'Star' to be born in new light

Warner Bros. restoring George Cukor's 1954 film

Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging is restoring George Cukor's 1954 "A Star Is Born" in 6K resolution.

The film, starring Judy Garland and James Mason, is believed to be the first restoration project where the scanning, restoration work and mastering will be completed at that resolution.

Digital film restoration is most commonly accomplished at 2K, though an increasing number have been using 4K. A 4K file contains four times as much picture information -- measured in pixels -- as a 2K file, and 6K contains 2 1/4 times as much as a 4K file.

Ned Price, vp mastering, Warner Bros. Technical Operations, said that the facility's reason to go to higher resolution was because "The original camera negative contains more information than 2K, though 2K is today's typical display resolution. But we anticipate higher display resolution in the future. So we are attempting to preserve the asset, rather than just create an element for exhibition."

The key goal of the project is preservation, but the restored version of the film will also eventually be released on Blu-ray Disc and standard DVD.

"There has been photochemical work done on this particular title, but with new digital tools we are able to retrieve the original color balance of the faded negative in a way that we could not reproduce photochemically," Price said. "We made film preservation elements since the film had differential fading, meaning ... the edges of the film had more oxygen and deteriorated quicker. By scanning it, we're able to get a completely flat field of color."

Numerous restoration industry leaders share the belief that the community needs to step up to a resolution higher than 2K for restoration and preservation. Still, opinions vary, as more storage and bandwidth is needed to handle these larger files, which along with cost, is a challenge.

"6K is typically a costly proposition, so that's why we are testing the waters on 'A Star is Born,' " Price said. "As the size of data is more easily managed and the tools become more accessible, we will increase our resolution."

Restoration of "A Star Is Born" is expected to take four to six months. Said Price: "Our expectation is that the restoration would live for easily 100 years."

Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, the studio's digital post and restoration facility, has recently restored such titles as "Bonnie and Clyde," "Dirty Harry," "Cool Hand Luke" and "How the West Was Won."