of HD," explains Lu. "They'll play around on the Inferno to figure out what aspect ratio they want on 2K before making the final decision for the final masters."

Working on such a massive project with enormous amounts of data moving throughout its infrastructure was a "very laborious" but gratifying experience for this visual effects house that mostly works on commercials. "For Guava, it's almost like a feature film," says Lu. "We have seven G4s running Shake and Commotion, one Flame set-up for bringing in files, doing final paint work on the mattes, and the Inferno. We started in February. We delivered all the rotoscoped songs by the end of July and now we're finishing all the restoration."

Guava VFX technical supervisor Ari Klingman worked closely with editorial company Batwin and Robin as technical issues can often shape the creative direction of the show. "With new HD capability and massive storage capacity, Guava has grown enormously through the demands of the Sinatra project," says Klingman. "And from our conversations with Batwin and Robin thus far, Sinatra is going to be taking multimedia technology to the limit and perhaps beyond."