Grain Removal in Snow White: a dangerous precedant

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by StevenA, Oct 21, 2001.

  1. StevenA

    StevenA Second Unit

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    Watching the Snow White DVD last night, I was, like so many others here, dazzled by the image quality (not to mention the exceptional supplementary materials and their presentation, on which Disney should be commended!)
    However, the process by which the grain was removed from the feature, along with virtually all evidence that this it was shot on film, was disturbing to me. Watching the "film" in this form, Snow White may as well have been shot on digital video. The randomness of the film grain, and the "life" this imparts to the image, had vanished, leaving a very impressive but strangely cold result.
    If film emulsion is the "canvas" on which filmmakers "paint", removing the inherent texture of that canvas, whether it be course or fine, profoundly alters the "painting".
    I don't feel this is a minor quibble, but rather a very serious issue which needs to be considered by DVD collectors and producers alike.
    This practice could conceivably be extended to live action films also. If so, the films we know and love could all be rendered in a fashion resembling the digitally captured images of Star Wars Episode II. This, I firmly believe, gives all film lovers cause for concern.
     
  2. Brian Lawrence

    Brian Lawrence Producer

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  3. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    I disagree with you to this extent:
    There is a difference between live action and animated. With a live action film, the film is the representation of the original visual source, namely the actors, sets, etc.
    With a classic animated film, the film is the representation of the hand drawn cels (which have no film grain), which are the original visual source. It seems to me that what Disney has done is simply give us a representation of the original cels (which are the source) and not the film.
    In other words, Snow White looks like an attempt to acheive what was done with the direct to digital Toy Story movies, which everyone agrees are "perfect" DVD transfers because they never involved film.
    Therefore, I don't think this is a dangerous precedent as it applies to classic animation.
    [Edited last by RobertR on October 21, 2001 at 03:44 PM]
     
  4. GlennH

    GlennH Cinematographer

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    I understand the concern. But I also have to believe that if you could resurrect old Walt himself and put him back in 1937, with both the grainy film version or this new creation that looks more like original animation cels, he would choose the latter for presentation to the public.
    Extreme care has to be taken when dealing with old art of any form, including film, such that the original vision is not altered. I'm just not convinced that Walt was more in love with the medium (film) than he was with the art and magic that the medium conveyed. He was a forward-thinker, always experimenting with new techniques. As has been noted in articles on this new release, Walt would have been all over computers and other tools to improve his art.
    I have no problem with what they did. But then, I don't like film grain much at all. I think it detracts from *any* film presentation, and should be removed to the extent that it does not noticably reduce picture detail. I don't need a constant reminder that what I'm watching was "painted" on an imperfect "canvas." In most cases, the grain of the film is not something that the original artists intended to be part of their art. In my case, it distracts me from enjoying the art.
    To each his own.
    [Edited last by Glenn Heberle on October 21, 2001 at 03:44 PM]
     
  5. Rob Tomlin

    Rob Tomlin Producer

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    I appreciate the concern here. However, I am very much in agreement with RobertR. I don't think this is as much of a concern when applied to animation. I don't think of film as being the "canvas" when it comes to animation. I think of the hand painted cel's as being the canvas, and the film nothing more than a necessary (at the time) media for presenting it.
    The Snow White DVD is fantastic in every way as far as I am concerned!
     
  6. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    The whole point of the restoration was to give the effect that you're watching CELS not film.
    Compare the 1937 original print, 1993 Cineon restoration, and the 2001 Lowry Digital Images DVD restoration.
    Technicolor prints in the early days were pretty soft, so grain, cel dust, dirt, etc were not as obvious as they would be on our high quality DVD's.
    Compare WB's Wizard of Oz DVD transfer with the THX certified DVD MGM released. The pre-digitally restored version looks really murky and dirty.
    Snow White is probably the greatest DVD ever released. There's no stone unturned...except for the lack of mentioning Warner Bros' spoof of Snow White, "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves." [​IMG]
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    [Edited last by PatrickMcCart on October 21, 2001 at 04:36 PM]
    [Edited last by PatrickMcCart on October 22, 2001 at 02:34 PM]
     
  7. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    The key notion here is "what the artist intended". I'm not so sure (like other have brought forward already) that the film "canvas" was the primary choice of the director here.
    But I'm also not so sure that was a primary choice on most films. Imperfections may be typical for a medium and still be NOT what the artist had in mind, wanted, intended. If imperfections like grain (and other noise), or speed changes were intrinsic for the state of the art, but were felt as an (undesired) imperfection by the artist as well, I see no problem in removing those.
    Only a few films were apparently made with the grain in mind.
    Cees
     
  8. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Disney intended to make a theatrical feature and did not know from video. Extensive camera tests were performed inclusive of effects like filtering and varied exposures. Snow White the theatrical film was not just a collection of the cel art at 24 fps. Hopefully, they used more than just the cel art as reference when creating the DVD.
    As for what Walt would have done today, I bet he would have used the CAPS system and not relied so much on that cumbersome multiplane camera, but I'm glad they decided not to reanimate the whole film.
    Michale Curtiz probably would have shot Casablanca in color if he was making it today, but personally, I prefer it in black and white and don't think WB is obligated to correct it to the director's anticipated modern sensibilities. [​IMG]
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  9. Mark Turetsky

    Mark Turetsky Supporting Actor

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    As a still photographer, I just have to pipe in here. As it applies to photography, grain is a part of the artistic intent, and not a "flaw." Cinematographers put a lot of time and effort into selecting which film stocks to use based on the amount of grain and rendition of colour (or in some cases, grays). If you were to filter out all of the grain present in a feature, you would be denying the director of photography's artistic vision, in the same way cropping the picture would be. If the DP put the time and effort into selecting the stock, I don't think we should disregard that. Film grain is not a limitation of film if used correctly. It is one of the many variables that can serve to better tell the story.
    Now, in terms of animated features, I really don't know what the intent was, so I can't say much on that, but I can't stand artificial softening of the image to reduce graininess on real life photography.
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  10. TedD

    TedD Supporting Actor

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    Quote: There's a reason why there is not many 3-strip Technicolor films on DVD
    Yes, there is and it doesn't have anything to do with grain.
    The reason that there is very little in the way of 3-strip Technicolor films on DVD as that use of the Technicolor 3 strip camera was discontinued in approximately 1945. The new camera used a multi layer single film process and was called the monopack. With the improvements in color negative emulsions, almost all films made after 1955 were photographed on conventional color negative stock.
    However the IB Technicolor printing process continued to be used until the early 1970's to make prints from matrices derived from the color negative stock. The last IB Tech print was produced in 1975.
    However, release prints are generally too contrasty to be used for video transfers. A special low contrast interpositive is the normal source for video transfers.
    BTW, In the early 1990's Technicolor reopened their IB Technicolor line with a new process, process #6, but as mentioned above, prints are generally not used for masters.
    See http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/ and http://www.technicolor.com/aboutus/index.html
    for much more information.
    Ted
    [Edited last by TedD on October 21, 2001 at 08:06 PM]
     
  11. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    By the way, there is an almost identical discussion going on in this thread
    Regards,
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    Ken McAlinden
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  12. Brian Kidd

    Brian Kidd Screenwriter
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    I have to agree with Steven. While I'm overjoyed with the overall quality of the SNOW WHITE set, there are times during the film where I am reminded that I am looking at still drawings and not at real characters. The slight variances in picture that film grain adds allows the animation to take on a very lifelike quality. I only really noticed the problem when there was very little movement within the frame. Still, I noticed it and it brought me out of the film. I'm not sure if there is any way to remedy this and still have a clean-looking transfer. I'm not that up on the technical workings of film restoration. I just didn't want Steven to think that he was the only one bothered by it.
     
  13. Terry H

    Terry H Second Unit

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    Oh brother! I never thought I would say this but I feel sorry for the studios. Damned for grain by some and damned for lack of grain by others. This is a true "no win" for them. Sheesh. [​IMG]
     
  14. Dave Hahn

    Dave Hahn Second Unit

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    Chris Carey, one of the Disney people who helped with the restoration, speaking to David Ranada in Sound & Vision had this to say about that:
     
  15. Michael St. Clair

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  16. Gary King

    Gary King Second Unit

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  17. StevenA

    StevenA Second Unit

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    Brian, you captured the precise feeling I had when watching the film. The images were startling but, particularly when there was little or no motion in the frame, more like pages from a storybook than scenes in a film.
    There have been many other insightful comments made above (on both sides).
    Mark's comparison with stills photography struck a chord. Grain is so often referred to as a "flaw", rather than an inherent part of the image. Of course then there is video "grain", which is something else again. When people complain about a DVD looking grainy, I'm not sure whether they're referring to video artifacts or film artifacts (I'm using "artifacts" here in a neutral sense, as being simply a characteristic of a particular medium, rather than a "flaw").
    Michael, I agree that the idea of making Snow White look like the cels and not like the film seems a little spurious!
     
  18. StevenA

    StevenA Second Unit

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    Gary, firstly there are no color film cameras. The film emulsion itself determines whether color images are produced, and I doubt Disney would have had any trouble obtaining color film stock prior to shooting Snow White, since that's what was used to shoot it.
    Secondly, your comparison with edge enhancement is interesting but, I believe, eroneous, since edge enhancement (if you are speaking of the process which is sometimes applied for the video release of a theatrical feature) is a not an inherent aspect of the medium used to capture the images, but rather a tool used to make the home video release more acceptable to some (I'm no expert on EE, however, I have to say!)
    In regard to whether the cels or the film print better reflect the artists' original intent, I agree that's a sticky one. However, we could extend that to say that a live-action film's grain should also be eliminated because the real world has no "grain". I'm sure some would stand by that argument, too!
    [Edited last by StevenA on October 22, 2001 at 03:26 PM]
    [Edited last by StevenA on October 22, 2001 at 03:31 PM]
    [Edited last by StevenA on October 22, 2001 at 03:32 PM]
     
  19. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    The new DVD of Snow White is a beautiful product.
    This said, it must also be acknowledged that it has vitually nothing in common with the Disney film of the same name released in 1937 by RKO.
    This new version is not that film.
    It is an entirely new product, and seen as such should not be considered problematic.
    While I would truly hate to see Disney make the error of attempting to port this new product back to film, the film, as such, would still seemingly be safe in the form of the original sequentials black and white negative.
    I have a friend who is a very accomplished author. A film was made of one of his books and someone commented what a pity it was that his book had been destroyed.
    "What do you mean?," he queried. "My book is still on the shelf. Its fine. This is something different."
    RAH
     
  20. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    The analogy in the audio world that springs to mind would be re-mixing 1960s Phil Spector productions to remove the hiss. The only problem is that the tape hiss from successive overdubs on crude three-track equipment was part of the signature "wall of sound" effect of his productions. The ideal release, therefore would be remasters that have as much but no more tape hiss as the original master tapes.
    Regards,
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