Putting Godzilla in Focus
Restoring the iconic series for the future of high definition
Author: James Ballard
Official Website: Japanese Movie Speciality Channel
Earlier this year, a joint collaboration between Toho and the Japanese Movie Speciality Channel saw the restoration of the entire Godzilla series in high definition (HD). Between October and December, all 28 of the newly remastered titles were broadcast in HD on the Japanese Movie Speciality Channel in Japan.
Join SciFi Japan as we take a look at the tremendous work undertaken to prepare Godzilla for the world of high definition!
Step 1: Film Check
The original print:
As tens of thousands of film reels are stored at the Tokyo Lab, the atmosphere temperature and humidity levels have to be strictly maintained. To prepare GODZILLA (Gojira, 1954) for it’s high definition broadcast on Japanese Movie Speciality Channel HD, the master positive film was used. The master positive is the first copy made from the original camera negative. Even so, this high-information film has already undergone various processes in the past, so how does it compare to the image quality at the time the film was originally released? This is where everything begins.
Confirming the condition of the original print:
As the years have passed with the films kept in storage, scratches can sometimes arise on the film prints; faded colors and a change in the quality of the film base are all a result of deterioration. So what is the present condition of the film? Also, can the equipment that sources the data from the film be used? This has to be confirmed visually by people one roll at a time. Scratches on the frames and damage to the perforations on the film have to be repaired manually, large spots and mould have to be cleaned using ethanol and cotton swabs. To prevent further deterioration, it is essential to restore the image quality as much as possible at this stage.
Damaged parts are reinforced by hand:
Sadoyoshi Uchiyama from the Film Image Department feels the perforations with his left hand to find any damage. The perforations are a series of holes on both sides of the film which can be hooked on to. If this part is damaged, the film it is liable to snap when passing through the HD telecine machine, so it has to be reinforced with tape just by the side of the image.
Once the examination and repair has been completed, the dirt is washed off in a special cleaning machine. Resin stuck to the film is washed off in an organic solvent at the end. It’s then dried immediately with hot wind. The cleaning of one roll of film takes mere minutes.
Step 2: HD Telecine
Converting the film into video format:
With the film as it is, the movie isn’t able to be broadcast on TV. The film must undergo a process to convert it into video format. The cleaned film is set into the telecine equipment one roll at a time. A light is projected that hits the film, and the light that passes through the film is then read by a image pick-up device and is converted into a video signal. Precision here has to be very high, with the operator having to decide whether or not they are able to capture a finer image. Tokyo Lab’s telecine machine was manufatured by the long-established British Cintel company.
Step 3: Color Correction
In the same scene it can change from blue to red, bright to dark. Throughout the frames the colors and brightness can often shift. The main causes are the conditions at the time of filming (e.g. a change in the position of the sun) and the insertion of optical composites. Color correction fixes the gaps and unsteadiness in moments like these.
“In these productions years ago, they weren’t filmed with the intention of being seen on TV. Watching a projection and watching it on TV is different. Taking into consideration that these will be watched on TV, we’ve aimed to reproduce the original while not losing the essence of the production.”
– Isato Komori (colorist)
Bringing a sense of depth and three-dimensions:
In the original film, Godzilla goes from Ginza Yon-chome to Sukiyabashi, then he appears at the government building! The highlights of the flames are raised and the gloominess hanging over the Diet Building is removed. The contrast on the terminal screen is elevated brining forth a sense of depth, resurrecting a three-dimensional image.
Step 4: Restoration Process
Garbage removal and scratch repair, the manual restoration process begins:
Cuts and specks that stuck to the film must now be erased one by one from the color corrected image using a special repair software. Bringing the movies into high definition and raising the image resolution allows more details on Godzilla to be seen, but now the specks that couldn’t be seen in the standard definition (SD) film also become visible. “For 8 to 10 hours a day, we’d gather around the monitor finding and deleting all these specks” said Shigeru Murata, the restoration engineer leader. Even if there was an infinite amount of time, this is a job that requires a lot of patience.
It’s not all an auto function:
The red spots appearing on the computer screen are the areas that have have been automatically recognized by the repair software as being dirt. It’s a convenient function that looks at the whole scene, then removes objects that only appear for one frame, as well as contrast that appears to be completely different. However, this funtion is also quite limited. For instance, the people running to escape from Godzilla at the bottom of the screen; as it’s not able to compare all the moving objects throughout the scene they get mistaken for specks, so the auto filter cannot be applied here. The remaining specks that aren’t erased with the auto function have to be erased one at a time, frame by frame, becoming a very tedius manual process.
For frames of the film that are torn, it is also possible to take an average from the frames before and after in order to cover it up. However, if there is a difference in brightness between frames that needs to be adjusted, it must be informed manually where any of these blemishes have been covered over.
Tape completed for high definition broadcast:
The work of the skilled and passionate staff, who strived to create highest possible quality, is finally complete! An HD tape is created from which the movies can be broadcast to home television.
Earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan: