Shaw Brothers Studios Remastering Center was built to accommodate the remastering of 760 titles, ranging from the late 1950’s to the mid 1980’s purchased by Celestial Pictures, a subsidiary of Measat Broadcasting in Malaysia. Our mandate is to remaster three to four films titles per week with two language versions (Mandarin and Cantonese), with 20 titles being finished in high definition and the remainder in standard definition. All the transfers from the telecine are done in high definition for both achieve reasons as well as workflow issues that will be covered later.
The remastering center is the first of its kind to offer film rejuvenation and remastering on a large-scale commercial level, i.e. the organization that is doing the remastering does not have control over the rights of the film and, more importantly, does not have the final say on delivery schedules, the format of the end product and the final quality of the delivered product.
The only similarities between a new film and a remastered film on a commercial level is that the client wants a set time of when it will be delivered and a set quality standard to be met. Unless the film was kept under impeccable storage conditions, when remastering an old film library, it is never known what condition the reel is going to be in — scratched, chipped emulations, torn frames realigned with splicing tape, bad splices, etc.
Setting the quality standard on films that have not been seen for decades and establishing delivery schedules is nearly impossible, but when a facility is doing it on a commercial scale, a client will want to know what the estimated time of delivery for each title.
Furthermore, issues of content on old films are hard to confirm — missing segments, a negative that was cut for censorship and spliced back together in the wrong order, to name a few. Trying to interrupt what a director was trying to achieve or simply if what is on the negative is correct is not possible when the key people, such as the director, are not available. These hurdles are daily events in a rejuvenation/remastering lab. It wreaks havoc on workflow and makes estimating when a film can be delivered difficult. The only real control that the facility manager can have in a remastering facility is in the equipment and the personnel.
The equipment choices that were made at Shaw Brothers Studio Remaster Center centered on reliability, quality of picture that the equipment could produce, speed and, most importantly, innovation and flexibility in getting material from one end of the workflow to another.
Telecine transfer bay
As with any project, the best place to start is on the foundation. The two cornerstones of the foundation are the telecine transfer bay and the central machine room. Because all of the work that is supplied to the remastering center is generated from the telecine bay, an important decision had to be made regarding which telecine and color correction system to purchase.
We ultimately decided on the Thomson Spirit, capable of standard definition, high definition and data. Having a telecine machine that can operate 24 hours per day, 7 days a week without problems and needing only minor tweaking was a key factor in the decision to purchase the Spirit.
A da Vinci 2K color corrector with one power tier and defocus controls the Spirit. We selected the 2K because it works well with the Spirit, it is reliable, and the support that we have from Singapore is excellent, all contributing to maximum online time. In addition, with the 2K onboard down- converter, we can transfer everything in HD and simultaneously output an SD image without ever changing our list. This is a major time saver. The other decision factor was that there were more trained 2K operators in the area, making it easier to build a critical staff position.
The final major components in the telecine transfer bay (2K 1) are the two Digital Vision noise reducers: DVNR 1000 and DVNR 1000-HD. The center primarily transfers everything in high definition, so the DVNR 1000-HD is the main unit, with the DVNR 1000 used in our final correction room and as backup. Both the DVNR’s are configured the same: Advanced Grain Reduction, Advance Aperture Correction, Advanced Scratch and Dirt Concealment Version II and Viper window control. The DVNR is the first step towards the fixing and clean up of the film title.
Main machine room
The second cornerstone to the foundation is the main machine room. The most important design principle was ensuring that there would not be a single point of failure other than one or two major components. The plan for redundant systems came to pass when analyzing what would happen if certain components in the center were down for one shift or more. The time lost could not be made up. All the signal flow through the NVision SD/HD video router, control router and audio router has a patch backup. All the VTRs have a backup that is not necessarily part of the everyday workflow.
Additionally, we have several methods to downconvert an HD signal to SD: a Teranex, da Vinci 2K and Panasonic D5 AJ-HD 3700H, with the AJ-UDC3700 format converter option installed. We currently have two da Vinci 2K color correctors, which can be routed to either control the Spirit or the data to tape system within seconds. The power for all the CPUs and other critical equipment is fed from a 30Kva UPS/power conditioner outfitted with a Censor phone to contact technical personnel day or night if there is a power failure. The UPS has the capacity to operate for 30 minutes after power failure, giving support staff enough time to save all data and backup systems.
Being in Hong Kong, there is a constant battle against the heat and high humidity. The HVAC was designed to have a cooling capacity of more than 50 percent, enabling the use of reheats to dry the air. The air is over-cooled, and as it passes through the final stage of the air handlers, it is heated to remove as much moisture as possible. The central machine room where the telecine is located has a positive air pressure level so that air is pushed out of the room when any door leading into is opened. This keeps the airborne dust and dirt down to a minimum.
Once the first stage of the infrastructure was completed, we conducted studies to calculate how long it would take to final color grade a film and how long to best light. Due to time constraints, we were unable to take a large cross section of films, screen them and determine how long it would take to grade them. We were only able to do it on a few titles before decisions had to be made on the next segment of the build out. We discovered that to final color grade the film directly on the telecine and record it to tape would take on average three-and-a-half to four 8-hour shifts. This also presented a damage risk taken by shuttling old negatives back and forth on the telecine.
We quickly determined that this time frame would not work with the amount of film titles that had to be delivered weekly. We were not in a position to purchase another telecine due to budgetary and physical plant restrictions, so another methodology had to be adapted: best light the film from the telecine and build a tapeless environment with a nonlinear method of final color grading film titles. After tests, we determined that on average it would take 12 hours to best light a title and record it.
The remastering center started with the first generator of da Vinci’s revival film restoration system. The system worked with Sierra Labs DDRs (digital disk recorders). It became apparent that this system would not work. The linear nature of the DDRs caused too many workflow problems: real time to ingest, real time for output, the need for a tape to transport the reels to and from the DDRs, confusion that can be easily caused by not tracking the tapes properly, and the inability to load and unload in the background.
Controller issues on the DDRs caused dropouts, frames would be lost or noise would be inserted into the picture. It would often be necessary to go back to the original source tape, restore the frames and insert them back onto tape. This process was filled with errors. At the same time that we were grappling with the da Vinci DDR problem, we were analyzing what our nonlinear editor (NLE) needs were going to be and testing several solutions on the market.
The criteria for an NLE system centered more on the networkability of the system than the power of all the software modules. Much of the editing that we needed to perform is simple butt edits, a small amount of content changes, a DVE to fix film damage, a good paint module to clean up damaged frames and the ability to composite titles. We were looking for a network solution that could transfer high volumes of frames at a high rate of speed reliably and handle large storage capacity. The remastering center currently has more than 14 Terabytes of Discreet Stone storage and an additional 7 Terabytes for local device storage.
However, the most important issue we hoped to solve was the ability to create one file system and keep it the same throughout the whole system, eliminating the need to convert from one file system to another. Also, we wanted to deal with whole clips as a single file, not individual frames as separate files.
Fortunately, the solution presented itself with the Discreet Logic Discreet/fs and the da Vinci revival for Discreet. Everything stays in the Discreet/ fs, whether it is on an NLE, revival or finaling station.
The network was the next problem to address. The architecture of the system evolved into a lot of stand alone systems with local drives tied together with a HIPPI network and a 100 baseT backup.
Each system connects to a HIPPI switch and can be accessed either as a point-to-point transfer or remotely via new hub less technology. Additionally, if the switch fails, the ability to plug one system directly into another via the PCI card is still available.
The following design is what made it all happen. On average, each film title has 10 to 11 reels. Each reel is about 10 to 12 minutes in length. Using Discreet backdraft software on an Origin2200 Irix platform mainframe as a clip server, the telecine transfer bay is able to record each reel as a clip in its own dedicated library and partition. In order to keep track of each film in our system, a separate partition is created for that film title, each reel has its own dedicated library, and each reel has its own distinct clip name.
Once the partitions are set, recording to the backdraft is the same as recording to a VTR. This became possible with the release of backdraft 5.0, which has a new mode, VTR Emulation. VTR Emulation gives the ability to control a clip server via the TLC editor and record directly from the output of the da Vinci 2K to the backdraft as if it were a VTR with timecode and clip name. This is the first step in the tapeless process. Furthermore, a D5 archive tape is made at same time so that if a clip becomes damaged or lost in the future, there is no need to disrupt the telecine transfer bay to re-ingest the clip.
As soon as all individual reels are recorded to the clip server, the clips are distributed to one of five da Vinci revival systems via a HIPPI network that runs at twice real time, or a 10-minute reel can be on a system within 5 minutes. Each revival system is running on an SGI Octane 2 with V12 graphics, 2 gigs of Ram and dual CPUs. The HIPPI network has a central switch manufactured by Essential and is connected to each Octane 2 via an Essential PCI Fiber card. All the transfers are done in the background. This is done using a hubless or remote system architecture to “look” into the system and push/pull clips. The main transfer CPU is an Octane that acts as a remote terminal to look into the other systems to push/pull clips.
There is no order to how the clips are distributed. One revival system might only have one reel of a film title, and another one might have three. It all depends on which system is available when the clips are being distributed. A database program was developed to track where each clip is once it gets to a system to avoid losing clips.
Because da Vinci revival uses Discreet’s file system, the clips retain the original timecode and the original name of the clip. This is important when it comes to tracking incomplete or completed clips on all the systems, especially when there might be 15 to 20 films on the system at a given time. It also gives us a reference if we need to go back to the original D5 to re-ingest footage due to errors made in the restoration process.
Once the clips are on the revival systems, there are 68 CPUs available to run automatic processes on the clips. The automatic process uses artificial intelligence to make pixel comparisons on each frame of the film. Depending on how the automatic pass is configured will determine what and how much dirt and other undesirable imperfections are removed. This process uses very little human interaction. Fifty-six of the CPUs are 1.3GHz Linux Powerhouses that run on a GIGI switch, and the routing of the CPUs are flexible.
The remaining 12 CPUs are SGI Unix-based CPUs that are routed using a 100 BaseT network. As many as 48 CPUs can be networked to one revival system, which can produce real-time dirt and scratch removal. Or the CPUs can be can be distributed to other systems, depending on what work needs to be done.
Typically, the CPUs are distributed in batches of 24, giving the performance of 12 fps on some of the automatic modules of the revival. Many of the films are of the Kung Fu genre. This had posed a difficult task when using the automatic mode. The need for additional work by da Vinci on the algorithm was necessary to compensate the fast motion of the actors and camera moves. Without it, we were getting artifacts or pixelization around the motion area. There are additional modules on the revival for correcting green staining.
After the automatic process, the operators work on the clip in the interactive mode, using reveal brush and ROI (Region of Interest) to clean up the frames. The operator has up to four screens to select which frame to use when working with a reveal brush (next +1, next, current, previous, previous -1, custom). A given frame can use all four at any given time. Having the frame selects available with a quick click of a mouse or key is a time saver.
Once the clips have been completed, they are transferred from the revival systems to one of three smoke editors for compiling, audio synchronizing, title compositing and final QC prior to final color grading. Again, the network allows this to be done in the background without halting any work on any system. Once the clips have all been transferred to a smoke system, they are edited together, checked for any defects that were missed, audio is synced, and titles are composite.
Smoke version 5.0 has added many improvements. The timeline editing has made it easier to keep track of frames or small segments that are pulled out to be worked on in the paint or DVE module. Also, having two video tracks and unlimited video layers gives the operator greater versioning capabilities for client approvals.
However, the most useful tool in the smoke arsenal is the color correction module, specifically Match and image stabilization. Match is a great tool when dealing with different color and luminance changes at splices on individual frames. When these films were made, the original negative was cut to create release prints that had to adhere to different censorship rules depending on where they were being screened. Once the print was struck, the original negative was put back together. Over the years, the splice tape deteriorates. The effects are that the frame before the splice and the frame after the splice will have a different color value and luminance value than the frames that preceded and follow. To correct this with a color corrector is time-consuming, and the results are not always what might be desired.
Using Match, a smoke editor can select three points on the “good” image, copy the RGB values derived from those points and copy them to the “bad” frame. Additionally, the luminance can be either manually adjusted or if there is a good white level in the “good” frame, luminance level can be match automatically from that. We have found some films have had as many as 30 of these bad splices.
Image stabilization is another useful tool. Again due to splice problems, the trailing edge of the splice is below the level of the leading edge, and as it goes over the Spirit’s skid plate, past the gate, the trailing edge jumps ever so slightly, but enough to cause the image to waver. The smoke’s image stabilization helps settle down the waver so that it is less apparent when viewing it at play speed.
Final color grading bay
When the film has been “completed,” the final version is transferred via HIPPI to a second clip server for a final color correction. The second clip server is also an Origin 2200 running backdraft 5.0 with VTR Emulation, a DIVO card to output SD and XT-HDIO to output HD in full RGB. As with the ingest station on the transfer bay, the system is controlled by a da Vinci 2K. The clip servers are not dedicated to the rooms. They can be logged in on one of two SGI 02+ computers that act as remote terminals. This gives us the flexibility to use the clip server anywhere in the remastering center to output or input video either under VTR emulation control or via standard RS-422 control.
Additionally, there is a Digital Vision SD or HD DVNR available depending on the format. This configuration gives us the ability to color correct in a nonlinear format, which is a faster process than the linear fashion used on a telecine. The DVNR is used as a final noise reduction pass if anything was missed during restoration and to perform any subtle repositioning.
This “Data to Tape” room can either record to tape or record to the other backdraft clip server if it needs to remain in the system. The final graded film with composited titles and audio using either the embedded audio on the Origin 2200 or a Lucid ADAT 8824 are recorded to Digibeta or D5, depending on the client’s request.
The final element is a Celco room, which has its own 100base T network an a server with the capacity to take DPX files or via the smoke convert HD to DPX and output it to film. Furthermore, the telecine transfer bay has the Thomson Phantom transfer engine to transfer 2K data to Ciprico drives and then onto the Celco server for film output.
The final component that we are currently working on is Asset Management. Our goal is to migrate from a Filemaker Pro database to a asset management system that can track information from beginning to end, generating information not only for internal use in the remastering center, but information that will be useful for Celestial Pictures as it take the remastered films to broadcast, DVD or VCD release.
Thoma Thurau was chief engineer at Shaw Brothers Studios Remastering Center when this article was prepared.