Screen Time Images (formerly Sensory Technologies) Restores Classic Japanese Anime for 9 DVD Box Set
In 1982, a Japanese cartoon, or anime, entitled Macross, was released to Japanese TV audiences. The 36 half-hour episodes were to become the foundation for an American-produced series, Robotech, a Sci-Fi epic which became instrumental in broadening the popularity of anime and anime-style shows in the U.S during the late 80's. To date, the original series has never been released unedited in the U.S. or Canada. When North Carolina-based AnimEigo, one of the oldest anime distributors in the US, decided to release the entire series on DVD to the North American markets, they soon realized that the old 16mm release prints they licensed from Harmony Gold needed a comprehensive, multi-step restoration. Although the prints were color corrected, processed by DVNR and manually touched up using MTI DRS and paintbox by AnimEigo’s Producer, Shin Kurokawa, he knew that this was only the beginning.
Knowing that the anime crowd is among the most critical, desiring perfection in classic releases, especially in the most anticipated release in anime history, AnimEigo sought out the finest film restoration facility, and found it in Chicago’s Sensory Technologies Inc.
The entire restoration/DVD job was a quarter million dollar labor of love for Robert J. Woodhead and Natsumi Ueki, top brass at AnimEigo. According to Shin Kurokawa, “we are very demanding and had many facilities involved around the country, but the improvements Sensory Technologies made are simply stunning. The earliest phases of posting in California using the best tools we had then gave us useful materials to work with, but it was the final round of restoration performed at Sensory that amazed all of us.”
According to Sean McKee, Sensory’s Restoration Technical Director, “The film received a color correction that did wonders for the overall image. Although since this was a scene-by-scene, stop-and-go process, the digibeta masters we were given had 3:2 pulldown cadence breaks all over them. Since the client intended on encoding the material for DVD at 24P, our first step was to remove all the 3:2 pulldown to get to the original 24 film frames, which was a large job in itself, since there was no automatic process that could handle the cadence breaks. Anime doesn’t have 24 unique frames per second, but re-uses frames, many times having up to 4 or 5 consecutive identical frames before a change in the action. So automatic 3:2 cadence correctors had difficulty with the material. It was all done manually in Flame.”
After Sensory arrived at the original frames of film, the restoration process began by running the footage through their custom Revival Digital/RS2 restoration system, which automatically reduced grain, removed speckles and pieces of dirt, and sharpened the image. “The advantage to this system”, says McKee, “is that unlike other solutions, RS2 only processes the damaged areas of the frame, versus the entire image which would soften it. And the dust-busting software algorithms are the finest available.” Kurokawa adds, "While image-enhancements using real-time hardware solutions are typical in the DVD industry, we relied more on software solutions which offered us finer controls of parameters and superior image quality. da Vinci gave us not only one of the best tools to achieve our goals, but were there for us 24/7 throughout this complex project."
At the beginning of the project, McKee recalls sitting with Producer Shin Kurokawa, determining suitable grain reduction settings, an important step in improving the DVD encoding process. “We had a specific look we were going for, and it wasn’t available in the software. We got on the phone with the programmers, and told them what we were looking for. Within 4 hours, they had provided me with new, customized software that enabled us to achieve our goals. That type of response is a fantasy with other companies’ products. Needless to say, our client was quite impressed.”
The episodes then went under the scrutiny of digital
hand-painted retouching. Every episode contained hundreds of film splice damages,
where at every scene change, a splice mark could be seen at the bottom of the
last frame of one scene, and at the top of the first frame of the next scene.
"Since the film reels were release prints, there were several hundred splices and printer flashes per episode, not to mention many other problems inherent to 16mm's that were created nearly 20 years ago," explains Kurokawa. "Printer flashes occur around scene changes, caused by contact printers that create color-positive stock. Because of the sheer number of affected frames which were warped and discolored, interactive fixes using fast and powerful tools were necessary." Discreet’s Flint was used for all of the retouching, which in addition to the splices, included chemical burns, emulsion chipping and other instances of film degradation. Sensory then used their Discreet Flame system to recreate and stabilize numerous shots per episode, and provide a secondary color correction for the finishing touch. A beta copy of Star*Dust restoration software was also used on several occasions. Sensory’s Restoration Producer, Karen McKee, adds, “At any one time for a four month period, we had Revival, Flame and two Flint suites all working simultaneously on this project”
“It was an honor and a pleasure to work together with AnimEigo’s Producer Shin Kurokawa and Manager Scott Carlson”, says Sean McKee. “We worked very closely with Shin, who was so much more than just a producer getting the job done for his company. He was very technically aware of every stage of the process, which made communication for a complicated project easy. He was also very emotionally attached to the project, the characters and the story, so he wanted to see it to perfection, as the fans would want. He went through every episode from timecoded DVCAM dubs we provided almost daily, from which he made detailed priority logs offline on Final Cut Pro, and determined which scenes needed what treatment, and then acted as the final critical eye stage of QC."
The restored digibeta masters were then given to Avenue Edit’s DVD guru, Casey Mershon, for encoding and authoring. Menu design was performed by Greg Huber on Inferno. Audio tracks for the DVD were restored and conformed using Kurokawa's Digidesign and Mark of the Unicorn DAWs. Other Sensory staff who worked on the restoration included Chris Foose, Rob Smith, Ken Bradburd, while Karen McKee handled Producer duties for both companies.
The DVD was completed and ready for Christmas delivery in a special Collectors' 9-DVD Box Set, which at a price of $250 per set, had a waiting list of over 12,000 eager customers. Individual DVDs with 4 episodes per disc will become available starting in mid '02. To supplement the restored video, the disks feature the remastered, original Japanese soundtrack, guided by easy-to-read defeatable DVD subtitles in English. Bonus materials include isolated music & effects tracks as well as a commentary by Macross' original chief director, Mr. Noboru Ishiguro.
So far the box set and the restoration job has received only glowing reviews and praise from DVD and anime aficionados. One quote from a customer was: "Incidentally, at first I thought my TV set was having problems with it, until I realized that the quality of the video is SO GOOD, it was showing up the dirt on the TV screen!"
Screen Time Images (formerly Sensory Technologies Inc.) is currently expanding their restoration operations with a Discreet Smoke HD finishing system, and is beta testing the next generation Revival system. Investor inquiries are welcome from people looking to help increase Sensory’s leadership role as the nation’s premier digital film restoration facility. Screen Time Images (formerly Sensory Technologies Inc.) is located at 974 Estes Court Schaumburg,IL 60193 - phone, 847-534-9000.
AnimEigo can be reached at 910-251-1850, or on the web at www.AnimEigo.com