Phoenix Refine Makes Easy Work of
the Criterion Collection’s ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
Just one month after they exploded onto the U.S. scene with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles started work on a project that would bring their revolutionary talent to the big screen. A Hard Day’s Night, in which John, Paul, George and Ringo play slapstick versions of themselves, captures the moment in which the Beatles became idols to their generation and changed the face of music forever.
In preparation for the 50th anniversary of A Hard Day’s Night, the Criterion Collection has recently undertaken a full 4K digital restoration of the film, and will be releasing it on DVD (one disc) and as a Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD set (three discs) on June 24, 2014. Digital Vision’s Phoenix Finish was used by the team at Criterion to make A Hard Day’s Night look as if it was shot yesterday. The 4K restoration of the black and white movie was approved by the film’s director, Richard Lester.
“We work as much as possible with the original filmmakers on our restoration projects, and in this case, we were very fortunate to be able to work with Richard Lester,” said Phoebe Harmon, Head Restoration Artist for the Criterion Collection. “He was quite involved in the whole process. We were also able to secure the original camera negative for this project, not a print, which was great. We’ve certainly seen films in worse condition, but it was far from pristine. The movie was shot really quickly, had a lot of handheld camera work, and was a very rushed project. There wasn’t really any shrinkage, but there was a fair amount of negative dirt, some flicker, and quite a few running scratches, much of which was original.”
The Criterion Collection, headquartered in New York, is a highly regarded company revered for its film library, as well as its management and repurposing of content. The company has an in-house unit that completes post production on the titles it distributes. Phoenix Refine is an integral part of an end-to-end restoration pipeline at Criterion and was put in place to increase efficiency and improve quality in their mastering efforts. A complete restoration, re-mastering and repackaging solution, Phoenix combines the best in automated, semi-automated and manual restoration tools, with strong editorial and mastering features.
“The film was scanned at 4K, and we were given DPX file sequences to work with, which for this project were reels. We have a long history with Digital Vision, and know what their tools are capable of. The Phoenix is our go to, and I assembled the movie in it. We then applied a global dust and fix pass, to try and reduce the light dirt that was universal on the whole film. We reviewed that pass, and then added the DVO Deflicker tool where needed. Several sections of the film were particularly dirty, and we had to do multiple dirt and fix passes on those. But Phoenix enabled us to really crank it up where the camera wasn’t moving too much. In other areas, where we needed to get really specific, we used the semi-automated tools and a lot of shapes to get as much dirt out as we could.”
A Hard Day’s Night features a significant amount of handheld camera work, and a lot of running with cameras as well. The massive amount of movement, from both the camera and band’s fans, posed a serious challenge to the Criterion restoration team. Noted Harmon, “Either the camera was moving, or crowds of screaming girls were moving, or both! With intense, hard motion, it’s harder for automated tools because each frame is different. And we were challenged with a lot of things moving and a lot things flashing, like cameras and sequins. We had to pull back with the automated tools, but the Phoenix was there for us. We drew shapes and even animated shapes to get many things done, and we were still able to do a lot of reduction with our global dust and fix pass.”
The film also had some pretty severe running scratches, many of which were in very challenging places. “Some of the nastiest scratches were in scenes that took place on TV sets, with lots of backgrounds with vertical lines, which were of course challenging to fix. There were also several shots during the concert footage at the end that were badly scratched. Those scenes obviously contained a lot of movement, so they were very challenging as well. Even so, we were able to use the Phoenix scratch tool to take out most of them. Phoenix did the bulk of the heavy lifting, and then we were able to pick up the leftovers with MTI, where we did some hand fixing.”
Ideal for DI, restoration and archive workflows, Phoenix Refine is focused on creating the highest quality deliverables from film. “We’ve been using the Phoenix more and more,” concluded Harmon. “I don’t think we realized initially just how flexible it is, but we’ve been applying its toolset in different ways, like the animated shapes. On A Hard Day’s Night, we had a good element to work with, but it was still an extensive project that took a lot of time. It went so much faster with the Phoenix though, and our end results were just that much better. We couldn’t have made the movie look as good as it does without Phoenix, and I have to say, I think it looks really excellent.”
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About The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection, headquartered in New York, is a highly regarded company revered for its film library, and its management and repurposing of content. Criterion gathers, restores and distributes some of the greatest films from around the world and distributes them in the highest technical quality.
About Digital Vision
Digital Vision is the supplier of the world’s best colour grading, restoration and film scanning solutions for the broadcast, film, commercial and archive industries. Founded in 1988 in Stockholm, Sweden, Digital Vision has offices in London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York, and Sweden. Digital Vision’s Emmy award winning technology and products include Nucoda and Phoenix colour grading, finishing, mastering and restoration solutions that are used to create much of the worlds’ high profile television, film and commercials media broadcast and distributed today. In addition to the Nucoda and Phoenix ranges, Golden Eye film scanners, Thor, and the Bifrost Archive Bridge solution provide innovative tools to create the industry recognised highest quality in scanning, film digitisation, preservation and archiving and 4K real time image processing. For more information, visit www.digitalvision.tv