In Glorious Technicolor: How Pinewood Restored British History

Behind the iconic gates of the world-famous Pinewood Studios lies its media preservation, restoration and archiving facility. With their team of experts, Pinewood have restored many historic gems to their former glory, some of which include Hell Drivers, A Canterbury Tale, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and this 2K restoration of Scott of the Antarctic.

Scott of the Antarctic

Scott of the Antarctic is a piece of British History; the 1948 film recreates Robert Falcon Scott’s iconic yet ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition and his quest to be the first to reach the South Pole. But it’s not only this film’s storyline that holds such historical significance. What’s more is the format it was originally filmed on: Three-strip Technicolor.

As the technology behind three-strip Technicolor is practically extinct, this rare format has become irreplaceable, and the need to digitise its deteriorating footage, even greater. The format produces equally unique defects over time that require a innovate restoration technology to efficiently restore them, whilst retaining the film’s integrity.

We spoke with Pinewood’s Film Archive Restoration Manager, Jon Mann, who tells us how they restored the three-strip Technicolor footage in order to reveal Scott of the Antarctic’s true colours.

Returning to the Dark Side: The Original Negative

In 2016 Pinewood were approached by Studio Canal with the original 1948 footage of Scott of the Antarctic. “Studio Canal wanted the best restoration from the original negative,” Jon explains. “Previous restorations had been made from dupes/prints that probably originated from an inferior intermediate made from the YCM elements.”

“Having previous experience of recombining YCMs, (Psychomania for the BFI) we decided to go back to the original materials.” says Jon.

Not Always Easy as One, Two, Three

The three-strip Technicolor process, popular in commercial use from the 1930s to mid-1950s, used three strips of film negative which ran through a camera using a beam-splitting prism in order to produce Red, Green and Blue records, before then being exposed to Yellow, Cyan and Magenta dyes to create the full colour spectrum. Once combined, the three strips of film produced a vivid coloured image, instantly recognisable as Technicolor film.

For the restoration of Scott of the Antarctic, a 21st century process needed to be adopted. Pinewood’s first task was to scan the film, however, due to the sheer quantity of film which came with the three-strip Technicolor, this was not a fast process. The Y, C and M elements amounted to 36 reels of film, which took a total of 4 solid weeks (24 hours a day) to scan the entirety of the footage. Once the film scanning was finally complete, Pinewood went about digitally combining the elements to create the coloured image.

“Using a bespoke programme written for us by Filmlight, we recombined the scanned Yellow, Cyan and Magenta DPX files” explains Jon, “we then started the process of digitally cleaning the film.”

To tackle the issues in the footage head-on, Pinewood used a combination of automated and manual tools in The Pixel Farm’s PFClean. Using dedicated software, the restoration could be performed efficiently whilst retaining the integrity of the film.

Cleaning Up a Storm

The three-strip Technicolor film came with issues as unique as the format itself, as Jon describes, “Many of the shots had a halo effect; Red, Green or Blue outlines from the recombining of the three-strip colour.” The “halo effect” occurred when the images did not line up precisely in the digital realign process. This is where the team had to use restoration software in order to digitally realign the footage.

The team then set about removing the sparkle and dirt that was found in Scott of the Antarctic, which due to the three elements in the footage, produced a colourful snowstorm effect.

One of the more unique manifestations of three-strip Technicolor is caused due by the different rate at which each Y, C and M element degrades. As a result, signs of heavy flickering were evident in the footage, which required an automatic de-flicker tool to remove.

“In addition,” Jon says, “many of the frames had rips and tears”, which also needed to be restored digitally.

As well having an extensive range of restoration tools at their fingertips, it was also crucial for Pinewood to have a non-destructive workflow, allowing them to meet the client’s requirements without jeopardising any of their previous hard work.

Jon explains by having a non-destructive workflow, “we can always go back to projects and work on them right up to the day of delivery. We can make fixes and additional cleaning if requested by our clients whilst working between other projects.”

No Cold Feet

Restoring three-strip Technicolor is certainly no walk in the park, but fortunately for Pinewood there were no cold feet when it came to restoring Scott of the Antarctic.

With help from PFClean, Pinewood’s team of experts restored history, not only uncovering the story behind Robert Scott’s iconic Antarctic expedition, but by also revealing the true magic of three-strip Technicolor.

Check out Pinewood’s restoration team in action, and see how they used PFClean to restore Scott of the Antarctic:

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Footage with kind permission of Studio Canal:

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