Lowry Digital restores Apollo 11 footage

Lowry Digital in Burbank, CA, restored the first batch of footage sent back to Earth from Apollo 11, including man’s first steps on the moon, as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of the mission last month.

NASA commissioned Lowry Digital to restore about two-and-a-half hours of material that astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin captured during their 1969 expedition. The preliminary restoration included highlight sequences such as Armstrong’s famous descent of the ladder and the planting of the American flag. The overall restoration is ongoing, and images will continue to be refined, with a planned completion in September.

The footage is being digitally restored utilizing the company’s proprietary Lowry Process, which incorporates imaging algorithms that have been fine-tuned over the course of more than 400 major feature film restorations. The technology uses temporal image processing science to reduce noise, improve detail, and regain proper contrast, resolution and noise levels.

The original moon video was lost, so Lowry was forced to use later generations of the footage with increased noise and other artifacts. The restoration team developed a number of specifically tailored solutions to address the unique problems of the images. Some issues were introduced in the original photography; others in the transmission and recordings. Further flaws were introduced in the translation to other formats and media, and still others were the result of the media aging.

Television scan converters located at NASA’s tracking sites processed the moon images. The materials were gathered from a wide variety of sources. Part of Lowry Digital’s challenge was to untangle the knot of formats, frame rates and resolutions.

Company founder John Lowry worked with NASA back in the 1970s to improve images as they were sent back live from the Apollo 16 and 17 missions. The ideas and methods used then formed the seed that grew into the Lowry process. It is the first nonentertainment use of the process.

Lowry Digital is delivering the restored images in the 1080i HD format to NASA.