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Restoring the Frank Capra Classic, It Happened One Night

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CreativeCOW presents Restoring the Frank Capra Classic, It Happened One Night -- TV & Movie Appreciation Editorial

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Frank Capra's 1934 comedy "It Happened One Night" was recently the subject of a lovingly painstaking 4K restoration by Sony Pictures Entertainment. With tender care to retain the soft, glowing look that Director of Photography Joseph Walker, ASC was so well known for, Colorworks beautifully restored the film with all of the nuance and elegance of the original.



Frank Capra's 1934 comedy It Happened One Night was recently the subject of a lovingly painstaking 4K restoration by Sony Pictures Entertainment in advance of its release on Sony's newly-launched Video Unlimited 4K download service. The first film to sweep the five top Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Best Adaptation), It Happened One Night is the first of five Capra classics slated for re-release in 4K over the next few years.

"This film is incredibly important to the studio," observes Rita Belda, Sony Pictures Entertainment's Executive Director of Asset Management, Digital Mastering and Film Restoration. "It put Columbia on the map in terms of audience awareness and box office. It has been beloved and critically acclaimed from the moment it was released."

The film was released in the last days of the pre-Code era, and during a time when movie studios felt that people needed fantasy and glamour to boost moods in the days of the dark depression, so the gritty, real-world look at two travelers, venturing out on a bus trip with no money and no food was certain to mirror the lives of far too many people – and perhaps bring their own reality too close for comfort. It was a risk, and some say a punishment for a sometimes difficult Clark Gable, but once the film hit the small-town theatres, it did strike cords and became a beloved classic that 80 years on, is still moving, still relevant.


© Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)
Colorworks scanned and graded the 4K master of Frank Capra's classic "It Happened One Night."


The original 35mm negative that served as the basis for the restoration was in poor condition. Belda notes that in the 1930s, it was common practice to use original negative to produce film prints for distribution. As a result, the negative suffered from damage due to overuse. Furthermore, a number of damaged scenes had been replaced by poor quality duplicate elements.

Restoration at Colorworks, Sony Pictures Entertainment's DI facility, began with a newly manufactured wet-gate Fine Grain Master, which had been made from the Original Negative, and was scanned at 4K. The digital files then went through a lengthy digital film restoration process at Prasad Corporation, to address dirt, tears, scratches and other artifacts. The final restored files were graded in 4K at Colorworks.


© Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)


Special care was taken to restore the film in a manner faithful to its original look. Belda points out that while dust and scratches were removed, the texture of the film grain was preserved. "The film was photographed by Joseph Walker who used filters to create a soft, glowing look, particularly in shots of the female stars," Belda explains. "The result is a rich look with a lot of range in the mid-tones. The amount of detail in the negative was startling. It is so beautiful!"

Colorworks senior colorist Scott Ostrowsky notes that the Baselight system that he used to grade the film has sophisticated tools that allow him to apply subtle, highly nuanced adjustments. "This film has a soft, shadowy elegant look and we wanted to be sure to capture that without stepping on the image," he says. "You don't want to crush the blacks."


© Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)
Special care was taken to not crush the blacks and to retain the soft, elegant glow that the DoP created with special use of filters.


The greatest challenge involved those scenes where damaged footage had been replaced by lesser quality duplicate frames. "It was very difficult to establish consistency between those scenes and the high quality, fine-grain print," Ostrowsky says.

Successfully restoring films like It Happened One Night is not simply a matter of technology, Belda notes. It is a result of the passionate commitment of the restoration team, all of whom, she points out, are film lovers themselves. "We have a wonderful partnership with Colorworks," she says. "Their colorists understand the value of our library, and the challenges we face."






About Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)
Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE's global operations encompass motion picture production, acquisition and distribution; television production, acquisition and distribution; television networks; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio facilities; and development of new entertainment products, services and technologies. For additional information, go to http://www.sonypictures.com.

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