Starting From Scratch
Realworks is the digital restoration company behind the creation of the documentary film, The Decent One (2014). The documentary illustrates, through unseen writings, photographs and archive footage, the private life of Heinrich Himmler and his family.
The archive footage, which brings the unseen writings to life, required an intensive restoration process before the documentary could be finalised. Director of The Decent One and Founder of Realworks, Vanessa Lapa, and Producer, Tomer Eliav, tell us how they used PFClean to restore the historic footage for a cinematic release.
Nothing Changes When Life is Easy
Once Vanessa and her team of researchers completed their worldwide search for candidate footage for The Decent One, a huge problem presented itself; the final version of the 90 minute feature documentary compiled footage from from 151 different sources, across 53 private and public archives, located in 13 different countries.
A large majority of the sourced archive footage was badly damaged, which meant that an intensive restoration process was imperative to ensure that the final product was ‘not only viewable, but cinematically powerful,’ Vanessa asserts.
Unfortunately, after approaching a number of post-production companies in Israel, it soon became apparent to Vanessa and Tomer that the restoration services they desired for a production such as The Decent One, simply did not exist in their country. For their project to succeed, that was going to have to change.
“Out of desperation, we started to research the technology and support needed to bring the project in-house, which lead us to The Pixel Farm and PFClean,” Vanessa explains. “Not only could they provide us with the high end technology we required, but also with the support and guidance we would need along the way.”
The lack of established post-production facilities with the required film restoration skills in Israel, meant Realworks’ only option was to start their new venture from the ground up, by hiring a group of unqualified post-production artists, and training them in-house.
“We didn’t posses the necessary training skills, so we contacted The Pixel Farm to discuss our options,” says Tomer. “It was thanks to their professionalism and devotion, that we were able to set up an intensive, week-long training programme for ten young editors, with a dedicated instructor that The Pixel Farm sent over from England.”
Following their first day of general instruction, Realworks’ training moved to focus on the issues most relevant to the material they were about to restore.
Every Flower Must Grow Through Dirt
One of the biggest challenges for Realworks, was dealing with the variety of source material in the archive footage. They were confronted with several different file formats including 8mm, 16mm and 35mm, 8.5mm and 9.5mm, Super 8, Beta, Video and many more. All of which were suffering from various issues and defects that occurred over time and through a lack of careful preservation.
The various file formats and high level of deterioration in the footage raised concerns for the newly established restoration team. Each shot needed to be dealt with singularly, as it would have been impossible to create a standardised preset for their workflow. In addition, there was also a strong possibility that each frame would have endless defects that needed time-consuming fixing.
“Fortunately,” Tomer explains, “PFClean offered us the versatile and accurate tools that could handle these issues, both in high quality and a short time frame.”
“By using the wide range of effects that PFClean provides, we were able to reduce the dust and scratches by more than half,” says Tomer. “The vertical scratches that are usually a result of projection of the footage, were repeated throughout several sequential frames. Fixing them frame-by-frame would have consumed a lot of time, and may have lead to inconsistent patchwork. Having the possibility to detect and fix them automatically in PFClean was paramount to getting the project done.”
With the ability to automatically detect and fix the high volume of minor defects in the footage, Realworks were able to dedicate more time to manually fixing the more challenging issues that were present in the original archive footage, such as deep gouges, tears and burns.
Tomer states, “We needed the manual tools PFClean offers to be able to deliver the footage in the highest standard possible. After all, in my opinion, the professional restoration process is a craft, based on perfectionist handwork, rather than automatic techniques.”
The historic significance of the footage meant it was important for Realworks to deliver the final product with the greatest integrity possible. The tears and burns in particular, required a large amount of attention from a restoration artist, so as to be able to reduce the risk of producing compression artifacts for the distribution masters. Also to avoid digital artifacts, which the Realworks artists considered ‘unaesthetic and unauthentic’ to the final viewing experience. By adopting intricate manual techniques, the team were able to restore the film to the highest standard.
“Throughout the restoration process,” Tomer reflects, “The Pixel Farm held close contact with us, guiding us through the difficulties and obstacles we were confronted with and helping us to create the right workflow for this project, and its followings.”
Bringing Back the Past, Where it Belongs
After working for 9 months on The Decent One, Realworks had an experienced restoration crew. The team now run one of the most accomplished restoration facilities in Israel and since their success with The Decent One, they have gone on to restore other significant projects using PFClean.
“Among our works is the restoration of the Israeli film classic, “3 Days and a Child” (1967), and the restoration of rare footage from two of the first movies shot in Palestine, “Life of the Jews” (1913) and “Shivat Zion” (1920-1),” highlights Vanessa.
The team have also restored rare film footage of the unveiling of the Warsaw memorial monument in 1948. “The footage was in a desperate condition, and showed a large amount of deep scratches,” Tomer explains. “This required us to restore the majority of the film manually, frame by frame. Any other method could have harmed the authenticity, formed artifacts and made parts of the image disappear.”
“We are now beginning the restoration process of the 1986 Oscar Nominated Film, “Avanti Popolo.”
PFClean has also become an important component in the Realworks grading facility. Tomer explains, “We observed that some defects that occur on digital footage, and not only on scanned film reels, such as flickering and heavy noise can be handled more efficiently and produce better results when using restoration tools, rather than the more traditional grading and post-production software tools.”
Furthermore, to ensure a non-destructive workflow, and to improve efficiency, Realworks were able to introduce a LUT (Look Up Table) into PFClean and their grading pipeline. By doing so, the team were able to preview how the final film would look during colour grading without burning the grade into the footage, allowing them to continue with the restoration of all the material in parallel.
Out of a passion for cinema, and an awareness of the importance of film restoration, Realworks have fast become pioneers of the profession in Israel. They have demonstrated throughout the restoration of The Decent One, and in their projects since, the importance of utilising intricate manual techniques, in order to maintain the integrity of historically significant footage.
“With the help of The Pixel Farm’s PFClean, and their support,” Vanessa concludes, “we are proud to bring a clear and authentic view of the past, to the present and future.”
The adoption of PFClean has transformed the way restoration companies such as Realworks operate, allowing them to test new value propositions, develop new customer oriented metrics, and to explore opportunities which in the past were never obtainable. Realworks demonstrated how instrumental PFClean was in not only maintaining image integrity for a project with material of utmost historical importance, but also in delivering the seemingly unachievable. That’s where PFClean empowers the most innovative and driven companies to become pioneers.