The Post Process
Aliens, dinosaurs, spaceships and explosions may be the most celebrated showcases for digital technology, but computers offer much more to cinema than just a handy means of creating spectacular effects. Perhaps the most unsung use of the technology is digital restoration, in which every single frame of a classic motion picture is electronically polished back to its original sheen.
The full value of this application may finally be appreciated now that LaserPacific Media Corporation has completed its digital restoration of Gone with the Wind. The restoration was the work of the company's digital visual effects and graphics department, which is helmed by Jerry Hogrewe, the former head of the San Francisco digital effects facility Clear Light Studios.
Since its opening, according to LaserPacific executive vice president Leon Silverman, the department has expanded to six full-time artists and five SGI workstations running Flint, Cineon, Alias Power Animator, Composer and Pandemonium, as well as Macintosh platforms running After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop. The new unit got a workout on Gone with the Wind, since Warner Bros., which is remastering the film for home video and DVD release, is taking the job quite seriously. Each 35mm camera reel took 2 ½ weeks to transfer from negative to DCT at a Warner Bros. in-house telecine suite. Because the work was so painstaking, the transfer stage was ongoing even while LaserPacific was halfway through the digital restoration process.
LaserPacific received D-1 dubs of the DCT tapes, which a team of three artists then carefully restored, one frame at a time, over a four-month period. Most of the problems were predictable: dirt, chemical stains, scratches, color fading, and misaligned splices. But GWTW, which was shot in three-strip Technicolor by Oscar-winners Ernest Haller, ASC and Ray Rennahan, ASC, also presented some other, less typical challenges. In a few cases, Hogrewe reveals, the restoration team found misalignment of the three color layers in the actual photography. More widespread, he says, was shrinkage of one of the original elements. "As a result, the internegative we're working from had slight misalignments caused by the layers shrinking slightly differently," he explains. "We're handling that in Cineon, which has a tool that allows us to isolate the color layers and adjust them, a pixel at a time."
Another problem was distortions in the frame after a misaligned splice. According to Hogrewe, GWTW presented numerous occasions where the splice was so badly misaligned that the printer emitted a foreshortened part of the following frame. In one scene, for example, the necks of two Southern belles at a ball were comically lengthened after the jump of a misaligned splice. Although the facility hadn't completely resolved the issue at the time, Hogrewe believed that Cineon would likely provide a solution. …