A Few Words About A few words about...™ The Myth of Dye Transfer Printing

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Dec 3, 2014.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
    Reviewer

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 1999
    Messages:
    9,809
    Likes Received:
    6,273
    Real Name:
    Robert Harris
    Virtually every time someone makes a post on the web, I receive messages from people asking me to clarify discussions.


    Possibly this thread can serve as a guide to how reference prints are considered, and used toward film restoration.


    I presume that those who move back and forth between various sites, will copy and paste, thereby saving me the time and effort.


    There are several types of potential reference prints, for both black & white and color productions.


    The majority of prints, however, are faded, treated, burned and damaged in a myriad of ways. These are obviously of little use -- not no use, but little.


    Even faded direct positive photographic prints can serve a purpose, most notably as a guide to day for night and overall densities.


    The single, and seemingly most confusing type of "reference print" is that produced by Technicolor via the dye transfer method, as they do not fade.


    In the 1950s through early '70s, the number of prints produced for a national release could run around 300 - 400.


    This would take multiple sets of printing matrices, as a matrix had a limited lifespan.


    During a run of matrices -- let's arbitrarily pick 100 as an average number of prints per set -- the color, densities and grain structure could change over a run of prints, as each matrix began to wear.


    While the first dozen or so prints could have near perfect color, density and grain retention, the 80th, 90th or 100th, could appear different - occasionally slightly softer in resolution, and with color drifting via the three different color components.


    Dye transfer prints were never sharp to begin with, due to the use of liquid metal dyes, and whatever mordant was used to make them properly imbibe to the stock.


    Sharpness was more "apparent" than actual, as contrast was raised slightly to create a sharper appearance.


    Where dye transfer prints shone was in their ability, as a second generation printing element, to transfer the original look and textures of large format films. In some cases, large format grain would become lost in matrix grain, and the overall image could be a silky and velvety marvel.


    I'm taking the time to go through this, as there is a discussion occurring over at BD, in which someone is relating that because they viewed a dye transfer print of The Godfather multiple times in a theater back in 1972, that he has:


    A. Total recall of the grain structure and color palette;


    and


    B. That the look and textures of the restored Godfather(s), as overseen by the filmmakers are incorrect -- based upon his memory of what he recalls seeing in 1972.


    This is a position that has been taken numerous times over the decades.


    Which takes us back to the manufacture and distribution of dye transfer prints during that era.


    Generally, when prints were produced, there would be a run of each reel in its entirety for the order, before the next reel went to process.


    That means that of the 100 prints of the main title sequence, reel 1A, reel 1B and onward, that every print was slightly different from the previous.


    While a reference print was always on hand, and many of these prints have been preserved, and are available as continued reference, drift of color occurred on a continuous basis.


    That means that the 100th print could be two points (or more) toward cyan, yellow or magenta, up or down than the first. Re-issue prints were notorious for poor color accuracy.


    After all of the prints were produced, and those too far off to be used were discarded, all reels were matched for color, unit by unit. As I recall, The Godfather was 20 units. Lawrence of Arabia was around 30, and Mad World, also around 29 or 30. That's a great deal of matching.


    Prime premieres, and major cities would receive the prints that hit their target precisely. Those up or down a point or two would go to second tier cities, etc.


    This is the long way round of explaining that not only are most dye transfer prints not alike, but that the majority are not useable as archival reference.


    Because I can only recall color and densities in a general sense, I do not depend on memory.


    I need reference.


    While a normal, run of the mill, dye transfer print can usually provide a general concept of densities, it cannot be used for color.


    For The Godfather, with the cooperation of The Academy Archive, we were able to access the final approved Answer Print of the film for which cinematographer Gordon Willis had signed off. This was the print that he had screened and approved in 1972 via carbon arc projection (yet another anomaly) and which had retained its color.


    During the restoration, this print was constantly accessed via 35mm projection on the same screen that shared the image of our data.


    Nothing was left to chance. In the end, both director and cinematographer approved the final look of the restoration as matching the reference print screened before color work had begun, as closely as technologically possible.


    We were extremely fortunate that this print had survived.


    As another example, a complete pure reference print did not survive for My Fair Lady, but enough units, especially magnetic striped (which were generally produced to the highest standards) did, to allow us to get color and densities where they belonged.


    There are very few dye transfer prints surviving that can be used a bona fide reference.


    Which brings us back to the wonders of the web, and people innocently sharing their memories of prints viewed decades before, which may have not matched reference at that time, when they were new. Add to that the anomalies of projection: The color of the optics, the port glass, the alignment of the optical system, the cleanliness of the mirror at the rear of the arc lamp...


    and of equal importance, the color the motion picture screen, which could add a couple of points of red or yellow to the image, as theaters allowed smoking at the time along with cool, refreshing air-conditioning.


    Final thought. There are a few people - very few - who have color retention far better than others. One gentleman occasionally posts here. It's a rarity.


    RAH
     
  2. Yorkshire

    Yorkshire Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,376
    Likes Received:
    309
    Real Name:
    Steve
    It's an education coming here.

    I've copied and basted in the other place.

    Steve W
     
    Mark Walker, Vincent_P and atfree like this.
  3. Billy Batson

    Billy Batson Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2008
    Messages:
    2,269
    Likes Received:
    794
    Location:
    London
    Real Name:
    Alan
    Thanks, very interesting. Technicolor London sold their dye transfer system to China, must have been some time in the seventies. We had an ex Technicolor guy working at my lab who had gone over there to show them how to work it (I wonder if they're still using it?). In the sixties I used to go to the cinema about twice a week, & remember every film looking great, but then I remember everything being great in the sixties, which probably wasn't the case. I will argue two things: 1/ Grain, you never saw it in the cinema, & you shouldn't be aware of it now. 2/Colour, these days, a film can be bright yellow or all very cold. I don't remember it like that then, obviously they'd go for a "look", but it would be very subtle, & the film would still have proper greys & a good greyscale, & I hate it when they muck about with the look of an old film, but to be honest, most films from that era look great on Blu-ray, just the odd one where they get it very wrong.
     
    Everett Stallings and ABaglivi like this.
  4. EddieLarkin

    EddieLarkin Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    989
    Likes Received:
    465
    Location:
    Yorkshire
    Real Name:
    Nick
    I can't speak of back in the day because I have poor recall for such things, but I saw Interstellar in 70mm and there was plenty of visible grain during the 35mm shot stuff. I think I recall the same thing with The Dark Knight Rises. You are pretty close to the screen of course, but then I sit pretty close to my TV as well.
     
  5. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
    Reviewer

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 1999
    Messages:
    9,809
    Likes Received:
    6,273
    Real Name:
    Robert Harris
    Technicolor London always seemed to be the best of the best.

    I did some testing in Beijing with Duel in the Sun. I believe the plant is now a strip mall.

    RAH
     
  6. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

    Joined:
    May 16, 2001
    Messages:
    7,555
    Likes Received:
    186
    Location:
    Georgia (the state)
    Real Name:
    Patrick McCart
    Not that research and reference aren't vital, but what else is there to say when you have approval from the likes of Coppola and Willis?
     
  7. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
    Reviewer

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 1999
    Messages:
    9,809
    Likes Received:
    6,273
    Real Name:
    Robert Harris
    The point is, that as professionals, they also desired to see reference. And reference was absolute in this case.

    RAH
     
    DavidJ likes this.
  8. Will Krupp

    Will Krupp Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2003
    Messages:
    1,702
    Likes Received:
    1,616
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Real Name:
    Will
    Apologies in advance and please pardon my ignorance, but...what is BD?
     
  9. Dr Griffin

    Dr Griffin Cinematographer

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    2,426
    Likes Received:
    1,410
    Real Name:
    Zxpndk
    Will Krupp likes this.
  10. Will Krupp

    Will Krupp Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2003
    Messages:
    1,702
    Likes Received:
    1,616
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Real Name:
    Will
    AnthonyClarke likes this.
  11. Dr Griffin

    Dr Griffin Cinematographer

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    2,426
    Likes Received:
    1,410
    Real Name:
    Zxpndk
    Probably just a typo. You can call me Blu-jay, or you can call me Blu-Day, but you doesn't have to call me Blu-ray. God I'm old!
     
  12. Will Krupp

    Will Krupp Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2003
    Messages:
    1,702
    Likes Received:
    1,616
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Real Name:
    Will
    I'm right there with ya, Johnson!
     
    Adjudic8r and Dr Griffin like this.
  13. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2001
    Messages:
    40,214
    Likes Received:
    6,665
    Location:
    Rensselaer, NY
    Isn't it funny how certain things stay in our minds...even though they might not be universally acclaimed?
     
    Adjudic8r, ROclockCK, atfree and 2 others like this.
  14. Yorkshire

    Yorkshire Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,376
    Likes Received:
    309
    Real Name:
    Steve
    It's very strange, quite a coincidence.

    A few years back I remembered RAH making a comment about aspect ratios on The Godfather, and the fact that the Blu-ray Disc was fine opened up to 1.78:1 even though theatrically it was supposed to be 1.85:1, as the difference is extremely small and it was rarely shown bang on 1.85:1 anyway.

    For ages I couldn't find it, then it pops up again.

    As I've taken his advice and copy & pasted his comments from here to there I'll reciprocate and re-copy and paste his comments from there to here.

    Hope no one minds:



    This discussion has seen many variants, but the bottom line is always the same. An image, as viewed in a theater, especially an older, larger house, has little in common with the image as viewed on a properly adjusted home theater system.In theaters other than those run with proper presentation in mind, aspect ratio had little or nothing to do with final content, as incorrect focal length optics were the norm, and a projected RP 40, as posted above, seldom looked as it does in this thread unless projection was dead on from porthole to screen. The audience was unaware of the actual amount of image missing, as they were also unaware of proper color. Beyond problematic lamp houses and reflectors, films usually ran on yellowed screens, stained from smoking.Many older venues project an inverted trapezoidal image in order to attain a rectangle on screen, and no one is the wiser.In the final analysis, control over aspect ratios is far, far greater toward the creation of a quality Blu-ray than in theaters. The difference between 1.85 and 1.78 theatrically would be indistinguishable, and only visible in home theaters as a few scan lines of black at the upper and lower areas of a monitor or screen in 1.85 mode.The Godfather was photographed 1.37 open matte, with projection instructions to run at 1.85:1, as that was the standard at the time. Some theaters incorrectly projected at 1.37, especially in re-issue. In later years, the film was also run 2:1 in many smaller venues as that was the "standard" for that particular theater.And to answer a question that I'm certain will follow... Yes. Presentation was damaged at both 1.37 as well as 2:1.But so were the presentations of anamorphic productions at 2.35, cropped to 2:1 to fit the "one size fits all" theater screen.In the final analysis, exposing what are essentially miniscule areas once covered theatrically makes little difference. If one opens the projection aperture for a 70mm film originally covering inboard mag stripes, one exposes a bit more image area on the sides, and ends up with close to a 2.35:1 ratio. Does it matter? In most cases, no.


    Hope that helps.

    Steve W
     
    Dr Griffin likes this.
  15. Vic Pardo

    Vic Pardo Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2013
    Messages:
    1,060
    Likes Received:
    499
    Real Name:
    Brian Camp
    When I saw the Sean Connery James Bond films in theaters multiple times back in the 1960s and early '70s they were prints that had circulated far and wide by the time they got to my neighborhood theaters. When I first picked these same films up on DVD in the 2000s, my first thought upon viewing them was, "They never looked this good in theaters."
     
  16. Dr Griffin

    Dr Griffin Cinematographer

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    2,426
    Likes Received:
    1,410
    Real Name:
    Zxpndk
    Steve, you made an excellent point over "there", about grain reduction with each degree from the original negative, in regards to the eventual print to reach the theater. I could make the same argument as that guy, by saying there is more grain on the Blu-ray than I remember from my blurry 19" black and white TV viewings of films 40 years ago (though a little more on the extreme side). :)
     
  17. Geoff_D

    Geoff_D Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Messages:
    932
    Likes Received:
    32
    If I wasn't taking an enforced time out from BRDC I'd have waded in already, but what more can be said? RAH and Steve are right on the money, and I don't know why people are even entertaining that nutjob on the other forum. If by 'non Blu ray DVD' he means the old unrestored DVDs, then saying that it's indistinguishable from the restored Blu-ray is one of the dumbest things I've read on the internet. And if he's changing his settings for every different film that he watches anyway, then his opinions are also moot regarding what it/they looks like on home video in general.

    As for aspect ratios, I've got zero problem with 1.85 being opened up to 1.78, but what I don't like to see is cropping. Warners recent US release of the extended OUATIA was cropped to 1.78 compared to the genuine 1.85 Italian version, and Shout! have also done this a few times recently, like with their release of Southern Comfort.
     
  18. EddieLarkin

    EddieLarkin Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    989
    Likes Received:
    465
    Location:
    Yorkshire
    Real Name:
    Nick
    Whilst viewing the film I have no problem either, but feel that a policy of opening up to 1.78:1 can lead to what has happened with OUATIA. Even if WB acknowledge that cropping from the sides to achieve 16:9 is not really ideal, they're still going to do it anyway because their "everything 1.78:1" policy has been in place for so long.
     
  19. bigshot

    bigshot Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2008
    Messages:
    2,239
    Likes Received:
    765
    Real Name:
    Stephen
    Use of reference isn't necessarily universally followed. There is another approach which involves restoring a film to a state it never was in before. Disney animated features are notorious for having grossly manipulated color palettes, and Gone With The Wind has gone through more revisionist history than the Civil War it depicts!
     
  20. bigshot

    bigshot Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2008
    Messages:
    2,239
    Likes Received:
    765
    Real Name:
    Stephen
    Right now, I'm puzzling over the new EU blu-ray of Korda's Thief of Bagdad (1940). The color palettes are very odd with lots and lots of one kind of color... all variations of shade with the exact same hue. That usually is a tip-off to me that colors have been pushed in a particular direction. But then smack dab in the middle of the frame comes a character wearing a costume with a quite different hue in the same color family, indicating that it hasn't been shifted after all.

    I don't have a grab off the blu-ray to illustrate what I'm talking about, but if you are familiar with the film, this sequence is a great example...

    The thief of Bagdad (1940)00-53-24.JPG

    This particular shot doesn't show it, but the palace in the background is all the same hue of pink. That exact same pink is spread throughout the frame in costumes and details. Normally with that much identical rosy red in the frame at the same time, I would think that the reds had been pushed to the cool side in color timing. But the crowd of people in the courtyard includes costumes with a super hot orangy rust color that certainly would have been shifted along with the pinks if the color timing was manipulated. The flesh tones are unaffected too. I've come to the conclusion that this emphasis on the rosy pink was an art direction choice, not an error in color timing. I think the color stylist was working with particular pigments that he liked in the concept and design stage, and those color specifications got carried through with the coloring of the sets and matte paintings.

    Most of the time, it's easier to spot deliberate shifts to turquoise or goosing of primary colors because everything becomes bathed in the color being pushed in. There's little variation in hues around the main color being emphasized. (Warms working against cools- something that all artists do.)

    I can think of one exception to this... In Pinocchio (1940), the entire opening sequence in Geppetto's workshop is shifted to a golden orange color to simulate the light from the fireplace. I always wondered about that, because the cels and backgrounds I would see from that sequence were painted in the normal workshop colors, but in all the IB Tech prints I have ever seen, the colors were all bathed in orange. When they did the blu-ray restoration, they didn't bother to reference the original prints, and went ahead and transferred it straight. The whole sequence feels colder and blue/green like night now. I suspect that it was originally shot that way, but when it was done, they didn't like the coolness and thought there should be more contrast with the night colors of the Blue Fairy's arrival, so they shifted it deliberately in the timing of the Technicolor prints. That is pretty rare though.
     

Share This Page