Disney’s Restoration of Dumbo and Efforts to Preserve Their Film Library In preparation of the 70th Anniversary release of Dumbo on Blu-ray Tuesday September 20th, The Walt Disney Company embarked on a full restoration of the film. The story is bigger than just Dumbo, however as Disney is in the middle of a multi-year project to save and protect its rich film library for future generations. To find out more, Home Theater Forum talked to Sarah Duran-Singer, Senior Vice President of Post Production at Walt Disney Studios, Dave Bossert, Creative Director of Walt Disney Studios Animation in charge of special projects and Artistic Supervisor of the Restoration and Preservation Team, and Joe Jiuliano, Director of Film and Video Services with Walt Disney Studios and the Technical Advisor for the Restoration Committee. Preserving History Like most studios, Disney used nitrate film stocks prior to 1955. This covers a huge amount of animation both feature length and short films as well as live action. Unfortunately, nitrate can become unstable and volatile over time. It’s highly flammable and dangerous to store if it’s not done properly. Years ago Disney made an agreement with the Library of Congress to loan them their nitrate negatives to preserve and store since Disney didn’t have the correct facilities. Currently their nitrate films are being stored in the National Audio-Video Collection Center in Culpeper, Virginia. Humidity is maintained and the negatives are stored in a refrigerated environment. Even with these storage precautions nitrate negatives are still subject to vinegar syndrome, general nitrate deterioration and other maladies like these examples show: Steamboat Willie is an example of why it’s so important to act. The 1928 original negative is gone, completely decayed. In 2004 Disney wanted to restore it from a dup negative. Unfortunately they found 9 feet in that was also essentially destroyed. Here is what it looked like: Thankfully, they were able to find another dupe negative with those frames intact that they scanned along with the dupe successive exposure negative; they put them together and did dirt and scratch cleanup. Some of that restored footage became the source for the new Walt Disney Animation Studios logo that can be seen at the start of recent films like Tangled and Princess and the Frog. Since 2004 Disney has undertaken a huge scanning project with the Library of Congress. They ship large chunks of their library across the country in refrigerated trucks to MPI at Warner Brothers and make 4K digital scans, verifying that every frame was scanned successfully. They aren’t stopping with digital. Due to the volatility of the nitrate stock and that fact that regardless of what they try to do they can’t prevent the eventual decay, Joe Jiuliano and his team are making new black and white successive exposure negatives designed to preserve the films for another 100 years. The project is almost complete and when they are finished they will have re-preserved their entire nitrate library: 16,500,000 frames. And it’s not just animation. This project has been used to get 4K scans and new prints to preserve live action classics like Song of the South (no plans to release) and just this year Parent Trap, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Old Yeller, The Absent-Minded Professor and Pollyanna (I encouraged them to start releasing these live action classics to Blu-ray). They plan to tackle Darby O’Gill and the Little People and Mary Poppins (expect to see something out around the 50th Anniversary). While all the nitrate films (pre-1955) are getting 4K scans and new safety negatives, not everything is getting a pristine restoration at this time, like the animated films released on Blu-ray have. For most films these are simply preservation steps. It’s important to note that all of the new safety negatives they are shooting are NOT touched up. It’s simply a capture of the original film negative. They don’t want to “bake in” any cleanup, but rather preserve a copy of the original negative “as-is”. These films have just been re-preserved and won’t undergo any further “re-mastering” and digital cleanup until they are slated for release. Previous VHS and DVD home video releases have used inter-negative or positive that was several generations away from the original negative, resulting in more dirt, grain, a softening of the image and a change in color. The fact that Disney has stable copies of the successive exposure negative allows them to now use the negative as the basis for the recent classic animation Blu-ray releases including Dumbo. Here are some excerpts from the conversation with the restoration team from Disney. Tell Us About the Restoration of Dumbo Dave…. Just in general terms, we spent nearly seven months working on the restoration and preservation of Dumbo. The nitrate negative's like 70-plus years old. We actually had the nitrate negative transported from the Virginia facility to Los Angeles in what we lovingly referred to as the ice cream truck. It's actually just a refrigerated truck, but it is actually driven across country to our facility, not flown. The entire film, obviously, was cleaned and inspected. Just for numbers, there are 275,352 frames of negative for Dumbo that was scanned. And I always get a kick out of it, but its 3.2 miles of film. It's kind of neat. But anyway, we wind up – once we have those digital images, there is an automated dust-busting process that we refer to. It removes a lot of the ancillary dirt and whatnot automatically. And then we're going in on a regular basis and reviewing parts of various reels of the film at a time. And we are calling out various other aspects, artifacts, and anomalies that need to be taken care of. Those include – aside from the dust and dirt – fingerprints that may have been on the cells, cell shimmers, what we refer to as Newton rings, when you press several layers of acetate cells together, you get these rainbow rings that can get photographed in, cell scratches. Just so you know, we have been doing this restoration and preservation of these feature films since 2003 and we've removed reflections of the cameramen, doors open on a frame in the camera room. You can see a reflection because the platen wasn't down all the way. There are all kinds of little oddities in creating animated films that aren't necessarily meant to be in the film. What we're driven by philosophically is what was the artistic intention? And clearly, you know, as an artist, the intention is to create as perfect a frame of art as you can, but, you know, you've got to realize 70 years ago they were using the best technology that they had at hand at the time. So we're able to go in and clean up some of these little mistakes and artifacts and various things that pop up in the films, and we've done that in a very good way. I did want to point out, from a color standpoint, we're fortunate because we here at Disney have our Animation Research Library which has something north of 70 million pieces of art archived. And we're able to go back and pull out color backgrounds from all of these films, as well as get a series of backgrounds that would be representative of the color palette of the movie. Instead of just looking at those backgrounds, we actually have them scanned and photographed out on SE film, because the successive exposure film actually picks up contrast and picks up color saturation, and the Disney background artists always painted their backgrounds a little bit less contrast-y and a little bit muted, knowing that the photographic process would then pick up the contrasts and saturations to give them what it was they wanted. So we take a lot of care in making sure that we are restoring these back to what the artistic intention was, as far as the color goes. With that, I actually want to turn it over to my colleague Joe, to talk a little bit about the successive exposure process and what's entailed and why, essentially, we had 275,352 frames, which is really 91,784 color frames of the movie. 275,352 Frames = 91,784 Frames when you have three frames of negative for every frame of picture Prior to the 1950s, the only way that you could really get a color film – both animation and live action – was at Technicolor, which was a three-strip process. Back in the day, Technicolor had three-strip cameras that would have three separate strips of film running parallel in the camera, each one capturing a separation of color [via the] yellow, cyan, magenta strip that would run as live action was being captured. The film was then taken over to the lab. It was developed and then optically recombined, but you have to remember that it all started with a black-and-white negative and the distinct color information that was captured on each one, the yellow, cyan and magenta. So back in the day, I think Ub Iworks came up with a method that was specific to animation. Once you have the cells set up on the camera, it's stationary so that you can capture the separations sequentially on one strip of film. And what we did up until the '90s – was to shoot successively on one strip of film red, green and blue separations. And then, again, the film was brought over to the lab over at Technicolor, developed, and then color was optically arrived at, at the lab. I can't emphasize how important to this restoration project and the other classic films that we've restored in recent years, that the decision to go back and scan the original negative really makes this work. And also, blending it with the digital tools available to us – as (David) said, when we shot this film originally in successive exposure, black-and-white, everything was sort of balanced for the color methods that were available at the time, the Technicolor three-strip color. And all the artwork was made for that. Going back and scanning the original negative, that's really the information you get. You get the information that was somehow altered for that method. But with the digital tools, after you scan it, the 4K scans that we've talked about, and when you go back in and you start adding the colors, the digital methods and lookup tables that we all used, the clean-up methods, really made it possible to go back and capture what, again, the artists' intents were in terms of color. The early Disney films that I saw were always these multi-generation release prints that we find. And up until, I think, this project, I was under the impression that all old classic Disney films were very “contrast-y”. The color was very, very overly saturated. And I felt that it was always grainy. When we went back to the original negative and started color correcting and cleaning it up, we were all amazed at how different the film looked and the subtleties of color; pastel colors came up, grain disappeared, and contrast wasn't as dark as we thought it was. And I think for the first time we really saw what the guys really wanted to come up with, in terms of color, on these original movies. I was just going to follow up on what Joe was saying – we were amazed at some of the detail that were in some of the dark areas of scenes, because the blacks had crushed down, and you never really saw that on film. That was really amazing to us. The other thing I wanted to mention on the three-strip process was that once those three color records were scanned, they're actually – the line-up on those was done digitally. Now, you've got to realize, when they were doing prints at the lab, that was a mechanical process, and that line-up was good, but it was never perfect. With the digital line-up of the three color records, we're using anywhere from 50 to 100 targets on the frame to actually line all three color records up, so you get this unbelievably crisp image, the way you would have – the way Walt and his artists would have seen the actual artwork in front of them. And I think it was something that we were blown away by when we first did the "Bambi" restoration, because that was the first one this team had done together, and we were absolutely blown away by how crisp the ink lines were on the animation, and it's true of all the subsequent restorations, including Dumbo…. Early on in the process of going into these classic films, we had access to Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, who both had come in on "Bambi," as well as Tyrus Wong, and of course, Roy Disney, when he was still alive, as well. And so we've been tapping into, a lot of the original artists that we could. Most of them are gone now, but I'll tell you, when we showed the restoration of "Lady and the Tramp" to Ollie Johnson, at the end of the screening, he had a big smile on his face, and we asked him what he thought, and he said, "This is the way it was supposed to look." And he was absolutely blown away by it. And so it was really gratifying being able to show some of the original artists what these films are looking like now and how we're taking care of them and preserving them for future generations. We've talked about the team. And obviously, there's three of us here today speaking about this project, but since 2003, when we decided to restore "Bambi," there has been a working team of experts that have been involved in this, obviously, Dave, Joe and myself, but beyond that, we have Theo Gluck, who is our resident kind of film and Disney historian and film format expert. We also reach out to other colleagues at Disney Animation like Andres Deja, who you might know as an animator on Scar…. You know, we've been incredibly lucky to have this team and access to those talents when we could. We're all experts in different areas. We approached this process with we want to represent what the filmmakers and Walt's original intention was. What was their goal? We look at the films. And we debate, what should we clean up? What should we fix? It kind of sets the guideline. Like, was that the filmmaker's intention? Or if it wasn't, if they had the time, the money, or the technical expertise, would they have fixed it? We’ve had some very lively debates. And I'd like to say, we tried to keep Walt and the original filmmakers right next to us during this process and have them guide our choices. We never want to change their original intention. Obviously, having a fingerprint or having a bit of animation pop on and off, we believe, was never the original intention and they would have fixed it if they could. Now that we have the tools and the technology, we go back and fix that. So we always keep the original filmmakers' intention in the back of our head. And like I said, we have a lot of fun debating that. Yes, absolutely – this is something that we discuss on every single one of these restorations and preservations. We're not going in and making these so perfect and pristine that it sort of – as somebody said, it makes it like it's a CG movie. That's not the intention here. The intention here is really to take out the artifacts, the anomalies, the things that were photographed in that shouldn't have been, and to present the film the way it was originally intended to be seen, but not to detract or take away from the fact that it is a handmade piece of art. So in other words, on Dumbo, not taking out the paint crawl completely, but taking it back so that it's not distracting from the viewing of the film. Challenges With Dumbo I'd like all of us to talk a little bit about some of the specific issues that came up on Dumbo. This particular title was in production in May – in the early '40s. As I'm reminded, it's the 70th anniversary. The studio had just come off the release of "Fantasia" and "Pinocchio," which were extremely costly films and they weren't as financially successful as I think the studio hoped, so they decided to take a different approach with Dumbo. It’s one of the shorter films at around 64 minutes. They also tried to take a more simplified approach overall to the production look and workflow. The film was very successful. But this production approach did create some problems. One of the big things about the early Disney features is that – and a lot of people don't realize this – but the studio itself had its own paint lab, and they mixed their own paints, which meant that they had a binder and they had pigments and they had a formula, and they would mix these paints up. And some of those pigments were better than others from the standpoint of stability. One of the problems that we encountered on Dumbo is that there are large color areas of the elephants. There was a lot of what we referred to as “paint crawl”. And, really, what was happening with the paint was that certain colors – the pigment and binder – would separate if they weren't continuously being stirred. And so you wind up putting the paint down on a cell, and when that cell dries, there's almost an imperceptible streaking, from the brush and the brush application -- of the paint. On an individual cell, you can maybe pick it up a little bit if it's really bad, but you can actually see it when you see a sequence of cells play by at 24 frames a second. And so that was one of the big areas that we had to deal with, the amount of paint crawl, because in some of the scenes, it was really bad. And when you're showing a pristine image, it was magnified, because there was less grain in the image. You know, years ago, when they did a release print that was a couple generations away from the negative; the paint crawl wasn't as prevalent, the grain really sort of tamed it, if you will. But with the pristine digital image, we really did have a lot of issues with the paint crawl, and so we needed to go in and mitigate that, and we did that with a digital process. But that was really one of the big issues for this film. And when we do these restorations and preservations on these films, every single movie that we've worked on has had its own set of issues, its own set of areas that we had to sort of focus on a little bit more, and there were software solutions developed, and ways for us to mitigate some of those problems. Because this was a lower-cost production and they were trying to save money, they would reuse cells. Back in the late '30s into the 1940s, they actually had a position at the studio called the cell washer. After the animation was completed, it was inked and painted onto an acetate cell, it was photographed, the film came back, they looked at the film and said, yep, that's fine, then those cells went to the cell washer, who would actually wash off the paint and the ink, and they would be reused. That process of washing off the paint and the ink did a couple of things. It introduced scratches to the cell material. It also created some warpage, expansion, shrinkage... and rippled the cell itself. And so what we wind up having to deal with now is that you've got frames where there's various light reflections dancing around because of the warpage of the cells…or what we refer to as, cell shimmers, really. And that all was introduced into these films not intentionally – that wasn't the artistic intent – but it was just a byproduct of the animation process of the day. So when you looked at it, it was the way animation just looked at the time. But now, because we're scanning it and using such precise tools to fix it, it's not acceptable to us. And the image is so clean without the grain that these things jump out and they take you out of the experience of the picture. I think you really do have to just keep saying, artistic intent. What was the artistic intent? And rippled cells were not the artistic intent. It was not at all. And, by the way, I don't know if anybody knows this, but Chuck Jones was a cell washer for a little while here at Disney. He got his start here. Let’s Not Forget the Audio Just like we did with our successive exposure negatives, we are currently, actively, migrating and cleaning up our entire Disney animation and live-action library audio. It's a five-year project. We take the best possible version of the tracks, digitize them in the Pro Tools, clean them up, and create a new file that will be used. In the case of Dumbo hindsight is 20/20. In the '50s, the studio started cleaning up the library because they had no storage capacity or they felt that, why did they need these things? So the original nitrate soundtracks of these films were transferred over to 35-millimeter mag. And unlike the picture, the successive exposure negative, they destroyed those original nitrate recordings, which to this day we regret. So all we have were those 35-millimeter mag transfers, which were done in the '50s on technology that was probably OK for then, but is not very good now. So obviously, certain things were built in that we've had to reduce noise, a narrowing of the sonic range of those tracks. So we've been working with a colleague, Terry Porter, who was a Disney mixer for 20-some years and was nominated for best sound Oscars on "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin." He had developed a process of transferring those tracks, cleaning them up through Pro Tools, utilizing other tools, and doing what we call a Disney-Enhanced Home Theater (DEHT) mix, which is either a mono-spread to 5.1 or to 7.1. He actually perfected this on The Lion King. When we did the DVD release, he created the Disney Enhanced Home Theater mix. He took what he's learned on every film, and he's actually used it on our library titles to create not only a clean master, but a 5.1 or 7.1 mix, which is what our audiences are used to now and expect, but, again, trying to maintain that original quality. We always end up putting the mono track on our DVDs and Blu-rays, so the purists that want to hear it the way it was, will hear a cleaned-up mono track. But other people who love the 5.1 or 7.1 experience on Blu-ray can hear that. Terry’s process, is to digitize those 35-millimeters, clean them up, and then remix them. Now, what was unique about Dumbo is Theo Gluck, who I mentioned is the team’s film expert, was able to track down through our partnership with the UCLA film archives an original print of Dumbo. And he set up the screening over at UCLA. We all went and looked at it. Alert! Film Info in the Audio Section Ahead It was a Technicolor nitrate print. No, it was an IB... It was? Oh, I thought it was a nitrate for some reason. I thought it was a nitrate, because we had to view it over at UCLA, and nitrate was combustible. It might have been, but the color method was IB. Want to explain IB, Joe? Well, it's just the three-strip color, but the IB process was more like a lithography process than it was a photochemical process. So the original Technicolor prints are IB prints, which stand for imbibition prints, which... they imbibe the image on it, which is a litho process. And so like early on, the early Technicolor prints were grain less. They were more like the old magazine printing than later on, where the grainy negative looked to it. So that's what we saw, was we saw one of the original prints struck from the original successive exposure negative. So that IB process, you know, because it's like a dye process, the colors don't fade like they would on a traditional photochemical print. That's why we try to find those. In this particular case, what we didn't expect, was this print to have a really good optical soundtrack, but it was really in great condition. So we actually were able to work with UCLA, borrow that print, and basically digitize that soundtrack. And that became another source for Terry Porter to use in his mix. When you go out and buy the Blu-ray, you will hear Terry Porter’s restored mix in either 5.1 or 7.1 or you can, again, hear that original mono cleaned up with as much of those pops, clicks and wow taken out. Q&A: The “Was Dumbo a Pixar Film, or Why Might it not Look Like I Remember?” Conversation Just looping back to the color timing a bit. There was some concern when the Bambi Blu-ray was released that, maybe some things had been done to intentionally give it some extra pop and make it look more "Toy Story-like”. just to confirm based on everything you're saying here, what you essentially did was go back to the original backgrounds and use that as the basis for color – in other words, the original artistic intent – and anything that looks different than the way people remember is simply because you went back to the original negative and got the colors so spot on with what was originally intended. And if anything, what people have been watching over the years has been what's been off, correct? Before: After: You're absolutely right. Absolutely. You know, as we've been going through this process, people are seeing these films and they're saying, I don't remember it looking like this. Well, this is the way the movie was supposed to look. What people are remembering from their childhood at the local cinema in Oregon is something completely different than what the film really is. It has been something that we've gotten a lot of push-back from, but we are passionate about it, because like I said, I remember Pinocchio being totally different. But, again, everybody's been viewing old film prints that are several generations away from the original negative. A lot of these, the ones that we see, probably were not necessarily the newer generation, so who knows who was involved in the color timing…how were the projectors set up? …what were the issues with the lenses?....We all remember the films from our childhood, where we might have seen them in the theater. And I remember we did Pinocchio. My childhood memory of Pinocchio was, oh, it's dark, and its dark reds, and it's a lot of heavy browns and woods, a lot of wood. And then we scanned that negative and we saw what was on that negative, there were these beautiful pastel colors. Pinocchio's eyes were so blue…these pinks…these lavenders that for whatever reason the film prints that were generations away and were obviously not color-timed from the original; our memory of them was totally different. I'm sure it's kind of like cleaning the Sistine Chapel. You had no idea that there was this beautiful vibrant color there. And we obviously could research to understand what the color palette was and look at reference books and artwork….We are so adamant about the amount of research that we do, we take months in research looking at art books, trying to find (IB) prints, talking to whoever is still available to us to speak to, taking backgrounds out, looking at them, shooting them through this successive exposure process, and looking at that on film, so that we are holding as true as possible to what was the original intention on that film. But we all do have this childhood memory. And I think if we color timed to our childhood memory, everything would be dark, “super contrast-y”, with a lot of dark colors, and not like the vibrant jewel tones that you saw in "Sleeping Beauty" or the beautiful pastels that we saw in Pinocchio. Yes, the process was so different then, and we tried so hard to try to figure it out. But one thing that we've never tried to do is make it look like it was a CG movie. And that was never the context around it. The context was always to try to go back and discover what the artists' intent was in the original movie. And you've got to remember, on "Bambi," we had Ollie Johnson, Frank Thomas, and Tyrus Wong in to look at the work that we were doing on it. And, you know, these are original artists that worked on the film. So I would much rather satisfy them and make them happy than somebody out there in the world who maybe is remembering seeing the movie 25 years ago at their local cinema. Yes, our conscience is clear on that. Yes, we can sleep comfortably at night. I've been at Disney now for 24 years – and I've done tons of screenings. The screening that Frank and Ollie attended was probably the most nerve-wracking moment I've ever had, when the lights went up, and we all turned around and looked at those two gentlemen and waited for their reaction. I was just petrified. And to see them smile and say, "It's beautiful. It's how we intended it," was just so satisfying for the whole team. It was validation for the entire team and the collective efforts of the team in what we're doing with this restoration and preservation program. So any kind of negative chatter on the Internet is from people who don’t know or understand the entire process, and who are just reacting from their own personal memories. I’d like to thank Sarah Duran-Singer, Joe Jiuliano, Dave Bossert and Walt Disney Home Video for the opportunity to talk about the studios’ efforts to preserve their film library, and specifically Dumbo. Please note that a portion of this was based on a transcript provided by Disney that was verified against a recording I made. Some minor changes were made for readability that did not change the context.