Magazine article American Cinematographer

Post Focus

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Post Focus

Article excerpt

Restoring Dr. Strangelove at 4K

by David Hearing

Stanley Kubrick's 1964 comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, shot by Gilbert Taylor, BSC, has long been considered a gem in the Columbia Pictures library, and Sony Pictures recently gave it added luster with a 4K digital restoration, the first such treatment for a black-and-white title. "We felt that the only way to do the film justice, given the many different [film] elements, their poor condition, and the need to maintain the filmmakers' aesthetic intentions, was to use a complete 4K digital workflow," says Grover Crisp, vice president of asset management and film restoration at Sony Pictures. "It's no secret that the original negative has not existed for 40 years. For many years, Mr. Kubrick had control of the title, and when we needed a print, he would oversee the making of it. Certainly the film is worthy of the highest-quality preservation and restoration. It never had the careful treatment it deserved."

Crisp began examining restoration options for Dr. Strangelove in 2003, as the picture's 40th anniversary approached. There were chemical stains, scratches and dirt either printed into or physically on all existing film elements, "just about any problem you can think of," says Crisp. "Some material wasn't manufactured that well when the film was new, and some had not been handled well for many years. We determined the best elements for restoration were a fine-grain master positive, a duplicate negative and a print; each element was a different number of generations away from the original negative, resulting in wide variations in density and contrast.

"In 2003, digital film restoration at 4K resolution from beginning to end wasn't really being done," he continues. "Then, about a year ago, I began discussing this film with the people at Cineric, a New York lab we had used for other restoration projects. They were looking into creating 4K workflows, including digital intermediates [DIs]. For several years, I've felt that the Ol process is a good model for digital film restoration, but even today, 4K is not routine. Cineric was having specific equipment built for that purpose. Eventually, we decided to go into the project."

Cineric's proven expertise with photochemical film restoration gave Crisp additional confidence. "It helps a great deal to have people doing the digital work who have experience with traditional photochemical processes - people who know film, how it works and how to handle it, and what you can and can't get out of it," he says. "I've found that it's very easy for people who are not steeped in film history from a technical perspective to make some drastic mistakes, even if they have the best intentions."

Cineric spent about six months on Dr. Strangelove. Its team began by sorting through the supplied film elements and choosing the best-quality sequences or, in some cases, individual frames. "In some cases, we had to take a shot from a print," recalls Dan DeVincent, Cineric's digital director and restoration specialist. They used a specially adapted Oxberry film scanner to convert the various elements into data files in 10-bit log DPX, and DeVincent created look-up tables (LUTs) designed to optimize the scanner for each element and achieve the dynamic range of 35mm film. "We could use an LUT on the scanner to bring a shot from the print a lot closer to the fine-grain, and bridge it further using density and contrast correction," says DeVincent. "After noise and dirt removal, we used a digital filtration process to make the final blend."

Cineric engineers developed a wetgate scanning technique that eliminated many flaws. Da Vinci's Revival automated image-restoration software found and fixed other imperfections. During later passes, the Cineric team corrected more dirt and scratches, as well as anomalies such as flicker and unsteadiness. Density fluctuations were addressed in a final color-correction pass. …

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