Screen Time Images Restores Classics for DVD

Reprinted from Post Magazine, October, 2002

Take a look at Screen Time Images’ recent work, and you’ll see that the Schaumburg, Ill.-based restoration/post facility is restoring more than classic film and television; it’s bringing back America’s childhood.

The company’s latest restoration project is a 36-DVD box set that comprises a Who’s Who of classic TV. They may have been reruns when you watched them, but you likely recall tuning in to “Dragnet,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Dick Van Dyke,” “Andy Griffith,” “Popeye,” “Superman,” “The Lone Ranger,” or “The Three Stooges.” Screen Time Images is bringing these shows back, better than ever, with state-of-the-art restoration tools in the company’s new, custom-built facility.

“Some of these old movies and TV shows have been sitting around in warehouses, stored improperly for 50 years, so they’re in pretty bad shape,” says Sean McKee, owner of Screen Time Images. “Our goal is to restore them to meet the higher quality standard that today’s viewers have come to expect. There can be an argument made for ‘Let’s keep a nostalgic look for it,’ but when you have big pieces of dirt flying by, jolting you out of your seat because they take up half the screen, that’s not acceptable anymore.

“People today are used to seeing and hearing the quality of DVD and even HDTV. Viewers are more discerning now than ever. We want to let license and content owners know that there is an effective and affordable way to bring films up to the highest standards. Saving our film heritage is what we do.”

THE PROCESS

Karen McKee, previously a commercial producer at Chicago’s Avenue Edit, serves as the producer and QC for the classic TV project. She uses the Revival to perform a quality check on the material before the restoration process begins. After reviewing each film on a shot-by-shot basis, she identifies areas that will require extra attention.

Damage to the film often has been the result of poor handling or storage through extreme temperature changes. In addition to dirt and scratches, pieces of emulsion have cracked or chipped off, requiring significant reconstruction. Certain films also have splice damage at every scene cut - as many as several hundred incidences within a half-hour show.

THE TOOL

The Revival’s automatic processing mode will remove dirt, noise and grain problems, doing in a matter of minutes what once took hours to complete manually. For more extensive repair, such as holes in a frame, the Revival’s interactive mode offers advanced tools for manual clean up, taking advantage of motion-estimation and interpolation algorithms. If necessary, Screen Time Images’ restorationists will take the process one step further, digitally recreating scenes that are ruined beyond repair.

“Sometimes when we’re doing manual fixes, the material is so damaged that we need to recreate it through compositing and some special effects tricks,” says Sean McKee. “What differentiates us from our competitors is that we apply artistic methods and tools in our restoration, as opposed to simply dustbusting. Unlike the larger post houses, our mission is restoration, driven by a love of the classics.”

Among the Revival features McKee finds most useful is the ability to use any reference frames during manual touchups, which the Revival’s software allows him to do even from the original footage before it was processed at all. With multiple undo levels on a per-frame basis, a feature unique to the Revival, the restorationist has the power to experiment for the best result without sacrificing the work he has completed to that point.

McKee also cites the Revival’s automatic splice detection and “slip” features as critical time-saving tools for recreating lost or damaged frames on the old reels. The interactive splice tool allows the operator to mark the last good frame and the next good frame. Then Revival morphs those frames to recreate and smooth out the missing or damaged frames. The slip feature allows Screen Time Images to automatically realign a reference frame over the damaged frame according to its original motion characteristics - such as a camera pan - to touchup without motion artifacts. McKee notes, “It used to be that for a scene with camera pans, if we’re revealing, we’d have to go into a compositing app and line up the frames. What used to take a few minutes to do now takes a few seconds with the new features in Revival.”

“da Vinci has worked with us to provide all the functionality we’ve asked for, sometimes the very same day,” says McKee. Screen Time Images has added a second Revival system in addition to their standalone system, da Vinci’s Revival for Discreet, which seamlessly combines the superior functionality of the Revival with the powerful graphics tools provided by Discreet. Their system is integrated with a Discreet smoke 5 finishing system.

OTHER SERVICES

In addition to other Discreet systems such as flame and flint, Screen Time Images also offers full audio restoration capabilities, as well as DVD encoding, design and authoring.

“The reason I’m doing this is because I love these old shows and movies,” adds McKee. “It is very rewarding to be able to bring them back to a level of quality that will be really satisfying to viewers today. It’s also a lot of fun because we’re bringing back everyone’s childhood.”