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October 2014
Issue: May 1, 2003

Restoration

By: By Christine Bunish

Once clients saw what Archangel and its dedicated operator Steve Willsmore could do, they asked if Metro could also handle audio restoration. So Smith acquired Cedar for Windows, "a very powerful realtime tool. We're building a room for it; we hope to open in May."

Film distributor clients who need to meet strict delivery requirements are eager to use Archangel, as are those who have had films retransferred from film to video without any correction. Customers also "come with insert content material of poor quality that they want restored to an acceptable level, like a documentary with two scenes of very faulty footage that needed to be corrected for broadcast," Smith reports.

Willsmore was given Hitchcock's classic Suspicion (1957) and Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) to prepare for DVD release. "The original film transfers from the 1980s were full of faults like scratches and positive dirt," says Smith. "Archangel enabled Steve to take out all the faults and leave a clean image that doesn't look processed as per the latest conventional equipment."


Hi-Wire used da Vinci Revival to fix this frame from 1975's The Hiding Place. They worked from two existing prints.
Willsmore also restored the :30 Muchmore film from Associated Press Television News (APTN) which captures the assassination of President Kennedy. "We were given a 16mm print of the original color 8mm," Smith notes. "We did the telecine and color grading but left all the correction for Archangel. Steve managed to stabilize the film, which was shaky from being shot with a handheld camera, and take out film scratches and dirt. Now APTN is able to sell the footage to documentary producers."

The restoration department has brought a new revenue stream to Metro, one that now accounts for about 15 percent of the VTR department's annual revenue. "It was a big gamble to set up and cost us a half-million pounds," Smith points out. "But we had an existing client base asking for this, and we've been able to broaden our client base."

TECHNIQUE: SERVICING THE NEW

A digital intermediate facility, Burbank's Technique, a division of Technicolor Creative Services (www.technicolor.com), endeavors to make clients' release prints as perfect as possible. It takes the film negative, scans it as electronic data, then does color grading and other processes before going back out to negative and film. The data continues to live as a universal master that can go to DVD, VHS or any other broadcast format desired.

"We deal with new features from major studios, cable, movie producers and independent producers," explains restoration artist Marco Aiello, citing Panic Room, the George Clooney-directed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Gods and Generals. Technique is currently finishing Miramax's Human Stain and DreamWorks' Envy, and has a slate of films set for the rest of the year. "Our goal in this department is for every reel to be absolutely pristine as far as dirt is concerned."


Metro was given the Hitchcock classic Suspicion, starring Cary Grant, to prepare for DVD release. The original transfer, from the '80s, had scratches and positive dirt, which was cleaned up via Snell's Archangel.
At Technique the restoration tool of choice is the software-based Thomson Shout, which runs on the SGI platform (Thomson is the parent company of Technicolor). Shout is a set of archive restoration tools in a fast, highly-automated and cost-effective package. It uses motion estimation to locate and identify faults such as scratches and dirt. Having located flaws, it automatically creates both the repair and a defect matte which, once accepted by the operator, are stored and dropped in on play out, making fixes non-destructive.

"It's an extremely powerful program with a very intuitive user interface. It's very artist friendly," says Aiello. "For basic dirt hits, Shout is a real dream; you get through them really quickly." Fixes are saved automatically in an analysis file which, during rendering, becomes incorporated with the original scans.

Aiello also likes Shout's automatic mode, which goes through the film, analyzes scratches and other flaws, then corrects them, although there may be a need "to adjust parameters a bit or do a little retouching afterward."

Supervising restoration artist LaNelle Mason points to some additional benefits of Shout. "We can put in an entire reel - 30,000 frames - so we don't have to chop up a feature. We can work by hand, one frame at a time, or work from the QC dirt list looking at the reel, doing the fixes on the frames indicated and rendering them. The system is fast and efficient; you can do a reel of a new movie in two to four hours."

Shout teams with Interactivefx's Piranha and Kodak's Cineon for applications like image stabilization, which Shout cannot yet handle on its own.

Mason has been doing film and video restoration for eight years and previously used Quantel Domino, MTI and da Vinci Revival systems. Aiello, who had been using Adobe Photoshop to retouch still images when he joined Technique, observed what Mason was doing and decided to learn. He believes "anybody with Photoshop or graphics experience can learn Shout and excel."

Aiello also thinks Technique's new digital intermediate model will soon be embraced by many filmmakers. "You gain so much control, especially color grading," he observes.


Image Group Editorial uses the Teranex Xantus and StarFilm on projects like the NBC series Ed.
HI-WIRE: TESTING THE WATER
A client inquiry put Minneapolis-based full-service post house Hi-Wire (www.hi-wire.com) on the restoration path. While doing other post work at the company, the client mentioned having a film in its vault that was deteriorating and in immediate need of restoration. Hi-Wire began investigating products available to accommodate its client.

Da Vinci brought its Revival system to Hi-Wire's attention. "Da Vinci is ubiquitous in the telecine world, so the relationship is there already; there's a certain level of trust with its customers," notes Fire/Inferno artist Tony Mills. The manufacturer has loaned a Revival system to Hi-Wire for evaluation as the company weighs the expense and revenue-generating possibilities of restoration.

Mills likes Revival's efficient auto pass, "the first tier of restoration for dirt clean up. You set very basic tolerances and aggression levels to define the level of mitigation. Da Vinci claims this gets you 70 to 80 percent of the way there, and I don't think that's boastful. With especially dirty areas of film it saved me 50 or more paint strokes in every frame."

Hi-Wire met the challenge of restoring The Hiding Place, a 1975 feature based on a true story of a Dutch family that saved Jews from the Nazis, for DVD release. "There were only two existing prints, no negative or intermediate. Since there were no better copies, we were locked into using the prints," says Mills.

Colorist Oscar Oboza spent a week on the transfer of the two-and-a-half-hour film to a 24p HD D-5 submaster with the Thomson Spirit DataCine and the da Vinci 2K. "He color corrected, scene by scene, the vast majority from one print, using the second print for problematic scenes," Mills explains. "He used a base level of noise reduction on the film but was asked not to do too much so we would not introduce additional frame-averaged artifacts that could compound our workload."

Hi-Wire's Revival is optimized for Discreet's I/O so Mills can use Fire or Inferno to pull in clips. Revival runs on the same Onyx2 platform and its images live in a common framestore.


Silent Cal is silent no longer
After editing a new submaster on Discreet Fire, Mills pulled the 150-minute film into Fire in nine-minute clips and then ran them through Revival's auto pass. "All told, we completed about 150 hours of unattended rendering," he says. Next Mills pulled in seven- or eight-minute clips for hands-on, interactive restoration. "Every time you make a paint stroke, it creates a new frame which is instantly un-doable up to the first import," says Mills. "It's a two-way history list for your fixes that gives you a lot of flexibility. Many times this came in handy. Sometimes auto pass created motion artifacts, and the fix was just to paint through the original material only in specific areas keeping other portions that had already been addressed satisfactorily."

While Fire and Inferno and other high-end systems have reveal paint features that involve the frame being worked on and a "saved frame" buffer, Revival has multiple temporal frame buffers that roll in sync with the current frame. "That's really exciting," says Mills.

The product also features an auto registration mode that helps reposition a support frame with the current frame to aid in line up. Mills can also ask Revival to define a "region of interest" (ROI) and do motion-compensated restoration on big dirt, tears and aberrations. Revival has tools to remove pull down plus a scene detector to find splice points and set up batch lists for auto pass or interactive control.

A "cool technique" that Mills used for The Hiding Place was frame reconstruction. "If a frame is completely destroyed and there's no good way to replace it with the frame on either side, you can define a range of frames and Revival does motion estimation to build a new frame very smoothly." Mills employed frame reconstruction in 15 to 20 instances, "some with a range of three to five frames around a bad splice."

Mills says Hi-Wire is "definitely considering" a Revival purchase and is exploring the market for restoration, which he calls "a wise investment for those who want to protect their assets."

IMAGE GROUP: HOPING FOR CRITICAL MASS

At New York City's Image Group Editorial (www.image-group.com), restoration often takes place in telecine where senior colorist Bill Willig runs Teranex's Xantus-one HD up- and downconverter and the StarFilm realtime standard definition and HD noise reduction, grain reduction and dirt concealment application. His Cintel C-Reality telecine suite, one of two at the company, also has a Digital Vision grain reducer for HD.

"We have HD capabilities in film-to-tape, tape-to-tape and editing," says Willig. "We were an early adopter of HD, and all our purchases look toward that format. We looked at a couple of restoration tools but since we put our energies in HD we wanted an HD solution" such as Teranex provides.

StarFilm is a scalable, powerful, flexible tool. It offers multiformat support on a single platform for standard definition and HD, handles 3:2 pull down and has scene change detection.

As a colorist, Willig admits he's mostly used to dealing with color and Power Windows. "But I also have to manage grain and noise reducers." He finds StarFilm is "best for general film dirt" while "something like a hair in the gate is harder to deal with. You want to dial in as much as you can for StarFilm to act optimally." Willig notes that StarFilm is in its first release so "it's still young in its life. We're in close touch with Teranex and they're bringing us updates."

Willig does a wide range of restoration work. "Most of our work is on new negative, but some is archival" like a series of animated shorts and the 1981 Swiss World War II drama, The Boat Is Full. "The feature was originally shot on Academy 16 and made into 35mm release prints. I worked on a tape-to-tape basis with a D-5 HD tape. StarFilm did a nice job with dirt and grain reduction. The client will ultimately go back to film with much cleaner images than they started with."

StarFilm is also employed on the TV series Ed. "They do a transfer here to HD with simultaneous downconverts as part of the editing process. Once an episode is conformed we run it through StarFilm to remove dirt, then we can clean it up further manually if needed," Willig says.

The need to scan material at film resolution, do restoration work and transfer back to film or other formats hasn't taken New York by storm as it has Hollywood, he notes. "We're waiting for critical mass. There's not enough of this type of work in the New York area, but we hope it will make its mark in the next few years."

APVI: NEW STOCK, OLD WESTERN

The restoration work that Revival operator James Scheuering performs at Northvale, NJ's APVI, an Ascent Media (www.ascentmedia.com) company, spans almost a century of filmmaking.

An ongoing project for stock footage giant Getty Images has Scheuering putting all newly-acquired footage through Revival. "They transfer to HD, then give the footage to me because they want it to be pristine," he explains. "No matter how new film is, it still gets dirt." Scheuering typically removes dirt and an occasional hair but can also tackle a rare scratch.

At the other end of the timeline, Scheuering is currently working on an early talkie western, Flaming Bullets, which had been rejected for broadcast because of the amount of dirt on it. "They tried other ways to clean it, but were unable to do it. So they transferred the film to NTSC, and I'm putting it through Revival, which has already fixed the flaws the client was alerted to plus more."

"We've been working with picture and sound restoration to different degrees for the better part of eight years," says Tony Beswick, VP and managing director of Ascent Media Management. "We started with a Digital Vision DVNR and progressed to da Vinci Revival, which we've had since early 2000."

Beswick reports that APVI has found that customers for standard definition or HD film-to-tape transfers "are looking for the next level of picture quality. Clients who are doing HD transfers don't mind spending a little extra [on restoration] to get the best quality possible, especially if they are doing digital remastering or have stock footage."

Scheuering enjoys using Revival because "everything I work on is uncompressed and, unlike some systems, Revival leaves no artifacts. You can't tell the picture has been touched except for the fact the dirt is gone. Revival does a fantastic job in its automatic pass. This gets 80 to 85 percent of the dirt all by itself, then, for really big stuff, I go in with interactive tools."

APVI has a dedicated Revival room alongside a C-Reality telecine suite featuring da Vinci 2K color correction. "I get the transfer, load it into the drives and work in frames that go back to the drives. Once the job is completed, it's recorded back to tape with no compression," Scheuering points out. He has been manning Revival for the past two years; prior to that he was an evaluations supervisor doing QC work, which was good preparation for his new post.

Scheuering is pleased that Revival has sped up the restoration process recently. "Originally it took 24 hours to clean 10 minutes. Now it takes four or five hours to clean 30 minutes. About 90 percent of what I do has been transferred to HDCAM, so that's a lot of information to work on. Revival's new processors have sped things up dramatically. I think the system hopes to go realtime in the next year or two."

Scheuering has been busy with new releases from Sony Pictures Classics that have been transferred to HD and need cleaning before their DVD release. A host of "Sunday morning kung-fu movies" have been transferred to NTSC and also need restoration before going to DVD.

Some clients bring in films they transferred to tape 10 or 15 years ago, Scheuering adds. "They're going back to the original film and retransferring to HD so clean up is required.

Restoration has proved to be "a steady-growth business which fits hand in glove with other departments in our operation," reports Beswick. "It's a nice niche business which will continue to grow as people repurpose their older archive libraries."