The Wizard of Oz: A Hollywood Jewel Now in 3D and IMAX
COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Debra Kaufman : The Wizard of Oz: A Hollywood Jewel Now in 3D and IMAX
The theatrical release ran just one week, starting Sept. 20, 2013. Oct. 1 will see Warner Home Video's release of the 5-disc 75th Anniversary edition of "The Wizard of Oz" including 2D and 3D Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet versions, as well as bonus features and documentaries.
Seeing this well loved classic on the really big screen – its many layers nicely separated in 3D – made all the artistry and craft that went into this movie shine brightly. The Scarecrow's burlap face, the Cowardly Lion's tail, the fields of poppies....every frame is a jewel box of moviemaking skills that continue to be unacknowledged in the movie's short opening credits.
The idea of changing a classic ordinarily evokes passionate criticisms – remember colorization of B&W films? But this version is likely to delight many fans. The 3D conversion is not distracting in the least…in fact, I felt it revealed so much of the movie that was likely to be missed, also aided by the IMAX projection.
It's good to note that the original filmmakers were no slouches when it came to technology; Dorothy's world in Kansas is sepia toned, until she opens the door of the house and enters the very colorful world of Oz. And fans are sure to enjoy the practical and optical effects – the best that Hollywood had to offer – in an attempt to make The Wizard of Oz as fantastical as possible.
Still, touching a well-known and loved film can be a dicey affair. The project didn't get its start as a spectacular new theatrical release. Instead, Warner Bros.' home entertainment division approached Prime Focus to convert The Wizard of Oz to Stereo 3D for Blu-Ray release. "We were very excited to convert such an old, iconic film," said Prime Focus Vice President, Business Development Chris Del Conte, who was managing director of the Los Angeles office and oversaw the crew that did the 3D conversion. "We were aware that converting such a well-known film to 3D was something the public wouldn't necessarily like. We wanted to treat the film with caution and as the classic that it was."
The Prime Focus team began doing hero shots from different sequences – a few of Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy's house in Kansas and Oz – and, once they got approval, they continued on to focusing on sequences. "As we got into the project and started outputting some good classic sequences, the theatrical side of Warner Bros. started to take notice and the theatrical group took it over," said Del Conte.
The creative work was centered at Prime Focus' Los Angeles facility, where Justin Jones supervised the View-D 3D conversion pipeline. "Everyone on the pipeline understood the significance of converting this movie," he said. "This was an opportunity to make it unique."
Warner Bros. Vice President of Mastering Ned Price also had significant input over creative decisions. "He played a film historian role on this," said Del Conte. "He knew a lot about the film itself and kept us in check. He had original blueprints of the sets. For example, Dorothy's bedroom was 12 feet and it looks too big in the scene. The same went for the wardrobe, down to details such as the lion's tail. He could feed us details and keep us true to the original intention when they shot it in 1939."
CREATING THE DEPTH SCRIPT
A completed depth script is a bar chart, in which the size of the bar represents the amount of full depth range, with the position of the bar relative to a horizontal line shows the depth in front of or behind the screen. "We created depth script was in full collaboration with visual effects supervisor Michael Fink, who was brought on by Warner Bros. to look at the stereo, along with Ned Price," says Jones. "We started with casual conversations, talking about different ways we could treat the depth. Then we moved into testing keystone or hero shots, accelerating the depth to see what it would look like. We converted just under 100 keystone shots, which enabled us to make more accurate decisions."
Part of the testing enabled the team to vary depth for those key moments. "Some of it can be quite subtle, starting with little depth and then increasing," Jones said. Similar to Henry Selick's use of 3D in Coraline to distinguish two different worlds, the Prime Focus conversion team gravitated to the idea of using 3D depth to separate the two worlds in The Wizard of Oz.
The opening and closing credits, as well as the Kansas sequences, were filmed in black and white and colored in a sepia tone process.
"For The Wizard of Oz, we created a more subdued, subtle depth in the B&W and when she opens the door and walks into the Oz world, we open up the depth, to the highest peak of film." Although the Prime Focus team was aware that 3D was adding to the movie's impact, the inspiration came from the original film. "We tried to channel the original filmmaker as much as possible," said Jones.
The original filmmakers had used color – and the lack of it – to separate Kansas and Oz, and some of the early 3D conversion conversations revolved around how to best represent that decision in Z space. "We thought about treating B&W completely flat and then opening up with 3D in the color," said Jones. "But it was 20 minutes of B&W and it didn't give us the effects we wanted, so we gave some depth inside her house. The contrast we were looking for enabled us to keep some depth in the B&W but it took some testing to find the look of that depth in the B&W sections; the keystones helped us work that out."
Dorothy's first look at Oz.
The Wizard of Oz was shot on a sound stage, with backgrounds painted on the studio wall; IMAX and 3D both make that quite clear. "I wasn't worried about the painted backdrops but we flagged it early on to try different looks, especially in the scenes of the munchkins dancing around," said Jones. "We took the same shots and tried three or so versions with Ned and Mike and came to a decision on how to handle it."
What they found – perhaps surprising – was that some depth improved the look. "When we kept it flat, it looked like a soundstage," said Jones. "But when we added some depth, it really looked wonderful. There is no hiding the fact that it's a painted backdrop but adding a little depth created a stylized look that we were happy with."
From left to right: Jakob Gerlich, Jerry Maren and Harry Doll performing "The Lollipop Guild" in The Wizard of Oz
Stereo 3D would also allow them to enhance other aspects of the movie. If the green-faced, pointy-nosed witch scared you when you were 8, she'll scare you a bit more now. "One thing we decided to do was to make the perception be a little uncomfortable anytime you see the witch on screen," said Jones. "We tried ways of exaggerating her features, pulling her prosthetic nose a little bit, a bit of a distorted look, but nothing gimmicky. We used whatever was shot originally as the baseline."
Actress Margaret Hamilton (9 December 1902 – 16 May 1985) as The Wicked Witch of the West (also Miss Gulch in the B&W scenes).
Paying so much attention to the original cinematography revealed how much attention had been paid to foreground, mid ground and background layers, which Prime Focus was able to emphasize via 3D. One spooky scene that got a boost from 3D is when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are in the scary forest, surrounded by monkeys in the trees. "The way they shot that scene in particular, they really layered the depth even in a monoscopic way where they had nice foreground, mid ground and background," said Jones. "It lent itself well to adding stereo because of those isolated areas. In the foreground you had the trees, then the leaves and the monkeys come into that environment. The design was really great."
Likewise, in several of the munchkin scenes were shot with traditional techniques – such as forced perspective – that helped isolate layers and encourage the Prime Focus team to get creative with the use of 3D.
Dorothy, Toto and Glinda the Good Witch (played by Billie Burke) repel from the Wicked Witch.
ROTOSCOPING THE WIZARD
Isolating all those layers – and the items in those layers – was an enormous task. Whereas the Los Angeles facility housed the core creative team, Prime Focus' Mumbai facility handled all the rotoscope work, supervised by Ritesh Aggarwal. All the shots were reviewed on a daily basis in Los Angeles, with regular, periodic sessions with Fink and Price. "We didn't send anything out of house," said Del Conte. "We have 4,500 employees globally and a good percentage of them touched this show."
According to Del Conte, the Los Angeles-based facility acted as "the compositing and artist group to help the overall pipeline and process." That included the some R&D to help the project over the hump, dealing with such issues as grain.
Jack Haley as the Tin Man, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow with Dorothy.
No single scene was more challenging than the others, said Jones. "The biggest challenge was the length of the shots," he said. "Today, most scenes are 3 seconds long, or 72 frames. In The Wizard of Oz, 20 percent of the scenes were over 1,000 frames." Del Conte describes it another way. "An average 100-minute movie is between 1,800 and 2,200 shots," he said. "And The Wizard of Oz was about 650 shots."
There was an upside to fewer shots. "Creatively, it's great," said Jones. "The viewer can look around the scene and see things that are missed when you quickly cut out of the scene." But fewer shots did not equate to less work. "It was lots of pans over the stage showing different elements," said Del Conte. "Slow dollies across the stage ended up being high quality 3D shots. But our work had to be top notch; you'd see any artifacting because you're looking at it for so long."
LONG SCENES/BIG FILES
The complication came not simply from the length of the shots, but the complexity of what was found in every frame. "In a normal shot we might have three characters and a background with 100 layers of isolation," said Jones. "A shot in Munchkin land could involve 200 Munchkins in the foreground, dozens of trees and many other objects. We had thousands and thousands of individual nodes/controls for each layer that had to be put into the shot."
"Normally, our India facility would break up a scene among artists," he continued. "But we started to realize was that it wasn't actually working out as a workflow because so many artists touched the same character. So we switched the workflow and instead had one artist rotoscope one Munchkin throughout the entire sequence. We had to make sure we were creating a process where the India artists could work most efficiently in scenes with over 200 characters in a single shot, and this process worked well."
Prime Focus' Los Angeles facility refined and finessed rotoscoping, paint, and compositing processes. "The host facility in Los Angeles provided the creative leadership," said Jones. "Our stereographers there created look development guides for artists. Nothing we do in this process is automated. Everything is touched by an artist and really sculpted out. We developed those looks in the beginning of the show, created examples and provided them to all the artists."
Judy Garland as Dorothy fast asleep in the magical poppy field.
One issue became file size. "With 50 extras wearing elaborate costumes, trees with blowing leaves, flowers, the files became huge," Jones said. "We had to focus on making our processes more efficient and making the file size manageable." In fact, said Jones, "terabytes of files" went back and forth between Mumbai and Los Angeles every day. The trick to making it work? "We're a 24 hour facility," Jones notes. "We had the bandwidth and just had to time it so we didn't strain the network. We also broke the big files down into smaller files, just one example of how we had to become a lot more efficient."
As Prime Focus came to the close of a 10-month conversion process, Del Conte reported they got word that IMAX had been engaged to do an up-res of the movie. "We were happy to hear that," he said. "The end result is that you'll see a film that people have seen for years that is as big as it can get, and in 3D. It speaks to the idea of seeing the film in a different way for the first time and it'll be a new experience. It'll be a real treat to see it."
I couldn't agree more. I thought I might be bored by a movie I'd seen half a dozen times and instead felt like I was watching it for the first time. In a way, I was. The Wizard of Oz in 3D and IMAX is a rare example of a movie not just enhanced but made complete by new technology.
The Wizard of Oz: IMAX Behind the Frame by IMAXMOVIES
And for a look into the history of The Wizard of Oz and writer L. Frank Baum, the political and social commentary of his day, the early days of Hollywood and filmmaking – including the new "talkies", a peek at the Technicolor workflow and one of the nine cameras used to shoot the film, the sheer word of mouth required to make his stories resonate across a vast audience and the enduring popularity of these classic stories, watch The Smithsonian Channel's The Origins of Oz.
All images Copyright: © 2013 TURNER ENTERTAINMENT CO AND WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. TM & © TURNER ENTERTAINMENT CO. Photo Credit: COURTESY OF WARNER HOME VIDEO