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A few words about...™ Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland -- in Blu-ray

A Few Words About

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#1 of 139 Robert Harris

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Posted January 22 2011 - 02:15 PM

If one takes a look at the number of full length animated feature films created under the Walt Disney banner during the first 40 years beginning with Snow White in 1937, the number comes down (unless I'm missing something) to 13 films.


Since the advent of Blu-ray we've been gifted four.  The 1951 Alice in Wonderland will make five, and very shortly in March and April numbers 6 and 7, Bambi and Dumbo, will follow.


All of these Blu-rays have been struck from meticulously crafted HD masters, which in turn were derived by going back not to intermediate film elements, but the original negatives.  To be clear, these are not restorations, although the resultant images are crisp, clean, clear and perfect to the nth degree.  What they are, are new editions, in some ways a new interpretation, based upon the original elements, but purposely created for a new audience, with gorgeous colors and perfectly stable images.  It's important to get that out of the way when discussing these releases, because if not noted, some might be put off by any lack of originality, inclusive of the removal of all grain.  This has come up in discussion each and every time one of these Blu-rays hits the streets.  Like the others there will be someone who notes that they saw the film in 1951, and the blues had a bit more yellow to them, or color, overall, wasn't as dense.

So here it is, loud and clear.  This is neither a 1951 dye transfer print, nor has it been created  to perfectly replicate that original look.  As one of the original animators said when being interviewed after the release of one of the classics on DVD a decade or so ago, and I'm paraphrasing... "They're nice colors.  They're not our colors, but they're nice colors."


The case also needs to be made, that the removal of grain for these new editions is not necessarily a bad thing (although I personally have a few niggling problems with Snow White in stationary scenes).  The resultant images are far more highly resolved and colorful than have ever been seen before.


So before anyone adds to the thread that the films may not perfectly match what was released 50, 60 or 70 years ago, the point is that it doesn't matter.  The films, each and every one, has been properly preserved, and should there be a need to replicate the original looks, the ability is on the menu.


So what do we have in this 60 year old animated classic as far as visuals?


Absolute perfection.  Brilliant colors where called for, beautifully shaded where not.


The audio 'aint bad either, in either 5.1 or the original monaural mix.


This is not your father's Alice in Wonderland, but what it is, is breathtakingly gorgeous, and another welcome addition to the Disney library.

I'm waiting patiently for numbers 8 though 13.


Highly Recommended.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#2 of 139 Mark-P

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Posted January 22 2011 - 02:36 PM

I eagerly anticipate each and every Blu-ray release of a Disney animated classic. I just wish Disney held their live-action catalog titles in such high esteem. Imagine if they were to put out restored Blu-ray editions of Mary Poppins, Old Yeller, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Pollyanna, and Swiss Family Robinson, as well as the 3-strip Technicolor productions of the 50s - Treasure Island, The Story of Robin Hood, and The Sword and the Rose.



#3 of 139 Robert Harris

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Posted January 22 2011 - 02:45 PM


Originally Posted by Mark-P 

I eagerly anticipate each and every Blu-ray release of a Disney animated classic. I just wish Disney held their live-action catalog titles in such high esteem. Imagine if they were to put out restored Blu-ray editions of Mary Poppins, Old Yeller, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Pollyanna, and Swiss Family Robinson, as well as the 3-strip Technicolor productions of the 50s - Treasure Island, The Story of Robin Hood, and The Sword and the Rose.


Posted Image


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#4 of 139 Craig Beam

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Posted January 23 2011 - 04:16 AM

Nothing like a smiley from a man with connections....  I wonder if he knows something we don't....?



#5 of 139 Paul Penna

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Posted January 23 2011 - 05:52 AM



Originally Posted by Craig Beam 

Nothing like a smiley from a man with connections....  I wonder if he knows something we don't....?



I hope so. A proper restoration/transfer/Blu-Ray of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea is my own personal Holy Grail.



#6 of 139 Robert Harris

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Posted January 23 2011 - 05:56 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Paul Penna 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Craig Beam 

Nothing like a smiley from a man with connections....  I wonder if he knows something we don't....?



I hope so. A proper restoration/transfer/Blu-Ray of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea is my own personal Holy Grail.


All that I can say is that Disney has a superb restoration and preservation program, that never sleeps.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#7 of 139 Edwin-S

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Posted January 23 2011 - 07:53 AM

So what you are saying is that, once again, this film is not the film that the original animators, painters and colourists made? It is just more colour manipulated garbage for a "new generation". Another one to avoid. Just great! If Disney removed all the grain from their live action classics and manipulated the colours to the point that they had little resemblance to the original cinematography, there would be nothing but gnashing of teeth and moaning about the destruction of the vision of the original artists. However, screwing with the colour of a classic animated film is just fine. It's unbelievable that I will have to avoid purchasing all of the classic Disney animated films that I have enjoyed for years, including my personal favourite BAMBI.


Disney has destroyed the look, feel and artistic quality of these films with their constant meddlings and manipulations. 

"You bring a horse for me?" "Looks like......looks like we're shy of one horse." "No.......You brought two too many."

#8 of 139 Mark-P

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Posted January 23 2011 - 09:19 AM

I've noticed quite a few high-definition transfers of live-action Disney classics on the Hallmark Movie Channel, so I know they've got serviceable HD transfers out there that blow the current DVDs away, but I can't really judge if these HD transfers that were created for broadcast are good enough for Blu-ray or not. I'm sorry for derailing a thread that is supposed to be about Alice.  Posted Image

Originally Posted by Robert Harris 


All that I can say is that Disney has a superb restoration and preservation program, that never sleeps.


RAH





#9 of 139 cafink

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Posted January 23 2011 - 03:39 PM


Originally Posted by Robert Harris 

So before anyone adds to the thread that the films may not perfectly match what was released 50, 60 or 70 years ago, the point is that it doesn't matter.  The films, each and every one, has been properly preserved, and should there be a need to replicate the original looks, the ability is on the menu.



This seems like a pretty good explanation for why it wouldn't matter to a film historian or archivist.  I'm neither, however.  I'm a consumer.  I like to buy movies on disc and watch them.  And while I understand why it's important for Disney to have high-quality elements that are faithful to the original release, it doesn't do me any good if they're not available on DVD or Blu-ray.  I think the complaints are perfectly legitimate, and certainly can't agree that "it doesn't matter."


 

 


#10 of 139 Robert Harris

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Posted January 23 2011 - 04:15 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by cafink 


Originally Posted by Robert Harris 

So before anyone adds to the thread that the films may not perfectly match what was released 50, 60 or 70 years ago, the point is that it doesn't matter.  The films, each and every one, has been properly preserved, and should there be a need to replicate the original looks, the ability is on the menu.



This seems like a pretty good explanation for why it wouldn't matter to a film historian or archivist.  I'm neither, however.  I'm a consumer.  I like to buy movies on disc and watch them.  And while I understand why it's important for Disney to have high-quality elements that are faithful to the original release, it doesn't do me any good if they're not available on DVD or Blu-ray.  I think the complaints are perfectly legitimate, and certainly can't agree that "it doesn't matter."


I understand your position, but things are actually even more complex.  Beyond the removal of grain, but not resolution, which is totally in place, it is doubtful that anyone without an approved 1951 dye transfer print, or who worked on the film originally and holds reference, would see a difference.  Colors have been referenced to original cells from the Disney archive, and while the Blu-ray may not match an original print, there has been a very serious efforts to create an extremely high quality experience.  One almost gets into the old query of whether there is sound if a tree falls in an desolate forest.  Matching to people's memories is of no value, nor is any discussion by the public of whether the new release accurate matches VHS tapes, laser discs or DVDs, which were all different from the original look.  In the end, the Blu-ray is extremely high resolution and very pleasing to the eye.


Further discussion would entail how color was captured through filters and exposed to the original SE negative, how layers of cells within multi-plane sequences are affected by the densities of layers of cells, as well as the intricacies of the production of Technicolor printing matrices and the imbibition of dyes to prints.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#11 of 139 Edwin-S

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Posted January 23 2011 - 04:40 PM

The classics used to have a subdued colour palette that gave them a painterly pastel look. Now the colours are bright and garish which makes the older films look very similar to Disney's more recent output....harsh and flat. Not one of Disney's new animated films can hold a candle, in terms of quality of background art, to the classics. The backgrounds in Disney's new films all look flat and simplistic and now they have succeeded in making their old ones look a lot like the new ones. It is not an improvement. Some unquantifiable quality has been lost from these old films.

"You bring a horse for me?" "Looks like......looks like we're shy of one horse." "No.......You brought two too many."

#12 of 139 bigshot

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Posted January 27 2011 - 11:35 AM

The fact that these are recreations and not restorations wouldn't matter if we had the choice of whether we wanted to see Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland or a team of computer recolorists' Alice in Wonderland. But we don't have that choice. All we get is what they give us. The history of animation is culturally significant, and Disney's contribution is a very important element of it. There is absolutely no difference between recoloring Fantasia and Alice in Wonderland and colorizing Citizen Kane. At least with most other colorized films we get a choice because they include the original version on the same disk. But it's not just color. The soundtracks are being totally remixed. New sound effects are replacing the original ones. Dialogue is being added and redubbed by modern voice actors. Grain smoothing is obliterating background textures. Double exposed effects animation and ripple glass effects are being eliminated. And scenes are being recropped, edited and digitally painted to eliminate "offensive" cigarettes and black characters. All of this monkeying with classic films that are part of our American heritage... and you try to tell us up front that we have no right to complain because it's flawlessly clean now? I agree. It is what it is. A pristine digital mustache on a cinematic Mona Lisa. Stephen Worth Director ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive

#13 of 139 bigshot

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Posted January 27 2011 - 11:45 AM

By the way, all the talk about not knowing precisely what the proper color balance of Alice should be is nothing but smoke. There's plenty of reference on Alice. Disney's ARL has everything they need to do a good job of it. The fact is, they may say they spent weeks referencing original artwork, but the evidence on the screen grabs at DVD Beaver shows they didn't. Her hair was never that color of electric yellow orange. Look at the other video transfers and you'll see that aside from sequences keyed to specific lighting or time of day, her hair has always been the same color. And as an animation art restorer, I can tell you that is the same color that is on the cels. They flat out made up these colors. The restoration team that never sleeps should take a break, step back and reevaluate whether they are being respectful of the original creative choices made by the artists at Disney. Like a thousand monkeys with typewriters trying to write Shakespeare, it's going to take a million years for the sleepless team of video recreationists to come up with a color scheme to rival that of Mary Blair. Her unique sense of color is what makes Alice such a good film. You'd never know that now.
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#14 of 139 Jeffrey Nelson

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Posted January 27 2011 - 02:09 PM

Thanks for that expert info, Stephen.  I'm interested to hear what our expert Robert H. Harris might have to say in response.  I respectfully but vehemently disagree with this statement of his, and am totally surprised to see this coming from him:



  So before anyone adds to the thread that the films may not perfectly match what was released 50, 60 or 70 years ago, the point is that it doesn't matter.  The films, each and every one, has been properly preserved, and should there be a need to replicate the original looks, the ability is on the menu.



It most certainly DOES matter, and though the ability may be on the menu, they ain't givin' us the original looks, so said ability ain't doin' jack.  If I had a choice on the Blu-ray menu of "Original Theatrical Color Scheme" or "Brand-New Color Scheme Dreamt Up By Studio Nitwits For People Who Don't Like Classic Animation", it would be different.


I really wish they'd quit messing around with the colors on these films.  For such sins, they should be caged by Stromboli forever and forced to copulate thrice daily with Malificent in dragon form.



#15 of 139 Robert Harris

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Posted January 28 2011 - 04:57 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jeffrey Nelson 

Thanks for that expert info, Stephen.  I'm interested to hear what our expert Robert H. Harris might have to say in response.  I respectfully but vehemently disagree with this statement of his, and am totally surprised to see this coming from him:


  So before anyone adds to the thread that the films may not perfectly match what was released 50, 60 or 70 years ago, the point is that it doesn't matter.  The films, each and every one, has been properly preserved, and should there be a need to replicate the original looks, the ability is on the menu.



It most certainly DOES matter, and though the ability may be on the menu, they ain't givin' us the original looks, so said ability ain't doin' jack.  If I had a choice on the Blu-ray menu of "Original Theatrical Color Scheme" or "Brand-New Color Scheme Dreamt Up By Studio Nitwits For People Who Don't Like Classic Animation", it would be different.


I really wish they'd quit messing around with the colors on these films.  For such sins, they should be caged by Stromboli forever and forced to copulate thrice daily with Malificent in dragon form.


There are several different things occurring here.


The most important is that Disney has the desire, as well as the right, to create what is essentially a new version of a classic work,

that with specificity is designed to appeal to kids brought up on bright colors, not muted tones.  They are not re-editing to the style

of a music video, they are updating the color scheme.


Opinions regarding most of this doesn't matter.  My opinion certainly doesn't matter.  My personal preference would be to reproduce

as perfectly as possible within the parameters of an HD master, the original look, textures, color and resolution of the original work.


Not the cells.  Not the SE negative.  But that singular work knows as the "final approved answer print."  That would be my hero for

reference.  Apparently, that print no longer survives.  The color as referenced to the original cells is also a problem, as there was a

defined knowledge of how many layers down in the multi-plane the various cells were, how with great specificity, the inked information

on the cells, as well as the affect of the the cells themselves, had on the exposures as captured by the black and white SE negative.


On top of which are the types of dyes used in 1951 to imbibe the prints -- 1951 prints will look different from 1965 prints, the washback,

and all the other elements involved in creating the 300 or so prints that came AFTER the final approved answer print -- which from

my experience would have looked reasonably different from the majority of original prints as struck, from however many different

sets of matrices, and taking into account the wear on the sets of matrices as prints were struck.


Believe it or not, the archival staff at Disney are an extremely intelligent group, who not only have the necessary technical

capabilities to do their jobs, but genuinely care about film.  They're doing the best that they can based upon corporate guidelines

toward the creation of whatever new edition is dictated.  On top of that they have made certain that the original film elements

continue to survive, are not in any way damaged, and are available to create whatever is requested in the future.


Bottom line.  There is no absolute reference.  There are approximates, guidelines, researched attributes, and dedicated

thoughtful guesses, but there is no reference.


But most important for the survival of the library, the new Blu-ray will be loved by children, and will provide income to Disney,

at least a portion of which will be funneled back into film preservation.


For those who have a desire to see the film in a state which approximates its look in 1951, prints are occasionally screened at

archives.  If any when the Disney classics ever make it back into theaters, they will undoubtedly arrive as DCPs and not 35mm

prints, which are about to become an afterthought, and a part of our archaic technology which goes back 110 or so years.


I'm very happy with the ability to view an old 35mm dye transfer print should I really feel the need, while also in the short term

to be able to pop a tiny disc into a player and see a slightly modernized version that is sharper, and with more clarity than has

ever been seen before.


All of that said, I can't wait to see the reaction to Bambi, which I first saw around 1949, in nitrate.  And while I have absolutely

no memory of that screening, am aware of the muted tones as designed for the production.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#16 of 139 Brian Borst

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Posted January 28 2011 - 05:58 AM

It's obviously great that Disney puts money and effort into film preservation, but what's the point of that when none of that can be seen by consumers? Parents will buy it anyway, and little children will watch it anyway, whether the colors are bright and altered or the original ones. So, Disney could throw the animation fans a bone, and give us the original movie (with the original logos) and packed with interesting bonus material. They choose not to, most of the time. It's like George Lucas fully restoring the original trilogy, and then saying that he won't be releasing them any time soon.


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#17 of 139 FoxyMulder

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Posted January 28 2011 - 06:02 AM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 

Quote:

Originally Posted by cafink 


Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Harris 

So before anyone adds to the thread that the films may not perfectly match what was released 50, 60 or 70 years ago, the point is that it doesn't matter.  The films, each and every one, has been properly preserved, and should there be a need to replicate the original looks, the ability is on the menu.



This seems like a pretty good explanation for why it wouldn't matter to a film historian or archivist.  I'm neither, however.  I'm a consumer.  I like to buy movies on disc and watch them.  And while I understand why it's important for Disney to have high-quality elements that are faithful to the original release, it doesn't do me any good if they're not available on DVD or Blu-ray.  I think the complaints are perfectly legitimate, and certainly can't agree that "it doesn't matter."


I understand your position, but things are actually even more complex.  Beyond the removal of grain, but not resolution, which is totally in place, it is doubtful that anyone without an approved 1951 dye transfer print, or who worked on the film originally and holds reference, would see a difference.  Colors have been referenced to original cells from the Disney archive, and while the Blu-ray may not match an original print, there has been a very serious efforts to create an extremely high quality experience.  One almost gets into the old query of whether there is sound if a tree falls in an desolate forest.  Matching to people's memories is of no value, nor is any discussion by the public of whether the new release accurate matches VHS tapes, laser discs or DVDs, which were all different from the original look.  In the end, the Blu-ray is extremely high resolution and very pleasing to the eye.


Further discussion would entail how color was captured through filters and exposed to the original SE negative, how layers of cells within multi-plane sequences are affected by the densities of layers of cells, as well as the intricacies of the production of Technicolor printing matrices and the imbibition of dyes to prints.


RAH



Isn't there a very slight blur effect seen in these animated releases when the film texture gets removed, to my eyes anyway i tend to see this, now i'm not talking major issue here but a slight blur to some scenes when the grain texture has been totally removed.


The other problem i have is that some of these films can then end up looking like HD video, not film like at all, as far as the classic releases go i think Pinocchio was handled well although my USA version is missing two small lines of dialogue, i understand you can get a replacement to rectify that but it's troublesome to have to do that from the UK.


Incidentally Dumbo has been available in the UK for some time now, i don't think it looks great, like i said above i feel the film texture is lost, i know people say with animation it's not a problem and they accept it, hell i buy these releases so in a way i'm accepting it but i wish Disney would leave more of the film texture intact.


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#18 of 139 bigshot

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Posted January 28 2011 - 06:10 AM

Whoever told you that cel densities made it impossible to accurately match colors is making it up. I happen to be one of the two or three leading authorities on animation cel restoration. I own two of the three paint mills Disney used to manufacture all of the paint from the black and white era all the way through Oliver and Company. I have the proprietary Disney paint formula and manufacture the Disney paint using the original pigments, some of which haven't been made in fifty years. I've interviewed numerous ink and paint ladies and was trained to make the paint by Disney's former chemist. The correction for density shifts were done on the cel, not in the camera. The ink and paint department had a set of letdowns for each color in the palette, and they calculated how far down in the stack a cel would be and used a color that matched visually the same at the bottom of the stack as it did at the top. This means that production cels can vary slightly on shots with more than five levels (a very small percentage of shots) However, in the Disney Animation Research Library is a book with the main color models for every character in this picture. I've seen this myself because I consulted on a project about 15 years ago that involved the Alice color palette. That book gives them everything they need to do an accurate color balance. The models are not corrected for density shifts. They are the colors that Technicolor was instructed to match. Disney worked with Technicolor to match to their swatches of paint as carefully as the process could. They provided samples of every color of paint they used to Technicolor and had them do wedge tests to try to match them precisely. When Technicolor was unable to precisely match the color on the cels, the ink and paint department would adjust slightly to bring the color within the range that Technicolor could manage. They did not make gross adjustments of the Technicolor timing to create effects. The color schemes and lighting effects were keyed into the artwork. Arguing that it is impossible to know what the original colors were on a film shot and painted on nitrate stock may be justifiable. Disney may not have approved prints or a complete set of model cels from films earlier than Cinderella. But Alice was shot of safety stock and used triacetate cel stock. They have plenty of reference on what colors are correct. This is a smokescreen thrown up to make excuses for the fact that they never intended to follow the original look of the film in the first place. The plain and simple truth is that people who could never make a film like this themselves are second guessing the creative decisions of the people who did. Sure, this film is a "product" that is owned by a corporation who has the legal right to paint it in dayglo colors if they want to. But the Disney films are also important cultural creative landmarks, and as such, there is a moral obligation to preserve and restore them. Disney is great at preservation. Their film elements are in better shape overall than any other studio. But they are the worst at restoration. How do they get away with passing off heavily altered versions of their films as being "restored"? Well, you answered that yourself. Most people today have no idea what these films looked like in the first place. The old timers who made these pictures are almost all dead, so they can't complain. The audience doesn't know. Who is left to defend the films against revisionist meddling? That is the job of archivists, film scholars and preservationists. Unfortunately, at Disney those people answer to executives and marketing people, not their own moral compass of the right and wrong way to restore a film. Disney is spending a great deal of money on these intrusive techniques. I can see how film preservationists, who normally aren't the best paid people in Hollywood, would get seduced by the paychecks. I'm sure they justify it to themselves by saying that the original elements are safe and someone can always come back in the future and do a proper job of transferring these films. That's great for them. The audience and the legacy of the people who sweat blood to make these great films are the only ones being cheated.

#19 of 139 Robert Harris

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Posted January 28 2011 - 06:15 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by bigshot 

The correction for density shifts were done on the cel, not in the camera. The ink and paint department had a set of letdowns for each color in the palette, and they calculated how far down in the stack a cel would be and used a color that matched visually the same at the bottom of the stack as it did at the top. This means that production cels can vary slightly on shots with more than five levels (a very small percentage of shots)

 

Which is precisely what I was attempting to report.  And for that reason, pulling an incorrect cell as reference, could create problems.


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#20 of 139 FanboyZ

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Posted January 28 2011 - 06:23 AM

The change from pastel colors to more modern vibrant tones are just as bad as what Fox did to Predator.

I'll still purchase it however.




Back to Blu-ray



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