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Restoring Richard III: VistaVision to 4K

COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Debra Kaufman : Restoring Richard III: VistaVision to 4K
CreativeCOW presents Restoring Richard III: VistaVision to 4K -- TV & Movie Appreciation Editorial


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In 1956, Laurence Olivier appeared as the deformed villainous king in Richard III by William Shakespeare in a production he also directed and produced. The idea of working on such a classic project with a prestigious actor must have appealed to many in the U.K. film world, because Olivier gathered quite a cast and crew: cinematographer Otto Heller (The Ladykillers, Alfie, The Ipcress File), editor Helga Cranston (Bonjour Tristesse, Hamlet) and an A list of actors including John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Claire Bloom, and Helen Haye among many others. The film -- which was filmed in VistaVision -- won numerous awards (although Olivier lost out for the Oscar for Best Actor, to Yul Brenner in The King and I).

Richard III was then shortened for later distribution, eliminating shots from the original negative. Although preservation materials were created in the 1980s, The Film Foundation, created in 1990 by Martin Scorsese to protect and preserve motion picture history, recently decided the film merited a full-blown digital restoration. The ensuing 4K restoration was made possible through a collaboration with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Janus Films, the BFI [British Film Institute] National Archive, ITV Studios, MoMA and Romulus Films.

Grover Crisp Sony Pictures Entertainment
Grover Crisp, Executive Vice President of Asset Management, Film Restoration & Digital Mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment
"The Film Foundation had been trying to get a restoration of this film off the ground for a few years," says Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures Entertainment Executive Vice President, Asset Management, Film Restoration & Digital Mastering. "I was giving them some advice on scanning and other issues related to their project and, at one point, I basically just offered to oversee the restoration itself." Crisp has worked with The Film Foundation for many years and knew the organization is avidly committed to the mission of saving historic films.  "Since I knew that a fair amount of the work would be done at Colorworks here at Sony Pictures, it would be possible for me to work on it on some off-hours, so to speak," Crisp adds. "It was a great project and a great one for Colorworks, too, another large format 4K restoration coming on the heels of Lawrence of Arabia. [Editor's note: Read our coverage of the restoration of Lawrence of Arabia here.]

The goal was to create the most complete version of the film possible. In the 1980s, the film had undergone a photochemical restoration/preservation project that resulted in a long version CRI [Color Reversal Intermediate]. "Our work would be the first time digital technologies played a part," Crisp says, who points out that "you never know what you will encounter, of course, until you really get into the work."

When the restoration team did get to work, they encountered a lot of challenges. "The original negative had been shortened early in its life for a broader release," says Crisp. "There were more than three dozen sections of the film where from one-half to two consecutive frames were lost due to the shortening of the negative years ago. The earlier restoration pieced it back together for the most part, but with second and third generation materials. The goal we had from the beginning was to try to locate as much of the original negative cuts as possible and put them back."

Tom Heitman, Director of Preservation and Restoration at New York post/restoration facility Cineric, where the film also underwent a 4K wet-gate scan, spent several months delving into many cans of trims to locate as much original VistaVision negative as possible, a painstaking task that ultimately led to the re-insertion of about 100 shots of original negative. Crisp reports that Heitman (who also gets a credit for restoration supervision) couldn't locate all the relevant trims, however. "Those remaining ten or so shots we could not find we generated from scans of the separation masters," he says.


Although Heitman had seemingly found 100 needles in a haystack, reinserting the cut negative, which was accomplished in a 4K digital file environment, created its own problems. "In restoring the film to as close as possible to its original cut, we did not literally re-cut the negative, but digitally re-inserted all of the missing shots we could find into the film," says Crisp. "That also meant we had to deal with the missing frames." MTI Film CEO Larry Chernoff, whose company worked on this film as well as Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, explains further. "Since the film had been shortened, where deletions were made originally, there were frames missing because the negative was cut and re-spliced," he says.



There were more than three dozen sections of the film where from one-half to two consecutive frames were lost due to the shortening of the negative years ago.



The goal was to create the most complete version of the film possible. In the 1980s, the film had undergone a photochemical restoration/preservation project that resulted in a long version CRI [Color Reversal Intermediate].


Missing frames was not the only problem for the restoration crew. "In addition, the trims were stored in one place and the cut negative was stored in another place, which made the degradation of the film different," says Chernoff. "That created issues of colorimetery and fading. And then there was a tremendous amount of mold on the film, which was another problem. The amount of manual labor -- 5,000 man hours -- to restore the film was extraordinarily intense."

Crisp remarks that the magnitude of the restoration was in part what led him to rely on MTI Film. "Dr. Kevin Manbeck, MTI Film's CTO, who creates the various algorithms used for the software, is remarkable," says Crisp. "They all are very committed to image restoration and solving problems that seem unsolvable."

According to Chernoff, by far the most difficult task was "reproducing from nothing frames that were totally missing and make them look like they were in perfect continuity...and doing it in a way that wasn't an interpolation but rather a continuation."

The splices that were originally made to shorten the film's length, removed a frame or two, sometimes on both ends. But when those frames were simply missing, MTI Film went through a number of steps to recreate them. "It was a very painstaking process of paint and interpolation and frame recreation," says Chernoff.

To recreate the background of the missing frame, the artist could "steal" from adjacent frames. "If the background is still, it's relatively easy," says Chernoff. "If it's moving, it's harder but can be done. It required Correct DRS [MTI Film's full featured restoration toolset] and a fair amount of painting." Characters moving in the foreground increase the challenge. "To make it authentic, you have to isolate the pieces of the characters in the foreground and make them move either by a previous or succeeding frame and making it look like the motion is continuous," explains Chernoff. "If I were moving my arm across my body and one of the middle frames was missing, then it's really a question of making sure my body is in the right position on the phantom frame and using trickery to manipulate the arm of the previous or succeeding frame by isolating it away from its background." Getting it precisely right, so as not to "jump out" of the action was imperative. "Grover's requirements are very exacting," says Chernoff. "He has a terrific eye and can always see a flaw. His objective is always perfection."



To recreate the background of the missing frame, the artist could "steal" from adjacent frames.



After 60 years, the amazing resolution is still there.


Another problem was a great deal of mold on the blue channel. "There was one particular scene that had several thousand frames that were literally unwatchable because the mold was all over the frame," he says. "Fortunately, the mold was not in the same place all the time, so the painstaking process there was to find a clear frame in that area of where the mold was and borrow from Peter to pay Paul. One scene alone took hundreds of hours of work. In the end, although I can't claim perfection, it is now extremely watchable."

The other issue was color fading, and MTI Film was able to put to use a new application specifically developed to correct color fading. Chernoff defines color fading -- or what is also called color "breathing" -- as when the color channels move away from each other in terms of their intensity. "When you first record, the colors are in lockstep, but over time, one or two of the channels will degrade at different rates," he explains. "The effect is you see dominance of one channel over another for a series of frames. So you get this rhythmic "breathing" of the color channels against each other."

MTI Film's new application (soon to be integrated into Correct DRS) measures that error and is able to stabilize the color channels and put them in lockstep. Although the process is assisted by automation, it requires operator intervention. "Not all color breathing is the same," says Chernoff. "A human really has to look at the colorimetry and make a decision of what should be the dominant channel."

"The easiest way to do it is to simply go to the middle of the scene, choose a reference frame and reference channel and make the channels be in lockstep going forward and backward," he continues. "But that's the wrong way to do it. If someone walks into the frame wearing a red jacket, the relationship of the channels changes naturally because you have more dominant red. You have to look at the scene and say, from this point to this point, you're going to use a reference frame that works from the beginning of the scene up until when the red jacket walks in. Then the relationship of the three channels is going to change and you have to decide a new reference and how you're going to readjust the color so that you're not defeating the red channel being dominant."

"As a restoration software developer, we believe you can automate a lot of that -- and make mistakes," he says. "But if you put a human there and make the decisions of where automation should pick up and end, you have a better chance of retaining the integrity of the original photography. There's no shortcut to do a restoration to the absolute highest level. There is no free lunch -- no shortcuts. When you're talking about a film like Richard III or the other films we've been working on, these are iconic pictures and they are scrutinized not just by the studio or people like us but many fans who are very familiar with the film and want to make sure the film's original photography and essence is retained. That's always our objective in a restoration we do."

Sheri Eisenberg
Colorworks Colorist Sheri Eisenberg
Color balancing of the film -- especially in those crucial segments with the re-inserted shots -- was the job of Colorworks Colorist Sheri Eisenberg, who started her work on Richard III while the restoration was ongoing. "The major problems we had to deal with were extreme fading," Eisenberg says. "On some of the reels, different layers had faded at different rates. All those additional shots were stored differently than the rest of the film, so all those individual pieces had their own level of fading and aging. There could be radically different looking frames in the same sequence."

Working with the FilmLight Baselight color corrector, Eisenberg says her work was all about building layers. "First you pick a master shot as a reference point for how everyone looks, the flesh tones, the saturation, how bright the room is," she says. "I'd use that as my guidance still, and constantly keep referring back to that target. Then you keep going at it, building layers on it like a cake, pulling those other shots towards that reference frame. Contrast, saturation, keys, power windows -- whatever tool you need -- to pull those more difficult shots closer to that reference shots."

"Once I get the scene close and matching, if Grover feels he wants to change the tone of the scene, say make it more saturated or darker, it's easy for me to make that change at a global level," she adds.

One interesting factor in creating the DI for Richard III was that Olivier staged and lit the film more like a stage play than a film. "The lighting is not intended to convey cinematic realism," Eisenberg explains. "Grover and I both felt that was true; in scenes where you would expect a more natural lighting to come from a window, because it had this staged, dramatic feel sometimes an actor would walk forward and a key light might come up. It's not how you see feature films today, but we didn't want to disturb that. Grover was insistent on preserving those types of effects--and we did."

Because the restored movie debuted at the BFI (British Film Institute) London Film Festival in October 2012, Eisenberg had to crank through the project in a month's time. "This film wasn't cutty so that helped us out a little bit," she says. "Although it is long. Some shots are three minutes long, which is an incredibly long shot."

Eisenberg also points out that because the movie was shot in VistaVision, which is 8-perf sideways, the negative doubled the resolution of a normal 4-perf film. "All that resolution is on the negative and that's one of the amazing things about Vistavision titles," she says. "You get all the benefits of the movie's elaborate sets and costumes. Even though it created challenges on the restoration level with flicker and sideways scratches, the audience gets a sense of the richness and all the work that went into it. After 60 years, the amazing resolution is still there."

The film's soundtrack was restored at Chace Audio by Deluxe. Sound restoration was based on 1955 master track positive and preserves the original monaural format. The restored Richard III is being released on Blu-ray by Criterion. The "extras" feature a short on the restoration, hosted by Martin Scorsese, with some before-and-after shots highlighting the work.



Richard III - Restoration Demonstration from The Criterion Collection


There is a new 4K DCP available for theatres and Janus Films has the theatrical rights. Work is also underway on creating a new 35mm color negative and print from the restored 4K files. In the meantime, Richard III will play in Italy at the 27th Il Cinema Ritrovato festival. I, for one, would love to see Richard III on the big screen, in all its 4K glory. It could never hurt to let Janus Films know that there's an audience out there for the glorious films of another era.









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