Why Does Some Old Film Turn Red?
Hello Star Wars fans. While this film is about restoring Star Wars, it is also about restoring film in general. As you can see, this reel of Star Wars is, well not's beat about the bush, it's pink. And this is a problem with a lot of 1970s film. In this video I am going to show you how to restore the color, but first let's answer the question many of you may be thinking:
Why Does Some Old Film Turn Red?
Really it depends on the process. Technicolor perfected the three-color process that defined early color film in 1932. The technique was expensive, involving three separate black and white film negatives, each capturing one-third of the full color spectrum (for this process the spectrum was divided into red, green, and blue - RGB). Each of the three negatives would be dyed in the complementary third of the spectrum they represented and then pressed into the emulsion for the final release print of the movie.
The Technicolor process was expensive, but provided the lush color that has come to characterize 1940’s blockbusters, and if you are lucky enough to own a Technicolor print of Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz, I bet the colors are just as vibrant today as they were 75 years ago, because the dyes used by Technicolor barely fade at all.
Then Eastman Kodak came along with their Eastmancolor process. This type of film was both cheaper to process and cheaper by the foot, advantaging both cost-cutting studios and smaller releases with more limited print runs. Unlike Technicolor, which had to be shipped to Technicolor facilities, Eastmancolor could be developed in standard photo labs.
Technicolor’s share of the market began to sink, and by 1975 their facilities were being closed, ceding color film processing entirely to Eastmancolor.
But Eastmancolor had a major problem. The dye used in the cyan third of the spectrum (that's blue to those of you who are like me and only see the world in primary colors and look puzzled when our wives talk about colors like fuchsia), where was I? Oh yes, the blue dye used in the Eastmancolor process would fade to red and eventually clear while in storage. This has since been a nightmare for film preservation efforts for obvious reasons. And while color fade is a problem with poorly preserved film in general, the first 20 years of Eastmancolor prints are in particular danger. Eastmancolor film can fade to pink in as few as five years if not properly stored.
Eastman Kodak introduced low fade film in 1979, which improved the durability of the cyan dye, and by about 1982, most of the films sent to your local cinema were being printed on the new Low fade (LPP) stock.
It is worth noting that Low fade does not mean "no fade" but it is certainly a heck of a lot better.
so anyway, this reel of Star Wars was printed on the old Eastman stock and is now pink. This particular reel, by the way, is owned by -1 (of Team Negative One) and it was one of the first sets of reels that he acquired for his "Silver Screen Edition" pre-Special Edition version of Star Wars. He was kind enough to dig up the original 10-bit color, 1080p, scan made back in 2010? Something like that. At that time, the team could not find a way to digitally restore enough color to make the film watchable, at least not without a bunch of weird color artifacts. In the end, of course, he found a low fade print of the film and never looked back.
About a year ago, somebody calling himself Dr. Dre created an algorithm to almost perfectly match the colors of one image to another. I already demonstrated how his free tool was able to restore some other faded Eastman footage of Greedo and Han Solo with very impressive results (although there were still some obvious artifacts in the window behind them). Then a few weeks ago, I was trying to free up some Hard Disk space and I came across an 8-bit color, h264 compressed scan of this faded Eastman Reel. On a whim, I decided to run it through Dre's tools (I have been beta testing a new color balance/restoration algorithm he developed too) and the results were just astounding.
So I contacted -1, and requested the lossless, 10-bit color scan of the same reel, and he was kind enough to send it to me. So that is what you are looking at here...
The first thing we need to do is to is to find a good color reference. Since we all know the color timing on the 2004 DVD and the 2011 blu-ray is horrible, this leaves us with the 2006 Bonus DVD or a fan made project. In this case I'm using the "Star Wars 77" GOUT upscale by Team Blu. This is a 720p upscale of the 2006 Bonus DVD, with Color Corrections by YouToo. I like the colors in this version more so than Harmy's Despecialized Edition 2.5, but an unfortunate byproduct of the upscale is that there is a layer of almost static grain sitting on top of the action like a blanket, which was so annoying I couldn't watch it. But for our purpose here, which is just to copy the colors, it should work well.
Before starting this tutorial, I already ran through all the steps once with another color source, again by Team Blu, in this case their "V3" Edition, which was a GOUT sourced DVD, and this is how it turned out...
It's not perfect, the skin tones in particular are too red, at least on my screen, but this is probably the result of applying only one set of LUTs to the entire reel. Fixing it on a shot by shot basis will probably produce much better results, so that is what I am going to try now.
The first thing I need to do is select a shot to fix. Let's try this one with Han, Chewie, Luke and Leia heading back to the Falcon after emerging from the Trash compactor. (frames 6827-7205)
So if we trim the working area to just that shot... OK. Now we need to find the same shot in our color reference... And trim that one.
And crop off the black bars.
Now we'll import the faded footage and try to register the two as closely as possible. First let's shrink it down to match the 720p footage. Then set the mode to "Difference" and just try to manually line them up...
Close enough. OK. Before I go any further, let's test out a few commercial tools and see what they can do for us. First let's try the Auto Color effect in After Effects. Nope, that's not going to work. How about playing with the curves? Well, even if I knew what I was doing, it might take hours to get what is still going to look like a very washed out and faded color film.
So let's try RevisionFX RE:Match which retails for $89 ($329 for the Pro version). So if we apply that effect, set the color source to SW77. hmm. better. Let's try some different modes. Ok, histogram 2 does a pretty nice job actually. But we can do better.
Now to be fair, Re:Match was designed to address the problems of multi camera shoots - in other words matching the footage from camera one with that of camera two, and in my experience, if you have two sources that are already very similar it does do a pretty good job of matching them up.
Let's see what else do I have here? Boris Continum includes a "Color Match" effect. Despite the name, I think it is more of a Luma Match tool, designed to match the lighting conditions between two sets of footage of the same shot but from different cameras, but let's give it a try because the name of the effect implies that it can do what we want it to do....
I don't think you can buy just the Color Match Effect on it's own from Boris FX, it only comes bundled with other Effects, but these bundles start at $49.95 which isn't bad at all.
But let's back on track here and see what we can do using Dre's tools. First we are going to need some sample frames from both the faded version and our color reference. Rather than manually grabbing frames, let's create a new composition, based on this one, resize it to an SD resolution, and... How many frames do we have here? 378. 378 / 16 = about 23. So let's Enable Time Remapping, alt + click on the stopwatch and type in the following expression:
n = 23;
What that will do, is give us only every 23rd frame, for a total of 16 frames. Instead of basing our color calculations on a single frame, we're going to create a montage of 16 frames. Let's trim this composition to 16 frames... And render it as a Tiff sequence. Now let's go back and switch the underlying source back to the color version. And render it again - but changing the destination. ok.
Now let's switch to Photoshop. Open the first image, increase the canvas size 400% from the top left corner. grab all the remaining images and drag them onto our canvas. If you have an earlier version of Photoshop you may find they all just open in their own windows. If that happens, you'll just have to use Ctrl + A to select all and Ctrl + C to copy and then switch back to the canvas and paste in each image, one at a time, but newer versions of Photoshop allow you to place each image on the canvas one at a time, which is exactly what we need here.
Ok, so there is our "Test" Image. Let's save that. Now let's do the same thing with the color images to create our "reference" image.
OK. Now comes the fun part. If we open up Dre's new Color Balance Tool (which is currently still in Beta and not available for download yet) and import our faded samples. And click "Build Color Balancing Model" in just a few seconds it balances the image, reducing the red and generally making it look much better. It is still very faded looking, which is to be expected, and this is about as good as you could get playing with the curves or color wheels in After Effects or Resolve. But this is only the first part of the process. First we Balance, then we Match. Let's save that LUT. And we should save the output image to use when matching.
OK. So now we open the Color Matching tool, which some of you may have seen before in my other tutorials, and which can be downloaded from the thread on OriginalTrilogy.com, or from here at TheStarWarsTrilogy.com. So we open up the balanced image as our "Test" Image, and crop off the white border. Then we open up our "Reference" image, no cropping required, and click "Build Color Matching Model", and wait for that to complete. Wow. Looks pretty good doesn't it? So let's save that LUT as "Match".
Let's also save the output image, because you may be wondering what happens if we skip the balancing step and jump straight to the Match. Well, let's try it... Still looks pretty good, and you may not even be able to see much of a difference, but in my experience balancing and then matching provides a much smoother image. There are often many artifacts that appear when you skip the balancing step.
Anyway, now we have our two LUT files, we can switch back to After Effects and apply them. And there you have it.
Now if we apply those LUTs to the whole reel, most of it still looks pretty great, but obviously repeating these steps for each scene will produce slightly better results.
So. There you have it. Hopefully you will find this video either helpful or entertaining, or perhaps even both; and the next time you see a faded 35mm trailer being sold dirt cheap on eBay because it is pink, you'll remember this video and buy it knowing that it can be restored.
Oh, and if you happen to work in Hollywood, restoring film, you know where to find me...