Not long ago, I had the chance to talk to with some very influential people in Disney about the restoration work done for the upcoming Dumbo Blu-ray. Those people included Sara Duran-Singer, the Senior Vice-President of Post-Production, Dave Bossert, the Creative Director of Walt Disney Studios Animation, and Joe Jiuliano, who is the Director of Film and Video Services The discussion yielded a lot of interesting information on how Disney restores and preserves their films as well as some interesting trivia such as the fact that legendary Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones got his start working for Disney. We also found out that some of Disney’s classic live action films including (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, and Mary Poppins) have already been restored and will be coming to Blu-ray. Ostensibly, we were supposed to talk about the amazing restoration done on Dumbo, but I managed to sneak in a question about the legendary Song of the South which is still locked up in the vault, and I actually got an answer that might surprise you. Read on to find out more…
Note: I’ve tried to streamline this to make it easier to follow the conversation since you won’t have the benefit of the slides and multimedia that we were able to see. I thought about just giving the highlights but I knew that some people would like to get the full picture so I did the best I could to balance both sides.
(Moderator): My name is Mindy Johnson, and I’m here on behalf of the Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment Division. We are joined today by (Sarah Duran-Singer), the Senior Vice President of Post-Production with Walt Disney Studios…
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us.
Mindy Johnson: (Dave Bossert) is the Creative Director of Walt Disney Studios Animation, in charge of Special Projects and is also the Artistic Supervisor of the Restoration and Preservation Team. (Dave), good morning.
(Dave Bossert): Hi, everybody.
(Mindy Johnson): And we’re also joined by (Joe Jiuliano), who’s the Director of Film and Video Services with the Walt Disney Studios, and the Technical Adviser for the Restoration Committee. (Joe), good morning.
(Joe Jiuliano): Hi. Hi, everybody.
(Mindy Johnson): With that, we’d like to get underway. (Sarah), if you could get us started with this whole frontier of preservation and restoration?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Great. Thank you, Mindy. And thank you, everyone, for joining us. We are all really excited about the upcoming Blu-ray release of “Dumbo.” It’s been a favorite of the studio’s for a long time, and we were really happy to have the opportunity to work on this title and bring it back to its prior glory. What I’d like to talk about first is how we were able to do this, how we were able to bring back this title. A huge part of that is the fact that the studio is very engaged with the preservation of all of our library titles, not just animation, but our live action. In fact, we just finished a restoration on “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” The studio knows that our library is one of the most valuable libraries out there, and they’ve been very aggressive in making sure that we preserve them. As most of you know – right now, the motion pictures made within the first half of the 20th century are in danger of completely disappearing due to a number of issues.
There’s a couple things that we’re looking at right here. We’re looking at vinegar syndrome and also nitrate deterioration. Now, what the Walt Disney Company has done is, years ago, we made an agreement with the Library of Congress that we would loan them our nitrate negatives that were shot during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s at the studio, huge amount of our animation – feature-length animation library and our short animation library. And we gave them to them to preserve and to store, because we did not have the correct storage facilities. I don’t know if you know, but nitrate is highly flammable and is very dangerous to store if it’s not kept in very particular circumstances. Obviously, humidity is a huge factor. Humidity is maintained. Refrigeration is a key issue. And the Library of Congress checks out film and rarely handle our film, but when they pull it out, they inspect it, they make sure it’s preserved, it is handled in a wonderful manner, which meant that when we wanted to go back and start restoring our film, we could pull these nitrate successive exposure black-and-white negatives out and actually use them.
Obviously, sometimes things happen, and the risk – if you want to go to the next slide – some of the things that you’re at risk for is vinegar syndrome. Vinegar syndrome you know you have that issue right away if you open the can. You can see here in this picture, basically this mag track is deteriorating. And you open the can, and if you smell vinegar, you have a problem. It’s probably already too late. It’s already on its way to destruction. Another issue, you look at is, in 2004, we pulled out “Steamboat Willie” as one of our key projects that we wanted to restore. And we found nine feet in original successive exposure negative that basically was destroyed. You can see that the picture has gone away.
We were really lucky that we could find a dupe negative that had those frames that were missing. So we scanned the dupe negative and we scanned the original successive exposure negative and (netted them) – put them together and did a dirt clean-up and a scratch clean-up and fixed certain things in the – actually, what we first discovered is we made it pristine, and we looked at it and went, oh, you know, that’s not good, because that’s not “Steamboat Willie.” “Steamboat Willie,” for all we’ve seen it so many times, there’s a little bit of jitters, there’s a little bit of movement, there is some grain, there is some scratches. And if you made it too clean, it actually looked like something that was made currently and it didn’t look like the “Steamboat Willie” that we all remembered.
So we went back and did a good restoration, but didn’t clean it up pristinely, and we kept some of the movement and jitter. So it felt like the “Steamboat Willie” we all knew and we all remembered from childhood and from seeing it in the theater and on TV. And actually, that restored version of “Steamboat Willie” became the source for animation studios’ new animation logo, which utilizes “Steamboat Willie.” You’ve probably seen it at the head of our films like “Tangled” and “Princess and the Frog.” So it was great to be able to restore this and then see that film being used again and brought to life for a whole new generation to see part of it.
So let’s go to the next image. Now, you’re looking at “Mickey’s Gala Premier,” which is 1933. And what we have here is some nitrate deterioration. In the image, you can see some of that bubbling. That is not good, either. And when we were inspecting our film at Library of Congress, they showed us how dangerous that is. Basically, they pulled out a small bit of film, and they lit it, and it went, “Pff.” And that’s – how you would describe that, but like a little explosion, like flash paper. So not only is your film being destroyed, but it often becomes incredibly volatile, and you have to really store it and protect it.
So we’re very – work very much hand in hand to make sure that that film is – and if anything starts to deteriorate, we try to tackle it right away. Now, what we have done since 2004, we did a Library of Congress scanning project. We periodically would move over large chunks of our animation library on nitrate negative. We scanned it at 4K with our partners at Warner Bros. MPI, created a digital file of that. We actually then created a QuickTime of that so we could check and make sure that for – we had every frame scanned.
And (Joe Jiuliano), my colleague here, will explain a little bit about successive exposure negative, but for every one frame of picture, you had three frames of negative. So we checked that frame by frame. And then we handed it over to my partner, (Joe Jiuliano), and his team, and they (filmed out) a brand-new black-and-white successive exposure negative. So we actually captured the original data and we preserved it for at least another 100 years. We did this with our entire nitrate library. In fact, I think (Joe) is still in the progress of – the last little bit of filming it out. And those…
(Joe Jiuliano): Sixteen-and-a-half million frames.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): That’s a lot of frames. But that’s how important our library is to us. And that original nitrate or the scans that we did became the sources that we used for our restoration of basically all our classic animation titles, “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and, of course, as we’re talking about, “Dumbo.” Here’s just another close-up of the sadness that we’re experiencing, but, again, we are in much better shape than I think many studio libraries are, because we did spend the money.
Now, these are frames from “Snow White,” which we actually restored – two year ago. And there’s other issues. It’s not – obviously, we spoke about vinegar syndrome and we spoke about nitrate deterioration. There’s other things. What you’re looking at here, the frame in the middle, there is heavy plastic splices. You can kind of see over the images, the two images in the middle, there’s a plastic splice – plastic tape splice that goes into the image and deteriorates it or damages it. So we have to – after we’ve scanned the film, we have to do some real picture restoration to get rid of that splice that’s distorting the image.
And then the image on the right, you can see on the left side of the film we’ve actually lost the perfs, which make it incredibly difficult to scan, so that we probably did have to go ahead and put splice tape on that to be able to scan that.
So there’s all sorts of problems. We’ve discovered with every title that we’ve done is the problems aren’t consistent. They all have different issues that you have to address, not just with the physical film, but also with the picture. Every film we think we’ve solved the problem, the next movie, we have totally different sets of problems that we have to resolve, and (figuring out the) best way to restoring it. It actually makes these projects really exciting. They’re a bit of a treasure hunt. So basically – so you understand why this restoration of “Dumbo” is different from any of the previous releases, because I know it’s been released on VHS – has it been released on DVD before?
(Mindy Johnson): Yes, but this is the first release for “Dumbo” on Blu-ray.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes, this one is unique and special and to explain why the Blu-ray is going to be such a stunning experience is, previously we didn’t scan from the original negative. You know, the technology wasn’t quite ready. We were concerned about the negative. We hadn’t backed up the negative and preserved it through (Joe Jiuliano)’s team. So we would use basically an (inter-negative) or (inter-positive) that could be several generations away from that original black-and-white successive exposure negative.
By using a piece of film that was several generations away, you are introducing, obviously, more dirt, a lot more grain, softness of image, and, really, you’re getting away from the original color. You’re introducing steps in there, and whether those intermediate negative and (positive were made correctly), it is changing the color. Then, of course, we would do full registration and dirt clean-up and we would then create the VHS or the DVD master. But what we’re doing now, which is really exciting, is we are going back, as I said, to that original successive exposure black-and-white negative, and this is an example of what it looks like. We can come back to this slide when (Joe) delves into what exactly successive exposure is, because he’s been shooting it for – 25 years?
(Joe Jiuliano): Yes.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Twenty-five years. So now what we are doing is we are using that original negative or the original (four case) scans that we did off of that original negative. That is our source. So we’re getting the image as it was captured by Walt Disney’s artists, you know, 40 years ago, 50 years ago…
(Mindy Johnson): Seventy-plus.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Was it 70? Oh, my gosh.
(Mindy Johnson): It’s the 70th anniversary.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Wow. We are then doing full restoration, re-registering it, re-combining those, and out comes an image that is complete, it’s the real color that was shot, that is – you don’t have any of the build-up of the gray. You don’t have much build-up of the dirt. The key thing that you gain – really, I want to stress – is you don’t have as much grains. The image is a lot sharper. And the colors are truer. They are the real colors that were captured. So it really is what the filmmakers intended. Now, I would like to hand this over to my colleagues (Dave Bossert) and (Joe Jiuliano) to talk a little bit about what was unique about the restoration of “Dumbo.”
(Dave Bossert): Hey, guys. This is (Dave Bossert). I’m going to jump in and give you just a quick little overview, from the artistic side of this on what we did with the “Dumbo” restoration. Just in general terms, we spent nearly seven months working on the restoration and preservation of “Dumbo.” And as (Sarah) mentioned, 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, is cleaned and inspected. Just for numbers, there’s 275,352 frames of negative for “Dumbo” that was scanned. You can see that up there. And I always get a kick out of it, but it’s 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’s a dust-busting with – 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, this team that’s been working since 2003 on this restoration and preservation of these feature films, 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’s all kinds of little oddities in creating animated films that aren’t necessarily meant to be in the film. And what we’re driving 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 70 years ago. 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. And 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. So, (Joe), it’s all yours.
(Joe Jiuliano): 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, of 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 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 – again, with my partners here, — 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, as (Dave) mentioned.
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, 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.
(Dave Bossert): I was just going to follow up on what (Joe) was saying by – 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.” So I just wanted to throw that in, (Joe).
(Sarah Duran-Singer): 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) and (Joe), 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. (Andres Deja), who you might know as an animator on Scar and…
(Dave Bossert): Yes, I was going to throw in, too, 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), of course, Roy Disney, when he was still alive, as well. And so we’ve been tapping into, you know, a lot of – some of the original artists, if you will, that we could. And obviously, 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.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): You know, we’ve been incredibly lucky to have this team and access to those talents when we could. And we’re all experts in different areas. And we approached this process with, again – as (Dave) talked about – we want to keep it to – 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? And we have debated. 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.
But, 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. Now, 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. They were expensive films, and they weren’t as financially successful as I think the studio hoped, so they decided to take a different approach with “Dumbo.” “Dumbo” is one of the shorter films. I think it comes in at around…
(Mindy Johnson): Sixty-four.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): … 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. Specifically, (Dave), do you want to talk about some of the issues they had with the paint?
(Dave Bossert): Yes, 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’s 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, if you will, from the brushing – 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, was the amount of paint crawl, because in some of the scenes, the paint crawl 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.
(Joe Jiuliano): The grain killed it a little bit.
(Dave Bossert): 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. Let me toss it back to (Sarah).
(Sarah Duran-Singer): We actually have some examples to show you, some before-and-after that we’ll go through in a second. One other thing that I think we should talk about – but because this was a lower-cost production and they were trying to save money, they would reuse cells. Do you guys want to talk about that?
(Dave Bossert): Well, you know, one of the things back in the late ’30s into the 1940s, they actually had a position at the studio called the cell washer. And what the cell washer did was, 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. Well, 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 and shrinkage…
(Joe Jiuliano): And rippled some…
(Dave Bossert): … 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.
(Joe Jiuliano): Well, it was part of the process. And it was acceptable. I mean, it was…
(Dave Bossert): Well, back then it was.
(Joe Jiuliano): Yes. 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.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): 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.
(Joe Jiuliano): I think you really do have to just keep saying, artistic intent. What was the artistic intent?
(Dave Bossert): Yep, absolutely.
(Joe Jiuliano): And rippled cells was not the artistic intent.
(Dave Bossert): 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.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Was he really?
(Dave Bossert): Yes, he was. He got his start here.
(Joe Jiuliano): That’s a fun fact.
(Dave Bossert): A little factoid.
<Presentation of some before and after slides of the movie>
(Sarah Duran-Singer): We do all of our restoration work with our partners over at Lowry Digital or Reliance. It’s now owned by Reliance. And they’ve been our partner since we tackled “Bambi” in 2003. And, again, with the elephants, we had to tackle a lot of – as (Dave) mentioned – the paint crawl, which if you just saw the image, it was incredibly distracting watching that paint bubble and move.
(Mindy Johnson): And, again, in the final Blu-ray, the colors are that much more richer. This is definitely, pre-color-correction.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes, These are just only the restoration. Now, we’ve talked about picture, and we’ve talked about preservation. Another key project that we tackle is we – through preservation and also through restoration is our audio. Just like we did with our successive exposure negatives, we are currently, actually, migrating and cleaning up our entire Disney animation and live-action library audio. So it’s a multi-year, 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.
Now, in the case of “Dumbo,” this one had a very interesting history. You know, hindsight is 20/20. Obviously, 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 what we’ve been doing – 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 bringing – transferring those tracks, cleaning them up through Pro Tools, and utilizing other tools, and doing what we call a Disney-Enhanced Home Theater Mix, which is either spread – a mono-spread to 5.1 or to 7.1. He actually perfected this on “The Lion King.” When we did “The Lion King” DVD release, he created the Disney Enhanced Home Theater. And 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. So (Terry)’s process, as I mentioned, is to digitize in those 35-millimeters, clean them up, and then remix them. Now, what was unique about “Dumbo” is – as (Dave) mentioned – we do a ton of research on this. And one of the things we do is we try to find original film prints, anything that anybody (has up there) that we can look at, and we’ve partnered with UCLA Film Archives. And (Theo Gluck), who I mentioned is a member of the team who’s the film expert, was able to track down through UCLA an original print of “Dumbo.” And he set up the screening over at UCLA. We all went and looked at it.
(Dave Bossert): It was a Technicolor nitrate print.
(Joe Jiuliano): No, it was (an IB)…
(Dave Bossert): 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.
(Joe Jiuliano): It might have been, but the color method was IB.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Want to explain IB, (Joe)?
(Joe Jiuliano): 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 grainless. 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 negative, three-strip – or three – sorry, successive exposure negative.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): 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. But in this particular case, what we didn’t expect was this print to have a really good optical soundtrack that 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. So, obviously, we don’t have audio on this, but when you go out and you buy that 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 and clicks and wow taken out.
(Mindy Johnson): OK, let’s move on to the Disney View feature, which is a new feature on many of our Platinum Edition restorations for the earlier films. (Dave), if you could talk a bit about this?
(Dave Bossert): Sure. So the Disney View feature came up a number of years ago, and part of its genesis was the fact that the aspect ratio of these films, like “Dumbo,” some of the early “Dumbo” feature films, is what we referred to as 4:3 aspect ratio or 1:33 aspect ratio. Most of the films that you view today are 1:85 aspect ratio or 1:78, but it’s a more rectangular image. And with the penetration of flat-screen televisions into a lot of homes, the consumers have a more rectangular television, so when you view a square picture on a rectangle, you have black bars on either side.
Well, the studio was getting some complaints from consumers that our movies were not taking up all of the real estate of their television screens. So they came up with this concept of doing a Disney View, which was really putting some wallpaper up to cover the black bars. And when Home Entertainment first approached me about this, I made the suggestion that we actually not just throw any old wallpaper up, but we get some artists that have a Disney connection, some Disney heritage to actually paint those sort of proscenium pieces for us that we could put up.
And so on “Dumbo,” we reached out to (James Cullman), but all of us that have worked with him over the years know him as (Jim). And (Jim) is a well-known, world-renowned, actually, artist out there in the world, sells his paintings and prints in galleries all over the place, is very well collected in Japan and other places. (Jim) was a background painter and actually was head of backgrounds here at Disney for a number of years, but he was with the studio for nearly 20 years before he segued out into this fine art career that he has now. And so I reached out to (Jim) and asked him if he’d come in and work with us on doing these paintings to create this proscenium for “Dumbo.” And he was absolutely thrilled to come in and work with us. And what he came up with was a series of paintings that are representative of the sequences in the movie.
So as you’re watching the film, when we change locations, if we go from an interior sequence to an exterior sequence, those panels will change. They’re designed to complement the movie and not detract from the film. And, again, on the Blu-ray, it’s an optional feature, the same as the sound. So if a purist wants to watch the movie with the black bars and in mono, they can. If they want to watch the movie with the Disney View panels in 5.1 or 7.1, they can do that, too. So it’s all choice. And I think (Jim) did a beautiful job on these panels. They’re just gorgeous paintings. And by the way, these are physical paintings that he did for us. They weren’t done digitally, so it’s a throwback to the way the art was originally created, and I think he really captured some really nice panels here. They were all kind of based on the circus tent idea, almost. I think a lot of them – it’s as if you’re viewing the movie from – you know, through an opening in a circus tent, which is kind of fun. And each of these pieces then are also stored at the Animation Research Library for future – for preservation purposes.
(Mindy Johnson): “Dumbo” will be available for the first time on Disney Blu-ray this month, September 20th.
(Sean Ferguson): Hi, this is Sean Ferguson with Why So Blu.com. Now that you can create these new transfers based on the original negative, are you planning to go back to the previous releases, like “Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White,” and use the original element there?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): We actually have. Any – those Blu-rays were – they were done in the same manner that we did “Dumbo.”
(Sean Ferguson): Oh, I thought I heard you say that you weren’t able to do that until “Bambi.”
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Oh, well, yes, but “Bambi” was the first one was did in 2003, so anything after 2003 was done in this manner.
(Sean Ferguson): OK.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): “Sleeping Beauty” was our first Blu-ray that was done. And then we did “Snow White.” It just came out on Blu-ray a year-and-a-half ago.
(Dave Bossert): And “Fantasia,” which was just released.
(Joe Jiuliano): But all of the classics, basically.
(Dave Bossert): Yes, we’ve basically gone through all the classics. And just to be clear, these have been sort of a ground-up restoration. In other words, we’ve gone right back to the nitrate negative for this whole series of restoration. Anything that was done prior to that on VHS tape or early DVD is irrelevant to us. We started each one of these titles right off the Nitrate negative and did a brand-new restoration.
(Sean Ferguson): Yes, these look incredible, by the way.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Thank you.
(Dave Bossert): Thank you.
(Sean Ferguson): I was also wondering, if there any plans to go back to revisit other movies, like “Song of the South,” something that’s never even been released?
(Joe Jiuliano): Actually, right now, that’s part of the Library of Congress project. And we have scanned that. And I have shot new safety negative, but that’s as far as we’ve gone.
(Dave Bossert): That’s as far as we’ve gone on “Song of the South.”
(Sarah Duran-Singer): But it is preserved. Again, the priority was to make sure our library was safe.
(Sean Ferguson): Well, that’s good. Thank you.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): OK, next question.
(Eric Shirey): This is (Eric Shirey). I work with Yahoo.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Hi, Eric.
(Eric Shirey): Yes, the stuff looks really good. I’ve been looking at it here. I’ve got a question. What – you were saying earlier that some of them – it seemed like they didn’t pay off when you restored them. At what point do you decide that something isn’t going to be worth enough or is going to make enough money to restore it? I mean, how do you make that decision?
(Dave Bossert): Well, I think you have to understand something. Everything that’s in our film library we believe needs to have some level of restoration and preservation done. Some films or some animation may get a certain level of restoration, whereas a film like “Bambi” or “Fantasia” or any of our – you know, “Dumbo,” as we’re talking about, will get what we refer to as a pristine restoration. But they’re all getting some level of restoration, and they’re all getting preservation.
(Joe Jiuliano): That’s right. (Eric), the 16.5 million frames that we had talked about that were on Nitrate before 1955, all of it has been scanned 4K. And I am just finishing up re-shooting safety negative on all of it. And so it’s really the company’s decision when we go further with that but the decision to preserve it all has been made, and we’re doing that.
(Dave Bossert): Yes, and, you know, you have to also realize that some of this is driven by release schedules.
(Eric Shirey): I’ve got another question real quick. (Sarah) said earlier that, when you restored “Steamboat Willie,” you made it look like it wasn’t perfect, like it still kind of had that shake to it.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes.
(Eric Shirey): Why – at what point do you decide to leave it that way, but sometimes with, like “Dumbo” and “Snow White” and the other ones, you make those look absolutely crystal-clear? Like, where do you decide to draw the line there?
(Dave Bossert): Well, you know, it’s an interesting thing. When we did “Steamboat Willie,” it’s a black-and-white cartoon. It’s obviously one of the earliest – you know, if not the earliest – Mickey cartoon. And we actually did a pristine restoration on that, where we took the flicker out, we took the weave of the film out, and we cleaned it up, and it was absolutely perfect looking, and we all sat there and said, “This doesn’t really look right,” from an artistic standpoint. And what we wound up doing was, we did what we would refer to as kind of a wedge test. We backed in a little bit of grain. We backed in a little bit of light flicker. We backed in a little of film weave. And we did that in various degrees. And we actually showed it to Roy Disney. And we explained the process to Roy. And Roy absolutely agreed with us that you cannot make it that perfect, because that wasn’t the way it was created, with the technology of the day, and it just didn’t feel right. So it was our group – if you will – groupthink that you had to leave a little bit of grain, weave, light flicker, for it to feel of the period.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes, we felt like we’d taken all the character out of it and all the life out of it. And then we kind of said make it look the way the original filmmakers intended it, and in this particular case, it just was such a different experience that we did all respond, like – eh, we’ve got to back off a little bit.
(Joe Jiuliano): I think all of the old black-and-whites, the animation was done in such a loose – and I’d hate to say, it’s not really crude, but it’s…
(Dave Bossert): But it is. This was a cruder style.
(Joe Jiuliano): And to see – to see that animation done in a pristine sort of digital way just didn’t seem to match. And I think in these movies, at least the old black-and-whites that were done in that style of animation, there’s a part of history there that’s captured on the negative that doesn’t necessarily apply to the later color films or the Technicolor films.
(Dave Bossert): And it’s the same if you look at a black-and-white silent movie, you know? It’s the same kind of thing. If you try to make it look too perfect, it doesn’t play well.
(Joe Jiuliano): Yes, history is part of the equation on that.
(Eric Shirey): Do you think that you guys will ever, like, release a portion of it, just to kind of give us – give people an idea of what it looked like perfect? I mean, just out of curiosity for people?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): I actually don’t think we saved that pristine one…
(Eric Shirey): Oh, really?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Remember, this goes back to hand-drawn animation. And if you take all that human element out of it…
(Joe Jiuliano): It’s hard to answer, because, you know, at one side, we’re saying, we’re going to make it as good as we can. But everybody in that room felt the same way. It was like, it just didn’t feel right. And so – you know, that’s why we made that.
(Dave Bossert): And I think the other point to this, too, is that when we’re doing these restorations on all of the feature films and we’re doing pristine restorations, we’re not trying – like, for instance, on “Dumbo,” we didn’t take all of the paint crawl out. We took a certain amount of the paint crawl out. But if you watch that Blu-ray, you’re going to see a little bit here and there, but it’s not obtrusive to viewing the title. It doesn’t take you out of the movie. But it also allows for the viewer to understand that this is a hand-created piece of art.
(Joe Jiuliano): And a good example, also, are the shadows, the cell shadows, that we could have gone in and painted out all of the cell shadows. That is the shadows that are cast by the lights on the animation camera by the actual character that’s on the cells that’s cast onto the background right underneath it. And to take that out would really make it something different than what it was. So I think that’s a good point, that it’s pristine to a point, but we don’t really necessarily eliminate all the history of animation from it.
(Male): So what you’re saying is you that applied this methodology to “Dumbo,” as well, where there are some historical… aspects of it that you don’t want to wipe out?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes, it’s a learning curve. And, again, each film is unique, but we did discover, as we tested things, that if you go way too far – and I think you even run into this in live-action films – live-action titles where they remove all the grain, it starts to change the character of the film. We found if we just painted – got rid of every bit of grain, it made the film seem so current, kind of what we experienced with “Steamboat Willie,” that it did lose the character of that piece of art at that period of time. So it’s a fine-line walked. I mean, we kind of felt like, if it’s distracting you from the image, if it’s a big side of an elephant and all you’re noticing is paint crawl, that’s taking you out of the experience of the film. But if it’s off to the side or it’s a smaller character, you know, you may not take all of the paint crawl out of there.
(Male): May I ask when – when in your grain management decision-making, you decided not to degrain the films? Was there one particular film where you had a shift in philosophy?
(Dave Bossert): No, I think that on each individual film, there is the discussion – and usually we look at a couple of samples as to what level of grain is going to be in it. There was no blanket decision where we said, “Every single one.”
(Joe Jiuliano): I don’t think ever got rid of film grain, because when we went back to the original negative, the film grain was much, much less than any of the multi-generation copies. We did go and do a lot of tests on the grain of background papers, if you remember, because we were coming up with images that were so clear that sometimes that was distracting, and we would have to bring the grain back to it’s original level.
(Male): And how would you characterize the color palette of “Dumbo” and how it may be slightly different from the previous films?
(Dave Bossert): You mean in comparison to previous films or…
(Male): Yes. What defines the color – what’s distinctive about the color palette of “Dumbo” that you discovered that’s different from “Snow White,” “Bambi,” “Pinocchio,” “Dumbo” and others.
(Dave Bossert): Well, I think the one thing we can say about “Dumbo” is that there’s larger areas of the screen that are covered with one color. So that was one issue that was different from some of the other films that we’ve dealt with.
(Joe Jiuliano): Circus colors.
(Dave Bossert): And as far as just the color palette goes, the color palette is ‘circus,’ so there’s a lot more in the way of primary colors.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): 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 it’s 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 was 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.
(Male): Maybe say, because it’s a circus, it’s going to be more vibrant, more colorful…
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes.
(Male): (Inaudible) darker moments to this…
(Sarah Duran-Singer): You also have to remember, these Blu-rays are being played on high-definition monitors, which are very bright, which these films were really probably never seen that way — they were projected light. So, again, it changes that sense of your experience when you’re looking at it on a very bright high-definition monitor.
(Sean Ferguson): So does it make any difference between something like “Sleeping Beauty,” that was shot on 70-millimeter, versus something like “Dumbo”? Did you notice a big change, because there’s so much more space, when you were trying to restore “Sleeping Beauty”?
(Dave Bossert): No, because you know why? “Sleeping Beauty” was done in the late ’50s. And you’ve got to realize that each one of these films, the Disney animation process of making these films kept getting better and better, and the technology kept improving, and so the later films to us, like “Sleeping Beauty,” had less in the way of issues in some instances than some of the early films.
(Joe Jiuliano): Also the stylized art direction in that made it different.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes, we’d get through one and think, oh, great, now we know how to do these, and then we’d start another movie, and the palette, the line art, the background, the character design was so completely different that we had to learn all over again, not just from a color palette perspective, but also working with our clean-up vendor, Lowry Digital. They had to figure out the fact that the tools that they used on “Bambi” may not work on something like “Snow White,” so it was a constant learning curve.
(Dave Bossert): “Fantasia” is a great example of that, because we had all these different sequences that were done very differently, stylistically from one another, and used different types of special effects and camera effects and all kinds of things.
(Joe Jiuliano): That negative was probably the roughest for us.
(Dave Bossert): That was – yes, “Fantasia” was probably the roughest negative, because it was all pieced together.
(Joe Jiuliano): Yes, because everybody used different parts of it for different things.
(Dave Bossert): Yes.
(Joe Jiuliano): A lot of mileage on it.
(Male): I have another question about the view panels that you guys did. Have you, like – I know a lot of times studios will, like, kind of consumer test things a little bit here and there. Have you done any of that? And have you had any feedback about it? I mean, have people said that it is distracting or it’s not distracting? I think it’s a great idea, but, I mean…
(Dave Bossert): Well, you know what? We’ve not – to my knowledge – and I’ve been intimately involved with the Disney View panels option on these Blu-rays from the inception – to my knowledge, there has not been any kind of negative comments made. I actually talked to a couple of what you would refer to as uber-fans who raised an eyebrow when this was first being proposed to be done. And I had one of them come up to me after the first release, which I think was “Pinocchio”…
(Mindy Johnson): It was.
(Dave Bossert): Yes, it was “Pinocchio.” And (Toby Bluth) had done the art panels for “Pinocchio.” And this person came up to me and said they didn’t think that they were going to watch the movie with the Disney View panels, but wound up watching the entire film with the panels and loved it.
(Male): That’s right?.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Again, we give a choice.
(Dave Bossert): Yes, it’s an option.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes, if the fan doesn’t like it, they don’t have to play it.
(Dave Bossert):Yes, but, you know, to my surprise, there were a number of uber-fans out there that have had positive feedback on it.
(Male): Was there one particular sequence out of the film that you guys found that was particularly challenging for restoration, you know, the one section – I’m thinking “Pink Elephants on Parade” must have been, you know, right up there.
(Dave Bossert): That actually wasn’t as bad of a sequence as you might have thought. I think the one…
(Joe Jiuliano): Elephant pyramid…
(Dave Bossert): Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Anything with the elephants.
(Dave Bossert): The elephant pyramid, where they’re all trying to stack on top of each other, was a huge issue for us with paint crawl. For whatever reason, that particular sequence had an abundance of paint crawl.
(Adam Gregorich): (Adam Gregorich), Home Theater Forum. Just looping back to the color timing a bit, there was some concern when the “Bambi” Blu-ray was released that, you know, that maybe some things had been done to intentionally give it some extra pop and make it look more “Toy Story”-like, if you will. But just confirming based on everything you’re saying here, what you essentially did is went back to the original backgrounds and tried to 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 a matter of the fact that 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?
(Dave Bossert): You’re absolutely right.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Absolutely.
(Dave Bossert): You know, and 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.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): You know, 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 are the projectors set up? …what is the issues with the lenses? And 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.”
(Joe Jiuliano): 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 were in the original movie.
(Dave Bossert): 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.
(Joe Jiuliano): Yes, our conscience is clear on that.
(Dave Bossert): Yes, we can sleep comfortably at night.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): With the screening that (Ollie) and (Frank) attended – and I’ve done tons of screenings. I’ve been at Disney now for 24 years. With 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.
(Dave Bossert): 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 are detached from the entire process, who are just reacting from their own personal memories.
(Male): No, I’m finding that I’m falling in love with these movies all over again on Blu-ray…
(Joe Jiuliano): There you go. That’s right.
(Male): … and seeing – and seeing them in a new way. And in some ways, it’s like seeing them for the first time.
(Dave Bossert): Exactly right, because that’s what we’ve been telling a lot of our colleagues here at the studio is that they need to see these Blu-ray editions of these films, because they haven’t seen the movie until you see the Blu-ray.
(Joe Jiuliano): That’s right. “Have you seen ‘Pinocchio’?' Not yet.” Well, that was really good to hear what you just said, because that’s really what we aim for, is for you to feel like you’ve seen it for the first time.
(Eric Shirey): I’ve got a question a little off topic, but still Disney-related. Is there any plans – do any kind of restoring to – and I don’t know if you guys would be a part of it or not – “Darby O’Gill”?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): I can answer that. Who is this I’m speaking with?
(Eric Shirey): Oh, I’m sorry. It’s (Eric Shirey) with Yahoo. I absolutely love that movie. And you can find it nowhere.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Well…
(Joe Jiuliano): We’ll do it for you, (Eric).
(Sarah Duran-Singer): I’ll tell you what – yes, actually we can talk a bit about the studio-wide effort of preservation and restoration. We are in a multi-year effort to basically re-master and restore and preserve the entire Disney studio library. And “Darby O’Gill” is on the list.
(Eric Shirey): Oh, good.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): It is currently being somewhat driven by commerce. If we have an HD Blu-ray coming up or we have an HD TV sale, then those titles go to the top of the list. But when we have time, we try to work proactively. And last year – the end of the fiscal year is coming up, so I’m saying fiscal year 2011 – we actually did “Parent Trap,” the original Hayley Mills “Parent Trap,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Old Yeller,” and “Absent-Minded Professor,” and “Pollyanna.”
(Eric Shirey): Wow.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes, and they look great. And those were 4K scans. They’re not – you know, with full pristine dirt clean-up. And in the case of, like, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” we took out the wires on the – the big giant squid fight.
(Dave Bossert): By the way, I just saw a digital screening of “20,000 Leagues” here at the studio, and it looks unbelievable.
(Eric Shirey): Yes, that’s one of my favorites.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): “Darby O’Gill” is on that list and probably would be tackled either this coming fiscal year or the next fiscal year. Then we’ve just got to put it out on Blu-ray.
(Eric Shirey): OK, so you guys will, like, digitally do things to that, like you’ll take out the wires or maybe clean up the, like, lines around the people, you know, like the miniatures and stuff?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes. Yes.
(Eric Shirey): Cool, OK.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): It’s the same sort of approach. I mean, it was fine when it was released originally, because the projection abilities at that time and the film stocks and the grain kind of hid those things. But now if you look at it on a high-definition bright plasma or LCD monitor, that stuff jumps out at you and it takes you out of the movie, which was not the experience. And in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Walt went to huge effort to hide the wires. I mean, obviously, he shot – that was originally a daylight fight. And when he saw the original footage, he went, “Oh, this is not working,” and they went back at huge expense for back then and re-shot it at night to help kind of make it – the squid look real and hide some of the mechanics of the squid.
(Eric Shirey): OK. OK. Excellent. Again, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take us off of, you know, the subject. I just (inaudible).
(Male): Any chance those ones that just got – that you mentioned, “Parent Trap,” “Absent-Minded Professor,” “20,000 Leagues,” “Swiss Family Robinson,” the ones that we saw those deluxe DVD releases of, any chance that all of you there can go with pitchforks to the home video office and get them to actually get those scheduled for Blu-ray releases?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): What we try to do — home entertainment is one of our clients. If we’re doing something proactively, we’re constantly letting them know – giving them a list of what’s been done. So if they have an opening in their slate, we say, hey, here are some great potential titles. And obviously, they look at it and they balance it, they will look at that list, and they will pull from that. But, you know, it also feeds television broadcasts. So if for whatever reason, somebody’s rebroadcasting “Pollyanna,” you would see that restored master.
(Sean Ferguson): And what about a hybrid, like “Mary Poppins”? Is that a more difficult effort, because you’ve got animation and live action? And is that on the way, hopefully?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): “Mary Poppins” is on the slate for next year. Live action is a lot easier, because you don’t have all these other issues that are introduced, like paint crawl, (cell scruff), animation pops. Newton rings, SE dirt. Obviously, we have the animated sequence in the middle of the movie that we’ll have to tackle, but in general, live action, it’s negative dirt and it’s in scratches. And once in a while, there might be something like a frame jump or something like that. But live action is easier. But that is one in the queue. We’re looking towards the 50th anniversary.
(Sean Ferguson): Oh, great. Thanks.
(David Lamacher): Hey, guys. (David Lamacher), iRateFilms.com. How are you doing today?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Hi, (David).
(David Lamacher): Excellent. Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to (Andres Deja) about the “Bambi” restoration, and he spoke to me about the fact of the importance of keeping – like you guys said – the original artist integrity, but also the restoration for new generations of these classic movies to show kids that artists really did do these hand-drawn animations. Do you feel as if “Dumbo” also represents that, as well?
(Joe Jiuliano): Yes.
(Dave Bossert): Do you want us to elaborate?
(David Lamacher): Please do. Please do.
(Dave Bossert): Yes, absolutely – this is something that we discuss on every single one of these restorations and preservations. And as I mentioned earlier, 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,” the paint crawl, not taking that out completely, but taking it back so that it’s not distracting from the viewing of the film.
(David Lamacher): Excellent. Excellent. And he also mentioned that the technology that is available today wasn’t available before, and he said, with “Bambi,” it being so old, that restoration was almost not possible because of the nitrate damage and the others things that you guys talked about earlier. Were there that same problems with “Dumbo” that there were with “Bambi”?
(Joe Jiuliano): If I remember right, I think what we’re talking about is that the earlier restorations were done on film elements, that they were – you know, they were actually Photochemical.
(Joe Jiuliano): They were physically cleaning up dirt and stuff, but you really couldn’t go in and take cell flashes out or cell dirt out because all you were doing was preserving that negative and the problems that were inherent in that piece of film itself. So I think what we’re talking about is that once you scan the original negative and you get it in the digital world, you have the ability to do an awful lot of preservation to it and restoration that’s not available to you when you were just looking through a microscope at a frame of film and trying to touch up physically what’s on that film element.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): I will say, even between when we restored “Bambi” in 2003 and it recently came out on Blu-ray, we went back into it again, because the tools and the artists’ ability and our knowledge has grown so much over this seven, eight years that when we looked at “Bambi,” which was our very first restoration through the – using the original successive exposure negative and scanning it, we went, oh, we can do better. And we went back to our partners at Reliance-Lowry Digital, and we tackled a lot of the things that back then we couldn’t even get to. So each year, again, the artists get better, our knowledge gets better, and the tools get better, so it may just continue to be an ongoing process.
(David Lamacher): Excellent. Thank you so much, you three.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): You’re welcome.
(Eric Shirey): Hi. This is (Eric) again with Yahoo. The reason that – or, I’m sorry – the question is, some of those cells that I saw were like almost completely wiped clean, like half of the image was gone. How in the – how do you guys restore something like that? I mean, in layman’s terms, I mean, like, when there’s a whole half of a cell gone, what do you do?
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Well, then what we do – as I mentioned on “Steamboat Willie” – it becomes a bit of a treasure hunt. And we have our partners over at our studio inventory. And we look to see what else we have. And we obviously want to take the best possible element, which is why we always start with that nitrate successive exposure, but in the case of what we talked about, with “Steamboat Willie” and other films, there have been sections – I think there was actually a section on…
(Joe Jiuliano): (Nine feet).
(Sarah Duran-Singer): … yes, (nine feet) of “Steamboat Willie,” there was a section on “Bambi.” I don’t think we had that issue on “Dumbo,” that the film is gone, and if half the frame is gone, there’s nothing you can do.
(Eric Shirey): Well, it looked like “Snow White” was like that, too, a little bit.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Oh, yes. No, there were sections of “Snow White.” So then you have to look at your next best possible element, which is probably several generations away from that original negative. And then we scan that, and then we have to work with our artists to try to make it look the same and as close as possible. And sometimes you’re successful, and sometimes you do your best. But if the image is gone, we have to look for the next possible element.
(Joe Jiuliano): Sometimes you can use the frame before or after to pick up elements and put layers together to create a new frame, if you have to. Just whatever you need to do, we have to do.
(Dave Bossert): Yes, the one thing you guys should know, I mean, like the 1928 original “Steamboat Willie” negative is gone. I mean, it’s dust. It’s decayed and it’s done with. So you then – as (Sarah) was saying, you look at your next best, which is a dupe negative, I think, from 1933…
(Joe Jiuliano): Right, and it would still be a black-and-white element.
(Dave Bossert): Yes, it’s still a black-and-white element, but that dupe negative from 1933 already has – I think it was nine feet had to be cut out of it because it was starting to decay. So that’s the big battle here, that the whole film industry is looking at, is this – you know, these nitrate assets are decaying. There’s a chemical breakdown happening, and the best you can possibly do is prolong it, but it’s going to eventually just turn to dust, as it were.
(Eric Shirey): So do, like, artists re-draw those scenes? Or do you like…
(Dave Bossert): No.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): No. No, because you can’t capture those hand strokes. You can’t. It’s a style, and it’s an artist. So we want to use the original art. So, like I said, if we are missing something – we’ve never lost – except for the case of “Steamboat Willie” – really, these nitrates, because they are black-and-white and because of the way they were stored at the Library of Congress, the forward-thinking of some of the people here at Disney years ago. They were accessible. For the small sections that are missing, we would find another section. But, you couldn’t ask an artist to draw like (Frank Thomas). It just wouldn’t work.
(Dave Bossert): There’s always another film element. There’s always dupe negatives. There’s always…
(Joe Jiuliano): The only thing is that then you’re into matching. Then you try to match the two best options.
(Dave Bossert): Right.
(Joe Jiuliano): So – but the thing that we’ve never used in any of these restorations or any color negatives or (color IBs) and trying to match. It’s always been either a black-and-white positive separation that would be pulled from the original negative or another black-and-white safety of that, because that we can match. But I think once you start getting into some of the color (inter-positives) or (inter-negatives) that were made later on in the ’60s, that you could never really make look right, if you had to cut that in.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): And that’s part of the reason why the studio really spent a lot of money and time scanning those nitrates and re-preserving them again and (re-filming out) a new SE negative, because that negative wasn’t going to last. And now – like I said, now we’ve got another 100-year window on this new successive exposure negative, if not longer.
(Joe Jiuliano): Yes, and you have to understand that the new negative that we’ve shot from that is not touched up. It’s actually a capture of the original camera negative, with all of the stuff in it that we’ve so painstakingly taken out, because we may be assuming that down the road it’ll be restored again and we would want to start from that negative.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes, you wouldn’t want to bake in any sort of clean-up or any grain reduction. You shouldn’t bake that in, because – let’s say in 50 years the restoration and clean-up tools could be so beyond what we use now (inaudible) that’s already been baked in, then they can’t do much with it.
(Joe Jiuliano): Right. So we have an exact copy of the original negative for good — for everything that’s in it.
(Eric Shirey): Sure. So you can go back to the source every time.
(Joe Jiuliano): Correct. Correct.
(Sarah Duran-Singer): Yes.
(Mindy Johnson): All right. Well, thanks so much. (Dave), (Sarah), (Joe), thank you so much for your time and expertise and participation in today’s event.
So there you have it. I was very happy to be a part of this discussion and to learn about Disney’s upcoming plans for bringing their animation and live action films to Blu-ray after they’ve been restored and preserved. Although there isn’t a set time for Song of the South to be released, I’m happy that it has been preserved so it will be ready for its eventual release. Thanks to everyone at Disney for the insights into their process and for the opportunity to ask them some questions! The fully restored 70th Anniversary Edition of Dumbo will be released on September 20.
Pre-order your copy today!