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Yellow Layer Failure, Vinegar Syndrome and Miscellaneous Musings by Robert A. Harris

Robert A. Harris - Main Page

Sleeping Beauty on Blu-ray

Theo Gluck, Director of Library Restoration and Preservation for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures has been kind enough to answer a number of technical questions regarding the new restoration of the animated Classic Sleeping Beauty, arriving on Blu-ray on October 7th.

RAH: Sleeping Beauty was photographed in Technirama. Can you briefly explain the Technirama photographic process?

TG: Technirama is a widescreen photographic process that was developed by Technicolor, UK and premiered in 1956 with The Monte Carlo Story. It was ultimately used on about 60 features such as Spartacus and The Pink Panther.

Much like Paramount's VistaVision process, Technirama moved the film horizontally through the camera thus exposing a frame that was 8 sprockets wide as opposed to a standard 4-perf "tall" frame.

In addition, the camera was fitted with an anamorphic lens that introduced a 1.5x squeeze. Technicolor would have to apply a secondary optical step to create either conventional 35mm CinemaScope prints to be projected at 2.35, or unsqueeze from the negative and blow-up to make a flat 70mm print. 70mm prints were branded as "Super Technirama 70" but the format always originated in 35mm. I suppose the proper labeling would be "Photographed in Technirama - Presented in Super Technirama 70."

RAH: How was Sleeping Beauty photographed?

TG: Sleeping Beauty was shot using the successive exposure method. Given the SE process, when coupled with the size of a Technirama frame, the negative for Sleeping Beauty is over 7.5 miles long.

RAH: Can you briefly explain SE technology?

TG: Rather than use three-strip Technicolor to capture color images, the successive exposure system utilizes a single strip of black and white film and places the three color records in succession (next to each other). So each single color frame that you see on screen is in fact a "triple exposure" of the three successive frames of negative. This method is ideally suited to filming animation.

Instead of having three Y-C-M (RGB) records, the Sleeping Beauty negative could best be described as: Y1-C1-M1-Y2-M2-C2-Y3-C3-M3 and so on (albeit through RGB filters). This means that the linear length of an SE negative is three times that of the print that it generates.

Two key advantages to SE as opposed to three-strip photography is that the optical path is far simpler resulting in a single focal plane for each frame, and the alignment of frames from a single strip of film as opposed to three separate records is far easier. This is clearly evident when we are working with our nitrate negatives.

Sleeping Beauty negative images. (Copyright Disney)

Sleeping Beauty negative images. (Copyright Disney)
Sleeping Beauty negative images. (© Disney)

RAH: When did Disney make the move on color from three-strip to SE?

TG: Our records indicate that our first 60 or so shorts were photographed using the YCM method. We adopted SE with the start of Snow Whie (probably late 1935 into early 1936). It appears that the first SE short premiered in 1937 with Donald's Ostrich.

RAH: From an archival perspective then, the earlier films would have all of the problems inherent to black & white Technicolor negatives, such as differential shrinkage and processing anomalies, where with SE those problems are eliminated.

TG: Correct. Image re-alignment is quite remarkable in SE as opposed to three strip.

RAH: I understand that at a certain point, there was a move from SE to standard Eastman color negative. When did that occur, and did it remain that way for any length of time?

TG: The Little Mermaid (1989) was shot on color negative primarily as a financial consideration.

By using EK color negative, you could far more easily farm out the work to different animation facilities and use multiple labs. There were some issues associated with Mermaid and the use of color negative so it was a one time only decision and the Studio went back to creating SE negatives for Beauty and the Beast and so on.

RAH: What is the proper projected or viewing aspect ratio for Sleeping Beauty, and how was it ascertained?

TG: Well... there were multiple signs pointing us to presenting the film in a 2.55:1 aspect ratio for this Blu-ray release.

First and foremost - once our partners at Lowry Digital scanned the full image area on the Technirama negative and we started viewing dailies it became immediately apparent that we were not looking at a 2.35 AR. We normally do not have any crop applied when screening dailies so we knew we were seeing everything possible that is on the negative.

In addition - when we were looking at surviving cels and backgrounds at the Studio's Animation Research Library (which is an invaluable resource), it was quite obvious that the layout design and camera marks were set for 2.55.

Then there is the fact that in a memo dated July 28, 1953, the Studio green lit the CinemaScope version of Lady and the Tramp, while it also established a "Standard Version" and a CinemaScope Version production number for Sleeping Beauty -- #2082 and #2083. As the CinemaScope standard at the time was 2.55, (and that is clearly evident in Lady and the Tramp) Sleeping Beauty too would have been designed at 2.55.

In the end, Lady was adapted for CinemaScope but it was truncated on the left side of the screen when it went out with an optical track since the CinemaScope presentation spec had changed by the time the film was ultimately released in 1955. Sleeping Beauty fared far better as it had been designed to be in CinemaScope and thus could be trimmed to meet the requirements of 2.35 CinemaScope 35mm prints. But in the final analysis, there is animation all the way out to the far edges of the frame that had not been seen. It is this full 2.55 version that is coming out on Blu-ray on October 7.

Sleeping Beauty frame showing additional area now viewable at full original 2.55:1. (Copyright Disney)
Sleeping Beauty frame showing additional area now viewable at full original 2.55:1. (© Disney)

RAH: A similar cropping fate was met by David Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai, as it was composed and shot for 2.55, but by the time of its release in 1957, the 2.35 standard had come into place, and the left side of the image was cropped in the production of Technicolor printing matrices, leaving an occasional odd perspective to some shots.

Sleeping Beauty was restored to a 65mm dupe about 10 years ago by Scott MacQueen, and I recall the final results being quite breathtaking. What is different about what is being done now?

TG: I agree. Scott's 65mm work is really great. What sets this new project apart is the fact that this new digital restoration originates with the original SE negative that has been scanned at 4K. Any work done on the film prior to this project was done in the photo-chemical/mechanical/optical realm. In addition, the 65mm dupe would need the secondary anamorph to correct for the camera negative squeeze. By scanning the camera negative and then digitally correcting for the camera squeeze, we have been able to eliminate that additional optical process.

The greatest leap with using today's digital technologies is our ability to clean up the decades old dirt and dust that have been in the film from the day it was first photographed. The level of cel dirt and dust, and other anomalies endemic to cel animation are now easily seen when scanning the negative at 4K, and there is simply no way to remove these in a photo-chemical process. We can also address any glaring animation and paint flaw errors. Our philosophy is to take the stance that if they had seen the mis-painted cell (and undoubtedly they would have) if they had the time and wherewithal (budget) to fix it, they surely would have.

RAH: Are you working totally in the digital realm?

TG: Yes.

RAH: At what resolution?

TG: The negative was scanned at 4K and all subsequent work is done at 2K.

RAH: In the past some of the Disney Classics that have been digitally cleaned and released on SD have been met with less than stellar appreciation because of the elimination of the "painterly" detail. How are you dealing with this?

TG: While we had to battle some paint crawl on some shots, I think the level of detail and integrity of the painting seen in this restoration of Sleeping Beauty (especially the backgrounds) is a testament to the 4K scans of the Technirama negative.

RAH: With all of the work and expense going into this project, is it being taken to the penultimate archival step with new preservation elements?

TG: Absolutely! In addition to the digital files archive, there is a new black & white SE negative (unrestored) as well as a color CinemaScope EK negative created from the final color corrected and cleaned-up 2K files. All of this film preservation work is supervised by Joe Jiuliano and his team at the Disney Animation Studio's Digital Film and Camera Services.

RAH: What did you use as reference to color and densities, and if original cells, is there any loss over the years or do they look as they did fifty years ago?

TG: We are very fortunate in that we have access to the Studio's Animation Research Library (ARL), which contains millions of artifacts spanning the history of the company's animation projects. This includes production cels, backgrounds, and multiplane glass levels. We routinely select dozens of pieces that are then scanned, and split back out to RGB "SE" channels to then be recombined to emulate as best as possible the original photographic methods to ensure that the colors are reproduced much as they would have been (albeit without dye-transfer technologies). These newly photographed set-ups become our wedges that are given to our colorist (Tim Peeler at Technicolor Digital Intermediates) to further aid in this process.

Of course none of this work is done in an information vacuum since personal opinion foisted as fact never accomplishes anything. Hence the Restoration Team also includes colleagues such as animator Andreas Deja, and special projects director Dave Bossert, both from Disney Animation Studios, and Bruce Tauscher from the Mastering group. They bring a wealth of knowledge about the history of the techniques and the prevailing production conditions and thus help us ensure that we don't inadvertently alter the integrity of the original animation.

The cels themselves still retain the color. We have not seen anything that would lead us to believe that cels have faded severely or would in any other way not be representative of the original colors.

And speaking of Technicolor IB, on Sleeping Beauty (and other recent projects), I have been able to get us access to a dye transfer print to really help us understand how the prints were meant to be seen. There is no question that the original cels were designed with a color palette that accounted for SE photography and not for EK color negative. As this film is our first animated classic on Blu-ray we wanted to make sure we did everything possible to fully present the original splendor of the production.

RAH: Was Sleeping Beauty photographed with the same multi-plane setup used for earlier Disney Classics?

TG: Yes. The same multi-plane cameras (there were 3) were employed on all features.

RAH: How large were the actual background plates and cels?

TG: Some of the backgrounds are indeed pretty wide to account for a camera pan across the widescreen aspect ratio.

RAH: In creating digital masters for home video, did you treat material destined for DVD differently from that heading to Blu-ray, and if so, how?

TG: No real difference in handling the masters. We delivered HD Rec709 dpx files on LTO3s for the Blu-Ray, as well as HDCAMSR 4:4:4 masters, to Disney Worldwide Technical Services for their mastering needs.

RAH: What element was scanned?

TG: We scanned the camera original SE Technirama negative.

RAH: Did the entire original SE negative survive and what condition was it in?

TG: Yes - the entire negative survives and it is in very good condition. In fact the vast majority of our negatives, even the nitrate material, are in very good shape.

RAH: How close to the desired final product did you and your group come with Sleeping Beauty?

TG: I think it came out exactly as we wanted it to be.

RAH: With the original SE being scanned, it is entirely possible that the new BD will look cleaner, sharper and closer to the originally desired product than ever before. How do you feel about this?

TG: We are absolutely thrilled with the look of the end result. The image integrity that you can achieve from scanning the negative benefits the final picture immensely. The detail and resolution has always been on the negative, but the limitations introduced by the optical re-compositing necessitated by shooting SE, coupled with IB printing attenuated much of that crispness (and the secondary anamorphic step likely didn't help matters). Certainly the new Blu-ray version looks radically better than anything we have achieved before.

RAH: Let's chat a bit about audio. What were the earliest extant elements and how were they handled?

TG: Although the film was released in 70mm back in 1959, the mix session documents and final mix audio elements we have in inventory confirm that the final mix was 4-track (LCRS), not six-track.

The paperwork also clearly shows which sequences had surround and which did not. Yet many people had very vivid memories of a "wall of sound" type of mix when they first saw it, and all of the original advertising (albeit taken with a grain of marketing salt) trumpet "six-track stereophonic sound".

RAH: Which would have been technically correct, as the prints were striped for six channel audio.

TG: Yes they were - and of course we know that there were 70mm releases that did employ 5 discrete channels behind the screen. As part of the audio research, we were able to locate a vintage 70mm print and run it in the Studio's Main Theater. We pulled the audio into ProTools at that time to better help our analysis. By listening to the tracks and looking at the wave forms, it was immediately apparent that when sounding the prints, Todd-AO blended tracks 1 and 3 into channel 2, and tracks 3 and 5 into screen channel 4 to flesh out the on-screen audio stage. In fact you could see quite clearly on the ProTools files how the levels gently sloped off from the center and tapered into 2 and 4.

RAH: This is precisely the same way that Lawrence was handled. The original mix was 4-channel, which was spread to 6-track for 70mm printing.

TG: Exactly. We were fortunate in that there were quite a few good separations available to us, including the original LCR music recordings done in Berlin in 1958. Terry Porter, the chief re-recording mixer for the Disney Sound department and the mixer for all of our restoration work, prepared a demo for Home Entertainment management to show them the sonic improvement gained by using these masters as opposed to accessing the 4-track sounding master as a stereo source. They were duly impressed and very generously gave us the time and the funding to put these pieces back together. We brought in music editor Brent Brooks to undertake the Herculean task of ensuring that we had the correct takes and placement. Terry and Brent's combined efforts cannot be understated in their contribution to this new restoration. For me, the audio restoration is just as important as the picture restoration.

We ultimately made a new 5.1 mix, as well as a very special 7.1 stereo mix - exclusively for the Blu-ray version. There is also a new 5.1 and special 7.1 mix contoured for theatrical playback. Terry also cleaned up the original 4.0 mix for this release as well.

RAH: It really is apparent that you had the full support of the studio on this project, which is understandable as the animated Classics are the backbone of the library.

TG: As Walt himself said "It all started with a mouse" and it continued with these classic features. I know I speak for everyone on the Restoration Team in saying that we are keenly aware of the importance of this library and what a privilege it is to work on these projects. There is great support from so many groups at the Studio, from everyone at Home Entertainment on up to John Lasetter and Bob Iger who are fully cognizant not only of the history of this library, but recognize our obligation to preserve it for future generations.



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