BROOKLYN, NY — Independent colorist, post production supervisor and director Jerome Thelia (http://cargocollective.com/mergegroup/filter/Jerome/Jerome-Thelia-Colorist) has done a number of HD restorations for The Criterion Collection of classic DVD and Blu-ray titles. The features are also available on Hulu and other on-demand outlets. Much of this work is done in his Brooklyn studio using Assimilate’s Scratch for color grading and compositing.
One of his recent restorations for The Criterion Collection was the rediscovered Lonesome, a largely silent film directed by Paul Fejos in 1928 under contract to Universal. It’s set during Fourth of July weekend at Coney Island and includes color tinting, superimposition effects, experimental editing, a roving camera and three dialogue scenes.
Elements from two different prints were scanned by Kodak at 2K for the restoration. Criterion’s own team tackled dust and dirt removal after Thelia performed the color grading.
“Grading black and white in general is really difficult,” he says. “We’re really not used to seeing it anymore, so it takes a few hours to wrap your head around it. As a colorist, black and white has a Zen quality to it: It’s more than the absence of color — there are subtle tonal shifts there.”
Thelia had to deal with Lonesome’s dissolves and optical effects, which reduced the amount of light passing through the film, darkening the images. “One of the struggles is always, do you leave something the way it was because that’s the way people saw the film or do you correct for it?” he asks. “I have a tendency to err on the side of making things better without seriously altering the film.” So he aimed for “consistency” in dissolves and opticals “without sudden drops in contrast and luminance.”
Lonesome is shot with a remarkably “kinetic camera — it's very free flowing and mobile, with hand-held and dolly shots, which means that a shot changes frame from beginning to end: It’s always easier to work with more static shots,” he explains. “But it's inspiring to see early cinematography that is so free and imaginative. In many ways we’re still catching up to what the masters were doing in the 1920s and ’30s.”
Thelia had a joint session with Kodak’s head of restoration concerning the brief tinted section of the film. “Tinting alters the print itself so it’s very easy to go awry in the restoration process,” he says. “So we spent a lot of time on this portion, which was quite magical for an audience in 1928 that was used to seeing only black and white.”
Thelia used a frame grab of the print with the correct tinting as reference for his grading. “I had to do some secondaries to get it right. There’s a lot of purple in the tinting and purple is a precarious balance of blue and red, which can look really wrong” if graded incorrectly.
Thelia likes Assimilate’s Scratch for its “really comprehensive toolset that’s incredibly fast and powerful. Everything you need for restoration is there — solid grading and compositing tools. Its realtime capabilities are key — we were working at 2K, and it was important to see material played back in realtime.”
He also gives kudos to Scratch’s “very powerful and flexible scaling algorithms for when you need to up-res, down-res and reformat films.” As a member of Scratch’s beta team, he helped Criterion set up its in-house facilities with a Scratch system of its own.