Restoring Dumbo for Blu-ray

I recently had a chance to chat about Dumbo with Dave Bossert, creative director in charge of special projects at Walt Disney Studios Animation and artistic supervisor of the restoration and preservation team. Dumbo, which has never looked better, was released on Blu-ray last week from Disney Home Ent. It was scanned at 4K with Warner Bros. MPI.

Bill Desowitz: What was the process like on Dumbo?

Dave Bossert: 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.

Once we have those digital images, there is an automated dust-busting process that we refer to… it removes a lot of the ancillary dirt and whatnot automatically. And then we’re going in on a regular basis and reviewing parts of various reels of the film at a time. And we are calling out various other aspects, artifacts, and anomalies that need to be taken care of.  Those include — aside from the dust and dirt — fingerprints that may have been on the cells, cell shimmers, what we refer to as Newton rings, when you press several layers of acetate cells together, you get these rainbow rings that can get photographed in, cell scratches.

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 saturation 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 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.

BD: What were the particular challenges with Dumbo?

DB: 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.

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.

BD: What about the issue of grain? In the past you used to de-grain everything.

DB: 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.”

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.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Movies, Tech

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