Prepping Peter Pan for Blu-ray
As part of the recent 2012 Home Theater Forum Hollywood meet we had the opportunity to meet with Sara Duran, Senior Vice President Post Production at Walt Disney Studios. She talked to us about the work that went into the Peter Pan Blu-ray due for release on February 5th 2013. Here is a transcript of that presentation.
Sara Duran: Hi, thank you. I’m giving you a warning, I’m fighting a cold, so I may be a little slimy, I apologize. So thank you for joining me today as I’m going to walk you through the restoration and high-definition remastering of the 1953 Disney animated classic Peter Pan. Over the past few years Disney has gone back into its rich film library and remastered its classic animation and classic live action titles for release on Blu-ray and HD broadcast. This has been possible due to four key issues. They are: a good or hopefully great film element, the studio's active ongoing support, an experienced and talented team of film and animation experts and partners with cutting-edge restoration technology. Luckily here at Disney we have all four. The key to all these is the film element. Disney has one of the most valuable film libraries in the business. And we have successfully re-released timeless animation classics to generation after generation of audiences.
So we must make sure that our valuable assets are preserved and protected. So that's where I am starting today. Like all other studios, Disney is faced with aging elements which are at high risk of being lost forever due to degradation caused by various factors. One of these is called vinegar syndrome.
Isn't it lovely? When the acetate in the film begins to breakdown due to improper storage or just age, the film becomes brittle. You can see around the edges where it's becoming really brittle and it gives off a strong vinegar odor.
If you open a can of film and you smell vinegar, just close it. It's toast with nothing you can do. And you want to get it away from any other film elements because it’s like a little virus, for whatever reason it can jump. Another risk to our film libraries is nitrate degeneration. This happens when nitrate film is stored improperly or at the wrong temperature. The film begins to decompose. This is irreversible because the emulsion becomes sticky. And these pretty yellow bubbles start to show up. Now, if you open a can of film and see those yellow bubbles or you smell a really foul sickly sweet smell which I couldn’t smell right now [due to her cold].
Close the lid, throw it in a bucket, then God forbid don’t light a match because this is what's going to happen to you. [Plays video of nitrate film vault on fire. Here is a different video than was shown, but one that shows how flammable it is.]
Damaged footage from the dup negative of Steamboat Willie, courtesy of Disney
Luckily due to Disney Studio's forward thinking several safety copies had been made over the years. And we were able to pull those out of the library and scan those, and recover that nine missing feet. Unfortunately these were several generations away, but we were able to match it to that original 1934 dupe and restore Steamboat Willie. And that restoration has become the key part of the new Disney Animation logo which you will see today when you see Wreck-It Ralph which by the way is fabulous.
We have a lot of support when it comes to preserving or restoring our Disney Studio library. Disney has spent lot of time and lot of money over the years to preserve our assets. Starting in the 1950s when we transferred our nitrate soundtrack negatives to 35mm negative, now you know why because we didn’t want that nitrate sitting around and followed by the '80s when we also made backup safety masters of our nitrate negatives as well to our most current project which we started in 2008 in conjunction with the Library of Congress. We pulled back our film -- our nitrate negatives and safety negatives which we had on loan to the Library of Congress, brought them back here, scanned them at 4K which allowed us to kind of lock down the film as it was. This meant that if there was any further degradation, it won't affect those scans.
The scans preserve the content on the negative and it captured it at the highest resolution. We then internally found out the new archival black and white successive exposure negatives and returned those along with those original nitrate and safety negatives back to the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at Culpeper, Virginia which we're seeing a shot of some of the storage.
Image courtesy the National Audio-Video Conservation Center
This is also better known as the Library of Congress Audio and Visual Center. They store it as a film at the correct temperature and humidity settings to further delay any degradation. And they, believe me, are much better equipped to deal with nitrate storage than we are. Before we did these high resolution scans all of our previous video and DVD releases of our animated classics, were master it from telescene film elements separate multiple film generations away from that original source.
We did this at that time because this was the cutting-edge technology and also because there was a fear that any current systems, any telescene, scanners could not handle that delicate negative. It was too risky. We didn't want to put a film in there and have it shredded to pieces and have lost it forever. But because of going several generations away from the original negative these transfers often lack color, sharpness and vibrancy. These masters also have more of a grain buildup and the colors had kind of drifted away from the filmmaker's original intent due to all the different built in film stocks over the years.
But again I want to reiterate, this was the cutting-edge technology at the time this was done. And this was the best possibly way to do it. But now however even if those 4K preservation scans that we have done in conjunction as I said with the Library of Congress we can pull these scans in and use that as our original picture source. This means that there are no multiple photochemical steps built into the image. It is the same image that the filmmaker shot whether in the '30s on Snow White or the '50s on Peter Pan. Whereas we like to say it is the film that Walt touched, we literally touched it which is -- for us -- we get all “buzzy” about that.
By using the original negative we have much less grain and we have a lot more accurate color representation. The final product ends up sharper, brighter and more color saturated. Those new 4K files are sent to our restoration partners at Reliance Media who used to be Lowry Digital. And I don’t know if you guys know Lowry -- yeah, everybody who has been in the business knows John Lowry. We've worked with them during this whole restoration program they've done everything that we've done. They down res it to 2K and they worked with us on a pristine dirt cleanup and they also worked on some animation fixes that we feel are appropriate to tackle.
We then color time that -- those files to match the filmmaker's original intent under the supervision of the Disney animation restoration team. Now, you may wonder how do we know what the filmmaker's original intent was? Well this is where that very expansive and talented team comes in. Here at Disney Studios we are incredibly lucky to have such a talented group of people with a wide breadth of knowledge. We have experts in Disney animation art and history, film methodology, film history and preservation and of course in animation. The team has among them well over 100 years of experience in film preservation, restoration and animation.
We researched all the available artwork on Peter Pan that was at the studio's animation research library which is another great benefit that we have here at the Disney Studio. We even pulled out some of the original Peter Pan backgrounds and we shot them on film on cameras very similar to the multi-plane camera that you saw in the lobby.
To see what they looked like on film we projected, we then transferred to really see how those backgrounds looked originally. And when we can find one, we search high and low, we went down to UCLA theater archives. We reached out to people's private supplies, we tried to find out any original print and we tried to screen that as well.
This allows us to confidently color time our films. And fix any animation mistakes which we feel Walt and his animation team would have fixed if they had the time, the money and the ability. The team is very aware of the Walt Disney animation legacy. And we often stop to think, okay, what would Walt have done if he could have done this, what would he have done? And we have lively debates about it. We are constantly saying should we fix this, should we not fix this? Is this one intentional, was it non-intentional? And when we first started this program actually some of the Nine Old Men were still alive. And we actually reached out to them whenever we could. So we are always aware of that legacy and we always try to keep Walt right over our shoulder whenever we restore one of his classic titles.
Now, here are some fun facts about the restoration of Peter Pan. The project took nearly a year from start to finish. The safety negative that was scanned is from 1952, so it’s well over 60 years old, actually that’s young in Disney animation years. So that's a young title for us. When we scanned the film we scanned over 328,000 frames or approximately 3.89 miles of film. Okay, now, that's enough talking for right now. Let’s take a look at the Peter Pan. I will first show you a clip from the last DVD release of Peter Pan which was done using that previous method of scanning a film element that was several generations away. And then I will follow it with a clip from the Blu-ray master which came from the original safety negative.
I want you to look at this [clip from first DVD release] and you'll see it actually looks pretty good because Disney has such a high standard. We are always trying to do the best that we can. So when this was done we were pushing the boundaries as far as we could. But some things to look at, is it's just soft, the character lines are soft, the sort of colors are kind of plugged up, there is not a lot of detail in the backgrounds. Everything is just kind of plugged up. It just feels kind of soft, a little bit muddy and not quite sharp. The color saturation isn't as good as we would like it. But it’s clean, yeah, I mean, there is not a lot of animation errors. And you know, when this was released it was incredibly enjoyable and was cutting edge and it looks good. It’s just not good enough for Blu-ray anymore. So we're constantly challenging ourselves.
So now, let’s take a look at what we did off of the original safety negative. You will notice when it runs that the colors are brighter, the lines are sharper -- look at those lines [black lines outlining objects]. The character lines are really where you see it and in the background. You see the backgrounds are a lot sharper, the character lines are sharper. Everything is a little brighter, his [John Darling] little onesie more pink, Wendy’s dress is a little bit more blue. Look at those backgrounds, there is a lot more detail in there. So it kind of kicks it up. It makes it for a much better, more accurate Blu-ray experience for the home theater owner.
That's a wonderful thing about high-definition, about Blu-ray. But sometimes it also exposes problems that the filmmakers were able to use film grain and film projection to hide. They go, oh, you're never going to see it. And you didn't because of film grain and film projection at that time. So unfortunately when you scan the original negative at 4K, you see things like there are no faces on those characters [on the scene where the Darling children fly over London with Peter Pan]. That was a decision they made. It saved time, it made it simpler, and it’s really hard to animate faces that small. And probably in 1953 nobody ever saw that, but you guys see it. Now, of course we debated that, should we fix it, are audiences are going to see it, is it a problem? But the reality is that’s the decision they made and we decided to leave it as it is. It seemed a bit presumptuous of us to try to animate faces on what the nine old men had animated, so those are the sort of things we do leave alone.
But I hope you did notice that it was a lot sharper, a lot brighter and it will be really cool in your home theaters. Now, a huge part as you all know if you are Disney fans, of what makes Disney classic animation special and all Disney animations special are the music and the songs, so we would have been remiss if we had only tackled the picture restoration. On all of our picture restorations we also restore the audio. We work with Terry Porter who is a four-time Academy Award nominated mixer for such films as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Chronicles of Narnia and who also is a Disney animation expert.
He goes through our Disney sound archives, finds the best original sound element which usually exist on those mag masters that were transferred after the original nitrate soundtrack. He has them transferred to Pro Tools, he then works with the Disney sound team on painstakingly cleaning these files, taking out noise, taking out hiss, taking out clicks, fixing dropouts and making it sound as pristine as possible. From that he has developed a process where he takes that mix and creates a brand new 7.1 or 5.1 mix which brings to life that music and the songs as you've never heard them before. Now, Terry has been developing this for probably like 12 years.
We kind of started when we did the IMAX release on Lion King which I think was in the late 1990s, early 2000. He had to go back and remix it for IMAX. And then after that that was followed by The Lion King DVD release. Then he took what he learned in IMAX and decided to do a mix for what he called the Dad's Chair which is the idea of creating a sound surround for the key viewing seat in your home theater experience. And since that, over the last 10 years with every title he has experimented in it, and refined and developed it to the point now that he can take what was once a mono film and create that same Dad's Chair home theater experience for audiences. So now I’m going to play the same clip you've seen before. I will start it off in the original mono. But pay attention, after a few seconds it will expand to Terry's new 7.1 mix. So let’s run it, and please enjoy.
[Plays video clip of Darling children soaring over London, with the song You Can Fly]
I take it you heard the difference? So Terry does that in conjunction with Disney music experts such as Chris Montan or Don Hahn who have a legacy for working on Disney music. And I just want to reiterate that that here at Walt Disney we're constantly balancing our legacy and our history because he kept what was true about that piece of music but made it work for the home theater audience now. And we’re constantly trying to challenge ourselves, pushing the technology. This is part of the Disney Studio DNA. It comes all the way back from Walt, you know, keep moving forward, keep pushing it. Walt was a big experimenter with Fantasia with all these different things. We try to be true to the original movie but also push ourselves, what is the next best thing we could do, what is a new technology we can try? So we're constantly pushing that boundary.
Hopefully you see we may be able to do on Peter Pan by honoring the legacy and the artwork but also bringing it back to its glory and pushing that technology. And just remember February 5, 2013 Peter Pan will street on Blu-ray and DVD and it will be the 60 year anniversary. And I'd like to say that we’ve honored that film. Thank you very much.