HDD Attends a Virtual Roundtable with Andy Parsons (BDA), Jeffery Baker (Warner Home Video), and Ned Price (Warner Technical Operations)

Posted Thu Aug 2, 2012 at 01:35 PM PDT by

Last time the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) had a virtual roundtable, we discussed a wealth of information about Disney and their commitment to the Blu-ray format. This time around Warner Brothers is in the hot seat.

The people present for this virtual roundtable were Andy Parsons of the BDA, Jeffery Baker of Warner Home Video, and Ned Price who is in charge of Warner Bros. Technical Operations. As soon as the roundtable was ready and all the journalists had joined in, the questions came fast and furious.

As always the Q&A session is definitely the most informative part of these Q&As so we'll get right to it. Below are the questions that were asked during the session. Personally, I was impressed with the amount of information given about the restoration process and particularly how expensive it is to convert a 2D movie to 3D. Although, their explanation on the restoration behind 'Singin' in the Rain' could have been expounded on, a lot.

[Note: The text has been cleaned up for grammar and spelling errors from a live chat environment.]

Q: Jeff, does WB hold rights to the new restoration/reconstruction of an extended version of 'Once Upon a Time in America'?

Jeffrey Baker: We do have the rights, a release date has not yet been determined.

Q: How does 4k play a role in this effort and how will it fit on an expected 4k Blu-ray?

Andy Parsons: We think that Blu-ray would be suitable for 4K content because of its high capacity and data throughput (particularly in comparison to streaming), and the BDA continues to explore new technologies, though at this time, no 4K development activities are taking place within the BDA.

Q: Ned, could you please talk about new techniques that WB has been experimenting with to extract images from older films with damaged elements like 'Red Dust', 'Test Pilot', 'A Guy Named Joe'?

Ned Price: One of our largest challenges is creating algorithms to correct density fluctuations from photo chemical processing of the films, density pulsation also occurs in color film as a result of dye fading, we lose density in the negative as well as color layer. The emulsion layers of a color negative deteriorate unevenly which creates color pulsation as well as density flicker.

Q: Jeff, I know WB has been looking at 2D tests for 'The Wizard of Oz' for years. Are you encouraged this will be going forward in the near future?

Jeffrey Baker: We are testing many films while watching consumer interest and demand from theatrical exhibition to the home on 3D, conversion costs from 2D to 3D are quite high ($4M to $6M), until they come down further it will continue to be a deterrent in our converting library films to 3D.

Q: I would love to hear a little about the amazing restoration work that went into bringing 'Singin' in the Rain' to Blu-ray.

Jeffrey Baker: We performed a 4K scan and took advantage of current state of the art color correction tools, we also enhanced the audio quite a bit.

Q: It's been a long time since we've heard anything regarding Blu-ray and managed copy. Can you offer any update on the feature?

Andy Parsons: We are hearing that AACS, the entity that is responsible for implementing managed copy, should be launching the capability soon. In the meantime, a great aspect of Blu-ray is that many titles are being offered in combo packs that include a DVD and "digital extensions" such as Digital Copy and Ultraviolet that allow us to extend our home theater experience to other locations like an airplane seat or hotel room or anyplace we want to watch movies.

Q: When looking at the enhanced content aspect of your releases, what do you generally look for? Do you use outside archival sources or is it primarily internal as in the case with the 'Ben Hur'?

Jeffrey Baker: We first look internally to mine assets, however, in the case of 'Ben Hur' and other films we have gone to third parties to help us source and or develop assets.

Q: Are there any plans to start releasing Warner Archive titles on Blu-ray? And is there ever a time when you released a film on Blu-ray that may not have had the monetary stats to back up its release because Warner felt it was important? Is financial feasibility more important to a release than the film's impact on film history?

Jeffrey Baker: We are not yet ready to convert archive titles to BD, we are hopeful that more economically viable tools in the near future will make this possible. Yes, I have green-lit numerous conversions to BD that did not meet short term financial thresholds, and we will continue to. We believe that the long term growth in BD will provide adequate ROI in the future.

Q: Can you please tell me why some movies like 'Blade Runner' are given multiple releases while other classics fail to get one?

Jeffrey Baker: Sometimes it's based on consumer inquiries and demand, other times it's based on finding new materials. In the case of 'The Exorcist', we released it on BD in 2010 (37 years old), we have plans although it has not been announced, to re-release 'The Exorcist' in 2013 with new extra content, I cannot disclose what it is, but it's rich!

Q: To what extent is your selection of library titles to preserve/restore is filmmaker-driven (as for example the recent efforts with 'End of the Road' which were spearheaded by Steven Soderbergh?

Ned Price: We approach library preservation from two angles; preservation work is primarily motivated and funded on behalf of the corporation, title selection in based on physical condition of materials rather than the current popularity of a title. The corporate preservation efforts are not motivated by sales, however the results of our corporate preservation efforts are made available for sales division use. Sales driven requests often initiate preservation as well as restoration use as was the case for 'End of the Road'. We often have film makers championing film which have influenced their work so that it's made available to the next generation of developing film makers.

Q: I'm interested a bit more in what happens when a film is chosen for restoration and box set/special edition treatment such as 'Ben Hur' and a more bargain treatment that could hit the budget pricing category mentioned. Might the budget film not get a full restoration at, I think I heard 8K mentioned.

Jeffrey Baker: Correct, we will render a less robust conversion on a budget priced BD release; however, to be clear the quality is still quite good and exceeds DVD.

Q: Would you elaborate on your 3D strategy? Including restoration/remastering of classic titles made in 3D (i.e. 'Dial M for Murder') or 2D titles that might be converted to 3D (i.e. 'The Matrix'), as well as new 3D releases. Roughly how many 3D BD titles do you expect to release in say the next 2 years?

Jeffrey Baker: More than one, less than 10!

Q: How would you define the difference between preservation and restoration when it comes to Blu-ray? Is there one?

Jeffrey Baker: It's 10 times more expensive to restore vs. preserve.

Q: Jeff, will the next Blu-ray edition of 'A Star is Born' (1954) include the cut theatrical release version? A lot of us find the black-and-white stills in Ron Haver's restoration takes us "out of the movie" and we'd like to have this option.

Jeffrey Baker: Not sure, however, I can tell you that the 1976 version of the film will be coming out on BD in the next 12 months.

Q: What would you say to the argument that BD is simply another phase in the format world and soon we won’t have the need for physical items as everything will be avail via “cloud” tech?

Andy Parsons: We think that Blu-ray and online distribution serve different needs, with Blu-ray offering the best possible HD picture and sound due to its very high capacity and bandwidth -- it has roughly ten times the data transfer rate as the average U.S. broadband connection. This makes it ideal for big screen home theater viewing. Streaming, on the other hand, is great for casual viewing of content on smaller screens or handheld devices such as tablets or smartphones. Also, since content tends to come and go from streaming services, your copy of a Blu-ray title will always be available to you. We believe Blu-ray sits, and will continue to sit, at the center of home entertainment for quite some time Digital extensions such as digital copy or Ultraviolet enable Blu-ray collectors to extend their content library to their mobile devices. And, a connected Blu-ray player not only plays CDs, DVDs, BDs, 3DBD's and BD Recordable, but also serves as a gateway to streamed content. It's not really a zero sum game -- physical media and online distribution can and will coexist for many years to come.

Q: I know the Blu-ray format keeps adding new features. Can you tell us what we can expect in the future?

Andy Parsons: We are always keeping an eye on new developments in theatrical and home entertainment, but for the moment, we are focusing on continuing to encourage adoption of the Blu-ray format we know and love to the widest possible audience around the world. Adding new capabilities is not something we do lightly, as we need to keep the millions of existing Blu-ray players in mind. It's important to maintain backward compatibility as much as we possibly can.

Q: Which movie presented the most difficulty to restore for you and your team?

Ned Price: The two most challenging, but ultimately most satisfying restorations were 'North by Northwest' and 'Ben-Hur' due to characteristics of the original camera negative stock and physical condition. Color fading was the most difficult hurdle; both features were shot on early single strip camera negative which was poor at capturing color and had poor dye retention, meaning that color faded very quickly. The negatives also sustained physical damage due to the popularity of the titles and multiple theatrical re-issues.

Q: It is my understanding that the original negatives for 'Singin' in the Rain' were lost in a fire. How did you go about putting this film together again and with such high quality for Blu-ray?

Ned Price: The studios maintain master positive protection elements on all titles, we scanned 35mm 3-strip nitrate master positives for 'Singin' in the Rain' which were manufactured by MGM at Technicolor in 1952. To their credit, Technicolor materials were extremely well made and the transition from protection masters to original camera negative. The original negative for the last reel which includes the "Broadway Melody" sequence, still survives. We did use a small amount of grain reduction on the optical sections from positive masters due to the heavy grain content due to generation loss.

Q: Is there such thing as “too sharp” within the era of Blu-ray and restoration? How do you maintain the classic look within a technologically advanced format?

Ned Price: There is no such thing as "too sharp" unless you are artificially enhancing the image. We never "dumb down" an image in order to make it look more like a theatrical release print as our goal is to mine the entire image inherent in the original photography. I've never encountered a film that did not hold up to scrutiny of high resolution, the craftspeople always exceeded the limitation of the capture medium, we do encounter the occasional wig line, but we find that the "fix" (hand painting) is typically worse than the problem.

Q: Would you discuss any special challenges involved in restoring/remastering a 3D title such as 'Dial M for Murder'?

Ned Price: The 3D titles produced in the 1950's have unique problems, the single strip titles are faded differentially, meaning that the left eye negative has faded differently than the right eye negative, so making them match seamlessly is quite challenging. On the positive side, the 3D camera work from the 50's is impeccable, so there was no need to manipulate the 3D design for the home market.

Q: In a time when 35mm is slowly disappearing from exhibition, yet needs to be utilized to create these beautiful BR editions, is there any kind of thought on future restoration work down the line when we have no primary sources to go by?

Ned Price: The current preservation medium for the studio is still 35mm film, we do archive the original digital production files, but until there is a long term, industry accepted digital archive solution, we will continue with creation of film materials.

Q: What is your general policy on grain reduction?

Ned Price: I've always been conservative when it comes to image processing for three reasons, the first being that grain reduction tools start to add artifacts before they effectively reduce grain. Secondly, I feel that grain carries image information and texture, similar to a noise floor in audio which in a way, help continuity of the shots. Also, I'm a great fan of the color information carried by the grain.

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Tags: Aaron Peck, Film Restoration, Film Preservation, Warner Technical Operations, Ned Price, Warner Brothers, Warner Home Video, Jeffery Baker, BDA, Andy Parsons (all tags)