SMPTE Panel Warns of Restoration Challenges

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' co-producer urges "checks and balances."
'Star Wars: A New Hope'

With the wide range of digital capabilities available to manipulate imagery, is a film restoration really a restoration?

That was a question posed Monday by Dino Everett, archivist and curator of the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive at USC, at a symposium presented by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers with the Association of Moving Image Archivists.

“Does it still constitute a restoration if it becomes something that wasn’t there before [such as a new sound mix or visual effects]?” he asked, adding that new terminology for this sort of work may be needed.

The ability to change original work is only growing, warned Jan Yarbrough, senior digital intermediate and restoration colorist at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. “It’s a challenge to create something that will play in the new formats but maintain the look and flavor of the original," he said. "These days we are working with a huge dynamic range compared with anything we have seen before. The white levels can blind you.”

“It opens up a huge can of worms,” agreed Grover Crisp, executive vp of asset management, film restoration and digital mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment. “People need to take into consideration how the film has been viewed in the past.”

Bad Robot head of post-production Ben Rosenblatt (who was also co-producer on Star Wars: The Force Awakens) said with so many options, “it’s important to have a bunch of voices” in the creative discussion. To make his point, he commented that for fans who are upset that they can’t get the original Star Wars, “there [probably] weren’t checks and balances.”

The symposium was held during this week's SMPTE conference and exhibition at Hollywood & Highland.