Behind the iconic gates of the world-famous Pinewood Studios lies its media preservation, restoration and archiving facility. Pinewood has restored many historic gems to their former glory with their team of experts, including Hell Drivers, A Canterbury Tale, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and this 2K restoration of Scott of the Antarctic.

Scott of the Antarctic is a piece of British History; the 1948 film recreates Robert Falcon Scott’s iconic yet ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition and his quest to be the first to reach the South Pole. But it’s not only this film’s storyline that holds such historical significance. What’s more, is the format it was originally filmed on; Three-strip Technicolor.

As the technology behind three-strip Technicolor is practically extinct, this rare format has become irreplaceable, and the need to digitise its deteriorating footage is even more significant. The format produces equally unique defects over time that require innovative restoration technology to restore them whilst retaining the film’s integrity efficiently.

We spoke with Pinewood’s Film Archive Restoration Manager, Jon Mann, who told us how they restored the three-strip Technicolor footage to reveal Scott of the Antarctic’s true colours.

Returning to the Dark Side: The Original Negative

In 2016, Studio Canal approached Pinewood with the original 1948 footage of Scott of the Antarctic.​ Jon says,

Studio Canal wanted the best restoration from the original negative, previous restorations had been made from dupes/prints that probably originated from an inferior intermediate made from the YCM elements. Having previous experience with recombining YCMs, (Psychomania for the BFI) we decided to go back to the original materials.

Not Always Easy as One, Two, Three

The three-strip Technicolor process, popular in commercial use from the 1930s to mid-1950s, used three strips of film negative which ran through a camera using a beam-splitting prism to produce Red, Green and Blue records before then being exposed to Yellow, Cyan and Magenta dyes to create the entire colour spectrum. Once combined, the three strips of film produced a vividly coloured image, instantly recognisable as Technicolor film.

Film scanner in action

For the restoration of Scott of the Antarctic, a 21st-century process needed to be adopted. Pinewood’s first task was to scan the film, however, due to the sheer quantity of film which came with the three-strip Technicolor, this was not a fast process. The Y, C and M elements amounted to 36 reels of film, which took a total of 4 solid weeks (24 hours a day) to scan the entirety of the footage. Once the film scanning was finally complete, Pinewood went about digitally combining the elements to create the coloured image.

Using a bespoke programme written for us by Filmlight, we recombined the scanned Yellow, Cyan and Magenta DPX files we then started the process of digitally cleaning the film.

To tackle the issues in the footage head-on, Pinewood used a combination of automated and manual tools in The Pixel Farm’s PFClean. Using dedicated software, the restoration could be performed efficiently whilst retaining the film’s integrity.

The three-strip Technicolor film came with issues as unique as the format itself, many of the shots had a halo effect; Red, Green or Blue outlines from the recombining of the three-strip colour.

The ‘halo effect’ occurred when the images did not line up precisely in the digital realign process. This is where the team had to use restoration software to realign the footage digitally.

Before and after of the restored film

The team then set about removing the sparkle and dirt found in Scott of the Antarctic, which produced a colourful snowstorm effect due to the three elements in the footage.

One of the more unique manifestations of the three-strip Technicolor is caused by the different rate at which each Y, C and M element degrades. As a result, signs of heavy flickering were evident in the footage, which required an automatic de-flicker tool to remove. Jon explains,

In addition many of the frames had rips and tears, which also needed to be restored digitally.

Restoration operator at the PFClean workstation

As well as having an extensive range of restoration tools at their fingertips, it was also crucial for Pinewood to have a non-destructive workflow, allowing them to meet the client’s requirements without jeopardising any of their previous hard work. Jon comments,

By having a non-destructive workflow we can always go back to projects and work on them right up to the day of delivery. We can make fixes and additional cleaning if requested by our clients whilst working between other projects.

No Cold Feet

Restoring three-strip Technicolor is certainly no walk in the park, but fortunately for Pinewood, there were no cold feet when restoring Scott of the Antarctic.

With help from PFClean, Pinewood’s team of experts restored history, uncovering the story behind Robert Scott’s iconic Antarctic expedition and revealing the true magic of three-strip Technicolor.

Check out Pinewood’s restoration team in action, and see how they used PFClean to restore Scott of the Antarctic:

Related Links

Footage with kind permission of Studio Canal: