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As He Converts "Titanic" to 3D, James Cameron Raises Bar on Film Restorations

Reliance Mediaworks' image processing used to restore 1997 film

After he showed 15 minutes of Titanic 3D this week to motion picture exhibitors at CineEurope in Amersterdam -- the footage was greeted with cheers and applause -- James Cameron explained that the eye-popping results weren’t just the result of upgrading to 3D.

READ: James Cameron Wows CineEurope With First Footage of 'Titanic 3D'

Even before he could begin the conversion process to turn Titanic from a 2D into a 3D movie, he had to restore the original 1997 film. The goal was to create a new, cleaner version of the film in all formats -- including 3D and 35 mm. “This is more about Titanic returning to the theaters than just 3D,” Cameron said.

In the process, the demanding director -- who is expected to set a new standard for the conversions of library titles when Titanic 3D is released on April 2012 -- is also raising the bar for restorations.

In the case of Titanic, he turned to Reliance MediaWorks’ Burbank facility in order to use Reliance’s propriety image processing software system -- a secret weapon that has been used by some of Hollywood’s other elite filmmakers like David Fincher.

The Lowry process, as it was known before its acquisition by Reliance in 2008, is aimed at improving the resolution and dynamic range of motion picture imagery while also removing  dirt and scratches while making other repairs.

As a restoration and remastering tool, it has touched some of Hollywood's crown jewels such as All About Eve, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and the James Bond library.

The Reliance process is typically accomplished in 2K resolution--the most common resolution used today in digital cinema -- but Cameron took it a step further on Titanic with a complete 4K pipeline, which involves four times more data. The restoration of Titanic was completed earlier this year in roughly 10 weeks.

It is also used for image and detail enhancement to new movies lensed with digital cameras, including 3D titles, explained Reid Burns, COO of Reliance's US operations. System features include alignment tools, as well as noise and grain reduction.

Reliance's image enhancement process involves complex computation accomplished on huge render farms. Representing extensive R&D, the system largely revolves  around motion estimation, meaning the computer analyzes the motion of an image from frame to frame.

Fincher ran every frame of The Social Network through the Reliance process, Burns reported. Fincher also used the process on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Zodiac. He also restored Seven and Fight Club at Reliance.

Cameron used the process on live action in Avatar as well.

Reliance's image processing tools have also been used to preserve history, including NASA's TV footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.