Color Restoration Issues

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Bob Furmanek, Apr 5, 2013.

  1. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    The whole debate over the look of Hammer's DRACULA has got me thinking about the archivists approach to color restoration. I'm curious to get your opinions on this issue.

    In March 1952, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD was photographed by Stanley Cortez on standard Eastman color negative. The release prints were made later that year in the new SuperCinecolor three color process consisting of red, blue and yellow. It was basically an extension of their two color system with the addition of a yellow record.

    [​IMG]

    As you can see in the image below, the initial SuperCinecolor palette did not faithfully replicate certain colors. For instance, note the green hat that Lou is wearing. In the original 35mm prints, the hat is blue.

    This film was one of the first three color releases by Cinecolor and they quickly refined the system. By the time INVADERS FROM MARS was printed for release in April 1953, green was well represented in the martian costumes.

    The original color camera negative for KIDD is long gone. About twenty years ago, I found the three color separation masters in England. I was able to acquire them and they were donated to the UCLA Film Archive. In 2002, Bob Gitt and Cinetech did preservation work. Three color Cinecolor does not conform to standard YCM specifications as used by the Technicolor lab and Cinetech had a very difficult time replicating an accurate color palette from the separation elements.

    The new element looked very good in the nighttime and exterior scenes which originally had a strong blue bias. However, the daytime exterior shots did not turn out as well and have a pastel look.

    The UCLA restoration was finally released on DVD in the Warner Archive series in 2011. Unfortunately, it's a straight transfer from the 35mm preservation element with no further attempt at color correction.

    Here are three frames as a comparison; the first is from a 1952 SuperCinecolor print; the second is from the UCLA restoration and the third is my humble attempt to color correct in Photoshop.

    Which do you prefer?

    Do you feel the film should be restored and seen exactly as it appeared theatrically in 1952, or should it look as close as possible to the actual color during principal photography?

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Well, for me, the restoration in the middle is the weakest and least desirable. The other two offer their own pluses and minuses. I kind of lean to the original look.
     
  3. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Any discussion may be a bit more oblique. Is the SCC print merely a surviving print, or is there some indication that it may be some type of approved AP, and therefore a bona fide reference?
     
  4. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    No, it's a surviving theatrical release print.
    At one time, I had three original SCC prints and all had the same color values.
     
  5. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

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    I'd say go with the original look. The middle one looks bleached and washed-out, and the blue hat is green for some reason.
     
  6. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    Thanks, I explain in my text why the hat is blue in the first scan. Green is the correct color.
     
  7. Richard--W

    Richard--W Banned

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    Wonderful question, Bob. Tough question. I had a hunch from your other posts that you might present us with a dilemma to discuss.

    I wish your screen grabs were larger in size so that I could see the detail. I prefer your photoshop experiment although you may have compensated with too much green. Less is more in these matters. When the orginal process does not accurately record the color spectrum, it's a judgment call. If the process is extremely and radically inaccurate originally, than perhaps more extensive correction is called for. I wouldn't release a transfer that looked like the first grab if it could be improved without violating the process so that it looks like something else. Personally, I don't mind if a clinical approach to color correction is taken so long as the process isn't radically altered. An antique color process is what it is.

    As a rule, when the process accurately records the color spectrum, a transfer should comply with the mix the director and photographer decided on. In other words, the answer print determines the grading for digital media transfers. If this isn't done when the all materials are available to facilitate it, somebody is operating on the wrong mission statement or is unsuitable for the job.

    Early processes like two-strip Technicolor, Magnacolor, Trucolor and Cinecolor did not capture the full range of the color spectrum so therefor an accurate transfer would maintain the inherent limitations. Case in point would be the Roy Rogers musical THE BELLS OF CORONADO (Republic, 1950) shot in Trucolor, a process with a torquise bias. Torquise as in blue-green. Evidently some tweaking was done for the Republic Pictures / Lionsgate DVD which, although badly interlaced, gets the fleshtones right and finds a nice even balance of color across the spectrum within the inherent limitation. My feeling is that the correction should be minimal; I mean extremely minimal. The result is quite pleasing and must be very, very close to what audiences saw in 1950. It doesn't seem as if the original decisions were violated or radically altered because the inherent limitation is still present only not as much. Whoever was responsible for this transfer had good judgment and wise eyes. Do check it out.

    I suspect Warner Archive did some judicious tweaking on FORT OSAGE and WAGONS WEST (both 1952), two westerns shot in Cinecolor included in Monogram Cowboy Collection volume 2. The limitation -- a blue bias -- of Cinecolor is obvious, but again, the adjustment is minimal and seems intended to correct flesh tones rather than change the color. The films look fine. No complaints.
     
  8. HDvision

    HDvision Screenwriter

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    The 1952 look is best. The restoration doesn't look like film, it's a problem many Blu-ray restorations have, in essence, the whole look of the movie is ruined.

    I don't think your adjustment make it either, thought it's better than the restoration. I think basically if I was at the color correction stage, assuming the movie is scanned already, that the aim should be to restore the 1952 look as accurately as possible, while allowing being creative when the color information is just not there on the original 35mm preservation elements.

    However this take time and time is money. That's one of the reasons some transfers of old films are just straight and look drab. Money is the key to allow a good color reconstruction.

    Where many color correctors get it wrong is they aim for a natural look on HD with natural fleshtones. That's not how these movies looked originaly, they just make old film look like TV.
     
  9. JSul

    JSul Stunt Coordinator

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    Take what actions are necessary to preserve/create the original look of the film.
     
  10. Will Krupp

    Will Krupp Screenwriter

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    Aesthetically, I tend to lean heavily towards the 1952 grab as well.

    While I am normally always in favor of video transfers of films made in a limited color process retaining those limitations (don't get me started on the DVD of MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM) I guess, technically, this is a little different. It was shot on Eastmancolor so the full color range IS available but wasn't seen in the original release. Hmmmmm. Still, Super Cinecolor had its own unique look so I think a good restoration should be the best possible representation of that specific look without trying to turn it into what a straight color positive print of the same materials might look like.

    Maybe I'm biased because I still have fond memories of CAPTAIN KIDD from Sunday mornings on WPIX Channel 11 out of New York. Abbott & Costello every Sunday morning from 11:30am-1:00pm and I loved when they showed this one because it was in color (they apparently didn't have rights to BEANSTOCK as they never to my knowledge aired it) and all these years later I have vivid memories of the overwhelming blue and gold tone.
     
  11. ahollis

    ahollis Lead Actor

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    I'll take the 1952 shot anytime. Is the 2002 UCLA Resteration really that dull?
     
  12. schan1269

    schan1269 HTF Expert
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    Having studied film archiving...yet not done it "as a job"...

    I prefer the original look. But I'm a film purist anyway. To me, fixing what was done because "that was the only way to do it at the time", falls to the same prey as "not as the director intended".

    Now, if said "color people" are still around from having made the film...and THEY SAID to change the things that can be changed...sure.
     
  13. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    Thanks for all the comments, I really appreciate hearing your thoughts.

    Here are larger images. The 1952 and 2002 are straight scans from 35mm without any manipulation. The 2013 is one that I messed around with in Photoshop. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a pro in this area!

    [​IMG]
     
  14. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Screenwriter

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    Will more or less refers to a nostalgia factor in preferring the original look and I tend to agree with that. I don't expect nor particularly want films of then to look like films of now. I'm for preserving the original theatrical presentation unless it was seriously compromised by outside forces that unduly interfered and intruded upon the collaborative filmmaking intentions. If I had to make a choice I would favor conservation over restoration, but I realize that isn't always the best marketing tool.
     
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  15. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    The 2002 restoration greatly improves the nightime scenes from the 1952 SCC, which were VERY dark and blue-biased.
     
  16. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Screenwriter

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    Unfortunately that's where restorations start, with the best of intentions, but how often do the technology toys of today take those intentions to excessive and undesirable lengths? I'll stick with the dark/blue nighttime scenes if it approximates the original presentation. I want to immerse myself in the original experience from 1952 as best I can, not one of 50 years later. It's a fine line and some studios cross it too often for my tastes.
     
  17. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    But they're not blue because it's night, they're deep blue because of the SCC printing.

    Look what it did to Lou's green hat...
     
  18. Will Krupp

    Will Krupp Screenwriter

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    You did great!

    Although, being a 1.85 fascist I'm sure you think it would look better THIS way:

    1.85fascist.jpg

    ;) (heheh)

    On a semi-related note, I'm devastated as I have mislaid my copy of your excellent A&C book and can't seem to find it anywhere!! I've had it for 20 years and I pray it turns up!
     
  19. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Screenwriter

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    But therein lies the quandary of seeing what the film's technicians originally saw or what the film's first audiences saw. I tend to favor the latter despite the inherent period limitations, but I understand the necessity, both from an aesthetic and commercial perspective, to improve upon the past. Seeing as how I am not even bothered by reel change marks left on old movies on DVD, I am probably not the target audience for much of the restoration that is being done nowadays. However, I do respect that people might want a better presentation than what they would have gotten decades ago. I just tend to be cynical about modern day studios and all their playthings. Give them an inch and they take a mile!
     
  20. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    All very good points and I'm curious to get RAH's input on this matter. Would he go with blue or green for the hat?

    Will, you're killing me. Always remember: Boxy IS Beautiful!

    If you don't find your book, I still have some extra copies available.
     

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