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Interview Universal Studios Monsters Collection Making the Invisible Man, Visible Again

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Adam Gregorich, Dec 10, 2012.

  1. Adam Gregorich

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    Universal Studios: Archive Tour and making the Invisible Man visible again, restoring the Monster Collection


    As part of our Home Theater Forum meet, we recently had the opportunity to take in some of the public attractions on a tram tour of the Universal back lot, but also got to enjoy a behind the scenes tour of the vault hosted by Bob O'Neil the Vice President of image assets and preservation, as well as some presentations on the restoration work that went into the recent Blu-ray release of the Monsters Collection. Here are some excerpts:





    Bob O'Neil: And that is where we store our cut negative. That's where the film came from, like, for Jaws, when we did the transfer on Jaws and the transfer of Out of Africa, that's where we stored, that is up there. We have another large facility back on the east coast where we store our geographical separation material. And the idea there is that on every movie or TV show we try to keep one copy of picture, one copy of audio and one video tape. In this day it's even gone a little bit further with digital restoring two digital files separately also. The idea from a business interruption standpoint, we've got coverage on either coast in case we have an earthquake or something like that here they can do their thing back there.
    We also store our cellulose nitrate film in two facilities, one is back in Culpeper, Virginia with the Library of Congress and the other spot is actually at UCLA in Valencia. If anybody has gone up the five [Interstate 5] recently in Valencia and you saw those two giant cranes that are over on the right hand side, that's the David Packard Center that his foundation is building a -- there is a nitrate storage facility up there and a huge area for the students to do study of old movies and do preservation and restoration out there. So we, again, we store up there, and again, in a very, very conservative environment.




    So in the various movies -- okay, so what do we have all these different places for, to give you an idea some of the movies that we just released, like I said, Jaws, The Sting, Out of Africa, stored up the hill at 34 degrees [Fahrenheit] . The older movies where we use nitrate film; that material has come from the Library of Congress in Culpeper with that other material that we have brought in from the BFI in London. So we -- it's a very dynamic library. We have got ones -- as far as our material goes, our barcoded material, we have got one database that has it all in it. In that database there is over two million barcodes and there is over three million pieces of material that we're storing. So this is going back into, like I said, beginning of the nitrate era all the way up to today. I think that's pretty much the big picture.
    After continuing our tour, Peter Schade VP of Content Management and Technical Services gave us a presentation on the restoration efforts that went into the Universal Monsters Collection followed by Jeff Pirtle, Director of Archives and Collections:

    Peter Schade: So welcome everybody. I'll just go to a quick description of what my group does and then a little bit of an agenda. So my group sits midway in between production and distribution. So if you think about movies being shot on the set, on location, et cetera, TV shows being shot, where from -- wherever and whenever, that's production. And then however the content is consumed, whether it's home video, television, airlines, hotels, anything you can think of -- that's distribution. And so in between those two, a lot of work goes on to go from kind of what they produce out of production and then make it available for all worldwide distribution. So we're going to start with a little piece on the Dracula restoration, then I'll do a PowerPoint presentation on The Invisible Man and some of the challenges we faced on restoring that. And then I'll turn it over to Jeff Pirtle who is with our archives and he'll wrap us up. [We are shown Dracula: The Restoration special feature from the Monsters Blu-ray set].
    Has anybody seen Dracula yet on Blu-ray? I guess all have seen it. Do you like it? Okay. So, a little piece on a film that we did a very similar restoration on and presented some challenges in that we had several film elements to work from, all of which have their own inherent problems, but we were able to use the numerous film elements to kind of puzzle together the final result.
    So we like to call this re-visualizing The Invisible Man. So as I just mentioned, the existing elements had some significant damage due to primarily missing frames. So whats something that can happen in the life of a film element especially back in the early years before there was the same sort of preservation policies that we have today where if a piece of film was damaged, those frames would be removed and then either black frames were inserted or the section was simply pulled up resulting in a jump cut.
    So we found that the elements that we had had some significant examples of those sorts of reparative or repairs that were made. So what we found, we had -- as I mentioned in the Dracula piece, the first step in any restoration is we go through our inventory -- and you saw the vaults I believe in the back -- and we understand what elements we have at our disposal. So in the case of The Invisible Man, we had an acetate dupe negative, that's safety film made in the '50s. We had a fine grain which is a positive film element and we had a duplicate negative -- a nitrate duplicate negative that we got from the Bridge Film Institute.
    And the condition of those elements and the challenges that they posed that dupe negative the acetate that we had here in the vault, it was the correct length, we matched it up against soundtrack, we matched it up against prior transfers, but we found that it had black slugs, missing frames, at many an inordinate number of cuts. The fine grain was obviously made from one of the dupe negatives because it had the exact same missing frames. But it had a softer image, it was a generation down. And the duplicate negative from the BFI we found that instead of black frames being inserted into the areas of damage those areas of damages were all removed and pulled up and so it was 44 seconds shorter.

    So just to give you some sense of for what these elements look like this is a sample from the nitrate element from the BFI [starts playing film clip]. And you'll see that it's got quite a bit of modeling and some kind of chemical stains and fading going on in addition to the, you know, the specs and the dirt and the damage. So -- and then this is a section from the acetate -- the safety dupe negative that we had here at Universal. So we shall notice here in addition to the kind of specs and you'll see some damage on the right side of the frame here in a few seconds, you'll notice sometimes on some of the cuts the image goes out of focus and has a significant bump in it like that one that just went by. There is another one coming up here after these folks all run down the outside stairs as a close-up of that police officer and you'll see a real hideous bump right there.

    So what happens is as, you know, splices get old they wear out, they come apart sometimes and then they're fixed. And then the fix may not be as smooth as original and therefore whenever the element rides through the gate in a printer or in a scanner you look at that motion. So first thing we do is digitize both elements, so put them on a scanner. In this case a Scanity. This particular device was selected because it deals with elements that aren’t necessarily smooth, you know, smooth to go through a scanner gate rather than pulling the film through via sprockets and through the perforations. This transport pulls it through without needing to use those and it also does not have pin registration, so it's able to stabilize the film without actually having to lock each frame down with, you know, through the perf holes.

    And as I mentioned one of the elements we scanned was a nitrate if you guys are familiar with nitrate film, it's a very volatile you just saw Dob O’Neil in the Dracula piece talk about how it's like gun powder. So therefore you want to put the fireproof safe right next to the scanner. You don’t want to carry that thing too far. So again, first thing that happened after we scanned them was an editorial comparison and a conform, so we compared both elements meticulously going through both of them to understand any differences, any missing frames or any similarities or anything that -- or we can use one element to do a fix in the other.
    And the result is we find these challenges, right. So the challenge number one is missing frames. So all the missing frames after the film elements were evaluated were logged, so these are just little excerpts of the logs and you'll see that in each and every one of them in every reel they were anywhere from 2 to probably 8 or 10 missing frames in certain areas of each reel. And again in one element there were black slugs or black frames that replaced those, in another element those were simply pulled up and it was a jump cut.

    So the acetate dupe negative, this is a little sequence right near the beginning of the film and I'm going to step through it frame by frame, so here we go. And as hand approaches the G there -- he's gone. So that's a black frame, you'll see that by the time code counter we're still counting frames there is one, there is a second one and then we're back into the element again, his hand is now passed over the G, so I'll run it one more time. So then the dupe negative -- the nitrate from the BFI look like this. And you'll see his hand go smoothly across the whole sign. Of course what exist here in this element is you've got this stain on the left side. So basically what we did, we took the frames from the BFI element and edited them into the digital file for the safety element.
    Now, you can't just edit those in because what happens is those elements were printed at different times, so those images have different sizing, different geometry, they age differently over time. So there is a slightly different positioning that they have. And that's all got to be smoothed out. So here is what it looks like when it's done. So that is the safety element with the two frames in it from nitrate, one more time. So it is imperceptible where those are. All right, challenge number two, blurs and warps at every cut. So here is again a sample from the acetate. So at some point when this was made this went through a printer where the spices kind of bumped over the gate and the film lifted up of the focal plane and therefore you get what looks like this, and again step through it frame by frame.

    So that frame right before the cut goes out of focus, this frame after the cut also slightly out of focus because the next frame looks like that. So you'll see how the focus changes and then we're out. So -- and that same section in the nitrate look like this. So no focus loss, however, what you will see here is if you look at the top part of his head it kind of stretches a little bit. So again if you cut that into the safety element you'd see that little warping and so that had to be corrected out. So once again, we're using software Adobe Aftereffects here to do this, it's very powerful resolution independent edit system. So here is the final result. So I'll play that one more time. So -- and both of these elements -- this film is close to 80 minutes long and there were hundreds of these cuts that had the soft focus or this defocus that happened across the cut. So very -- again meticulous process to identify each one of those to find those same frames in the other film element, have those scanned and then adjust it to match into that sequence.
    All right, challenge number three, torn frames. Again, this is our primary, the acetate safety dupe negative. And what happens here is as we progress frame by frame you'll see a tear start there on the right side and progress across two frames. So this frame and this frame and we proceed on. And also you'll notice after the repair this is most physically repaired in I think in a prior element imprinted into this one, you know, it does this all speed bump thing here where it hops on you. So again going in the Aftereffects and working on this and by the way, it fixes each one of them -- you're working on each frame take just hours and hours of time.
    And then once the tear is fixed you're supposed to deal with the movement of the different element. So this is a little demo of the lower half having been stabilized and the top half running at -- you know, without the stabilization. So I'll play it again, so right across that cut again, look at the top half of the image. And across the cut you get that speed bump which in the bottom has been corrected out, so no speed bump you can go 100 miles an hour in the bottom. All right, and then this is the final restoration where the tear is gone and the speed bump is gone as well.

    Okay. And then challenge number four, so then things got even more complicated in that both elements -- so we had a problem in one element, in this case missing frames. But the same footage in the other element the one that we would normally use to fix the damage, it also had its own inherent problems. So we'll go through exactly what we had to do here. So this is the sequence in the safety or primary element, I'm going through frame by frame. And what happens if you note on the right edge of the frame you see this woman appear here back up, forward, backward, forward -- she just kind of pops into the frame, you'll also notice the woman in the center there kind of magically moves forward. So what's happening there is there are a couple of frames missing and that motion is no longer natural. In this case for whatever reason it was decided to pull that -- those frames up and we don't even have the black slugs.

    So and then in the nitrate same sequence going through the same frames and you can see as the woman enters on the right she's covered up by that stain, that's staining that we showed in the first clip that we ran. So you know, we can replace the frames, but they'll look like this. So what had to happen was we went through and literally kind of rotoscoped out each element of a given frame. There was also like -- if you see on the right here, there is shadow. That shadow was covered up by that modeling in the nitrate element. And then you take all those individual components, the best components from each element and rebuild them. You put them all back together and so you have a good frame. And then once the missing frames are rebuilt then you can go ahead and do all the normal scratch removal and color correction and things like that. So here is that sequence.

    Again, we feel that this is as close if not the same as the original viewing experience and in some cases maybe even better because if you think about the original viewing experience back in 1933 and after that print was run a few times it would be subject to its own damage and dirt and things like that. So once again stabilized no modeling and all the frames are there. So -- and then the last step is to balance the image contrast, color grading. We know it's black and white, but you still call it color correction. And because the digital files were finishing and restoring are going to be used for a variety of different applications in the color bay we are looking at the image projected on a plasma monitor and the CRT monitor so that we get a right for any and all display media. So -- and that concludes the demo we like to think that it may be invisible man, visible once again so --with that I'll introduce Jeff Pirtle with our archives group.

    Jeff Pirtle : My official title is Director of Archives and Collections. And what that basically means is that I'm responsible for the department that accesses the central reference source for all historic information about our studio. So over the past two years, it's been my privilege to serve on our centennial committee in which we were very involved in planning and celebrating Universal Pictures' 100th anniversary.

    So really quickly here, as I mentioned we are the central reference source for historic information about NBC Universal and our productions, one of the first questions that came to me whenever we were talking about celebrating the centennial was what's the date? And so we went back into the archives and actually found this original certificate of incorporation with that date April 30, 1912 written on it. So that's when the papers were filed with the State of New York to create the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. And I actually brought that original minute book. It is appear with that document inside of it.

    But one of our main functions is to collect, preserve, maintain and exhibit all the historically significant assets of the studio. So that's part of acting as the central reference source for all the historic information. These are the few of the jewels of our collection. So this is Gregory Peck's glasses and briefcase from To Kill a Mocking Bird, we also have Charlton Heston's suit that he wore in Touch of Evil, this is an original drawing of Bruce, the shark from Jaws which shows all of the mechanics and how the shark operated and this is also an original exhibitor’s campaign manual or press book, what we like to call it that we have in our collection. And I actually brought that original press book up here too.

    Another big responsibility that we have is to preserve the history that's being made today. So we work closely with the Universal Pictures featured assets group to identify and select assets that we want to bring over to the archives for preservation. So this is just one example of that, it's Maya Rudolph's wedding dress from Bridesmaids. So we keep pretty busy -- we've been really involved with our home entertainment and DVD group with providing content for the packages that were released as part of our centennial efforts. So with All Quite on the Western Front, we work closely with them to select production stills as well as assets from our collection to include in the DVD pack for all the other titles that were restored as part of our centennial effort. We also were closer with our media licensing group in case anyone needs photographs for publications.

    We also are involved with production reshoots. So with all of our franchise films, like all the Bourne films, all the Fast and Furious films, whenever they have a flashback scene, they'll come back to us and say, hey, do you guys have that artwork from Fast 4 that we can incorporate into this latest version? And then we also do a lot of exhibits, this is Keira Knightley's green dress from Atonement, that's part of our collection. And it's actually on display right now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, because we also participate in a lot of different Museum exhibits and loan assets out to them.

    And then of course we're also a historic reference source. So, quick history of Universal, it was formed by Carl Laemmle, when we merged his independent production company with five other independent producers. We started filming here in the San Fernando Valley, not much later than that in August 1912 on some leased land and then actually purchased the lot where we are right now in 1914. So we have been on this land about 98 years and we will be celebrating that anniversary just a couple of years.
    So as I mentioned, I was privileged to serve on the Centennial committee for Universal pictures. It was part of my responsibility to create notable films list based on commercial and artistic successes, artistic and career defining roles. And it was a real challenge to narrow down our film library which is so vast and so rich to a few titles to celebrate as part of our centennial. And we have a couple different websites that are available if you're interested in checking out some of our more centennial celebrations that we've had. On our Tumbler site, we're featuring some of our assets from the archives.

    But really quickly, as part of our centennial effort, we selected 13 films to be restored as part of that centennial. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the restoration effort by the studio. As Peter demonstrated, Invisible Man is also a title that's been restored and it was not part of this original list, but these are the 13 that were selected as part of the centennial. So as you can see its three diverse lists of titles, there is one from every decade from the '30s up through the '90's. And as I said this was just a tip of the iceberg, so we are continuing restoration effort within the studio like with in this moment.
    Unfortunately, we had a hard stop so we didn’t really have time for too many questions. I’d like to thank Universal for hosting us and showing us the vaults and what went into restoring the Monsters Collection on Blu-ray.


    I'd like to thank the Universal Home Video team and the executives including Michael Daruty, Jeff Pirtle, Peter Schade and Lea Porteneuve for hosting us.
     
  2. Sam Posten

    Sam Posten Moderator
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    Wow you nailed what it was like to be at this tour, thanks Adam! That's way more detail than I remember!
     
  3. phulman

    phulman Auditioning

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    Like Sam said, Adam you have a lot more detail then i remember.
    For me, we started out by the company store. Got to take some pics of the Minions outside as well as the giant posters on the studio buildings. We then hopped into the bus and started moving out.
    I remember going to the film vaults and seeing all the canisters of films (i got to take some pictures). We then went back to bus and then got the studio tour. It was nice to see all the props and various different pieces that they had. All the different cars from various movies/tv shows (like Back to the Future, Magnum PI's Ferrari), sets like War of the Worlds, Jaws, The Bates Motel, Wistera Lane (Disparate Housewives). There was alot to take in. I liked the King Kong shot of boat and how they did that. the big screen shot of King Kong and the raptors part of the ride was ok. The screen was really cool.
    We then went into one of the studio's theaters. I loved the stuff they showed on the restoration of the Invisible Man as well as the Dracula. I didn't know about the Spanish version of the film. So it was pretty cool learning about it and how it was shot, but was a different take on the film rather then just a dub.
    For me, I like the part of going to the film vaults and the parts about the restoration. The ride while was fun was not what i was expecting.
    oh and i wanted to link the photos I took.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157631978771440/
     
  4. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I just wished we had more time to converse with Bob O'Neil regarding their restoration projects. With that, I mean a much longer question and answer session regarding such releases as Classic Monsters and Hitchcock for example.
     
  5. Richard Gallagher

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    My group got off to bit of a rocky start when we were directed to the wrong parking garage, but it turned out to be a minor inconvenience. We managed to catch up to everyone else and then we milled around for a bit outside of the studio store. When the tram pulled up, we all got aboard and were taken to the vault, which Adam has described so well. Afterwards we got back on the tram, and it seemed that most of us were surprised to discover that the rest of our visit was going the be the same studio tour which any tourist can take. It was enjoyable as always, but if I had known that we were going to do it I would have made sure to have my camera with me! I believe that all of us would have preferred to see some parts of Universal which are not open to the general public.
     
  6. Matt Hough

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    I agree about the limited amount of time we had to spend with the home video team. It could have been twice or three times as long, and I wouldn't run out of questions and comments.

    The Universal tour was loads of fun, of course, and stopping midway to take us through the vault (not on the usual tour) was a great bonus and much appreciated.
     
  7. Andy_Munich

    Andy_Munich Stunt Coordinator

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    I hate to form an echo chamber, but I fully agree that the final part of the visit felt a bit rushed. I think we were all excited to see what Universal was doing with the monsters that built the place, and it would have been good to spend some more time with them. That's our HTF bread and butter.
    It was fantastic learning about Spanish Dracula. I want to put together a viewing party for just that film!
    Also, for me this was my first visit to a proper film archive. Just looking at the labels on some of the canisters was enough to make me feel like I was in the heart of things.
     
  8. Rob Willey

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    Really enjoyed the tour and discussion of the restoration process and the preserved history of the studio. Thanks for the look behind the scenes Universal! Can't wait to see the 1931 Dracula on blu!
     
  9. dmiller68

    dmiller68 Supporting Actor

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    That was a great write up. I did like the King Kong part of the backlot I thought the 3D effects where pretty cool. The rest of the backlot really hasn't changed much. I thought going through the archives was very interesting. It is amazing when you think how much history was in arms reach when you are walking through there.
     
  10. Bob Furmanek

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    The new Blu-rays are stunning.
     
  11. Todd Erwin

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    The movie geek in me really came out during the walk through the film archive vault, getting to see boxes and tins that said "Original Camera Negative" and the name of the movie, and was a great tease for what Warner had in store later in the week.

    It was nice that Universal took us on the tram tour, as I had not done that since the last meet in 2008, and got to see many of the new attractions on the tour, including Peter Jackson's King Kong 3-D 360, and got spit on a few times by the T-Rex and later by velociraptors as we passed through an area displaying props from Jurassic Park.

    We were then led to a screening room for a presentation on two of Universal's restoration projects. First we were shown the restoration featurette on Dracula that was part of the Monsters Collection set. We were then given a Power-Point type of presentation on the painstaking restoration efforts on The Invisible Man. What was astonishing was that, until now, there was no existing complete print of that film anywhere in the world, and in many cases the restoration team had to create missing frames from scratch, using bits and pieces from frames before and after. Can't wait to see the finished result next year.
     
  12. Dee Zee

    Dee Zee Second Unit

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    Thanks Adam. Nice recap.
     
  13. Frank Ha

    Frank Ha Second Unit

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    Thank you Universal for a very fun and interesting visit. I really enjoyed the time with spent at your studio. The backlot tour was fun. I always enjoy seeing the backlot. The 3D King Kong was fun. Seeing the films in the vault was very interesting. It was great seeing all the film elements and hearing how Universal takes care of their assets. I especially enjoyed the time we had hearing from Peter Schade about the restoration efforts of the Universal Monsters Collection and from Jeff Pirtle about the history and archives of Universal. I really wish we could have had more time with you guys. Maybe next time we can spend more time at Universal. I know I would really like that.
     
  14. RolandL

    RolandL Producer

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    I had bought the Classic Monsters Collection Blu-Ray and really enjoyed seeing the presentations by Peter Schade and Jeff Pirtle on the restoration of these films.
    I did the Universal tour just two weeks before so, I could have skipped that part, but I’m sure others enjoyed it.
    Most of us would have liked to have time to ask questions.
     
  15. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    There's going to be another release of the Invisible Man?
     
  16. Joe Wong

    Joe Wong Supporting Actor

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    Enjoyed the Universal backlot tour as always, with a couple of new segments (King Kong 3D!), but was really wowed by the Spanish Dracula!! The difference in attitudes toward how much "skin" is shown is especially telling.
    Also interesting to see that even fairly recent movies like Schindler's List is up for restoration/remastering. Attitudes towards preservation has changed and so much for the better.
    Joe
     
  17. Dave Whipps

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    The Univesal Tour is always a treat. King Kong 3D is well done.
    Touring the vaults was a welcome bonus.
    I love the Monsters collection and was pleased to see the restoration that Universal is undertaking. I hope they include some before and after scenes in the extras so folks can see how well these now look.
    Definetly some titles I want to add to my collection.
    Dave
     
  18. captgoodguy

    captgoodguy Stunt Coordinator

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    A great time spent with the folks at Universal. I always enjoy the tram ride and the new King Kong feature was impressive. The War of the Worlds portion is something you just can’t adequately describe to someone. You have to see it in person to appreciate it.
    I particularly enjoyed the presentation on the Dracula restoration. Call me crazy, but I must confess that working on a restoration project appeals to me. This was the first I had heard of a Spanish version. I will have to see this version at some point. I enjoyed seeing the historical documents as well.
    Going through the vault always gives me a sense of meeting the past. Several historic movies and television shows all part of history right there. Dressed warmly enough, I could spend several hours there reading the canisters.
    Thanks to everyone for a great job! One of my more enoyable presentations.
     
  19. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member

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    Adam, thank you so much for the detailed transcription of these events. As I read this one over, I'm amazed at how much I would not have remembered, in spite of the fact that I intently followed along at every moment.

    It just happens that the vault we were shown through and where we met Bob O'Neil was the first such vault I'd been in, and how great it was to enter and feel that chilled air and see shelves upon shelves of film cans. The presentations on the Universal Monsters was fascinating and I could sit through hours of it. I will now devour every last thing on the Blu-ray set with all the more interest and enthusiasm. However, I would also have greatly valued having more time in which to have a little back and forth with the folks there at Universal, and on a somewhat broader scope than just the Monsters.

    Thanks to Jeff Pirtle for sharing those lovely artifacts. Loved that pressbook, and may I respectfully suggest that you consider including a small replica of that or other such documents in future releases. Those are the kinds of extras that go far in helping to capture the time of a beloved film's release.
     
  20. Ken Volok

    Ken Volok Stunt Coordinator

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    That's not UCLA off the I-5 near Valencia, that's Cal Arts.... not affiliated with the UC system at all......
     

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