DuArt - Lost and Found
The '73 Knicks Championship Tape" on the Air
DuArt Relies on Nucoda to Get “Lost and Found: The ’73 Knicks Championship Tape” on the Air
The New York Knicks game was originally broadcast by ABC on May 10, 1973, from the famed Forum in Los Angeles. The Knicks were leading the Lakers in the championship series by three games to one, and when the telecast ended, the Knicks had a 102-93 victory and their second NBA championship. When the MSG Network wanted to relive the Knick’s last championship moment, the video masters were nowhere to be found. Neither the Lakers, the Knicks, the NBA, or ABC had a copy of the game, and it was feared lost to history.
At the eleventh hour, a sports collector who had an off-air broadcast of the game was found. That was the good news. The bad – the two videotapes that contained Game 5 of the 1973 NBA finals were recorded on Cartrivision, a very obscure format that preceded VHS and Betamax in the U.S. At this point, the MSG Network turned to Maurice Schechter and the team at DuArt, a prominent post production and restoration facility in Manhattan. The facility had relied upon Digital Vision’s powerful image processing tools since they were first introduced, using Nucoda tools for a host of color grading, restoration, and conservation projects. With the help of Digital Vision’s Nucoda, they got the job done.
The tapes were on the brink of death, and we didn’t have a Cartrivision machine,” said Schechter, Chief Engineer and Head of Restoration at DuArt. “But this was the only known copy in the world, so we got to work.
He found a Cartrivision collector on eBay and bought a machine. “It was a 40 year old machine that didn’t work when I received it,” noted Schechter. “It needed to be rebuilt from scratch, and the unstable video it produced had to be good enough to be digitized and restored. Other people had tried to play the tapes before I received them, causing even more damage, and the tapes had severe binder breakdown, making them sticky. I had to be very careful with the techniques I used because I certainly didn’t want to make the tapes even worse.”
Schechter tucked the tapes into a Ziploc bag with a desiccant to dry them out. They did not play. He baked one of the tapes in an incubator. No change. He tried WD-40 of one of the tapes and freezing it. No substantial change. Finally he mounted the tapes onto a reel-to-reel cleaning machine and rigged a system that let the tape pass through a fabric saturated with isopropyl alcohol. It showed some progress, but not enough to yield a complete playback.
“MSG was encouraged by the progress we’d made, and they committed to an air date for the restored game. The pressure was really on then. The client wanted the entire game, not just pieces, and we were running out of options. So we went back to the incubator, turned it up to the point where we knew the tapes would probably bubble, and left them in overnight. At that point, we literally had nothing to lose. But when we put the tapes into the machine the next morning, they played!”
DuArt needed two people to run the transfer because of the warped tape. One captured and recorded the signal, while the other person used Q-tips to hold the tape against the recorder heads because it was buckling. In the end, they made four passes before the tape started to revert to glue. “That was our window of opportunity,” commented Schechter. “We had four passes of various qualities and with different issues. So we edited what we had together to create the best complete source that we could.”
The executives at MSG Network were ecstatic to have the entire game, but Schechter knew that the less than VHS-quality of the off-air home recording they had salvaged was far from what they needed for the anniversary broadcast. “Digital Vision was the last, vital step. We used the Nucoda to make our ‘master,’ which we’d cut together from the four versions, match. There were color shifts, contrast differences, color dropping to monochrome, noise, instability, softness, frozen frames, dropouts, vertical jitter, and a multitude of audio problems. We used the Nucoda for color correction, especially when the lumens didn’t line up well, enhancement, field replacements, and everything possible to fix as many issues as we could. There was also a tremendous amount of streaky color noise that the DVO Clarity minimized.”
To record almost two hours of color programming on a single cartridge, Cartrivision technology recorded only one field out of three. On playback, the single field was scanned three times, recreating the standard NTSC system. “We created digital files, which were sent to the Nucoda, and it was able to work with the interlace material and the unique skip field system Cartrivision utilized. We had a lot of bad fields, but the field next to it was identical, so we were able to restore a lot that way.”
Jane Tolmachyov, Senior Colorist at DuArt, had to deal with sections of the color broadcast that had reverted to black and white when she was working with the Cartrivision media files. She utilized the Nucoda’s rich color tool set to do so. “When it didn’t play right, it would revert to black and white,” noted Schechter. “We couldn’t make color from nothing, so Jane came up with a very unique solution. She used the Nucoda to create a rich sepia tone that was used on the black and white sections. So when you watched the whole game, your eyes wouldn’t really notice those parts, which were usually no more than five seconds long. The Nucoda supported Jane in all the clever maneuvers she used to make the inherent problems much less obvious.”
My goal was to create a uniformly good experience, and the Nucoda supported me in achieving that,” said Tolmachyov. “When you watched it, you were taken into the game, not distracted by technical issues. It wasn’t perfect, but we more than met our goal.”
In the end, MSG broadcast not only the Knicks’ championship game, but a special entitled, “Lost and Found: The ’73 Knicks Championship Tape.” Concluded Schechter, “In the end, the MSG executives were thrilled. The combined effort that it took to make this program happen was actually recognized the following year with an Emmy. The whole project was like taking the Titanic up from the bottom of the ocean and making it sail again, but we did it! Restoration, whether it’s film or video, requires knowledge of all the tools available, technical understanding of the process, and a vision of how the finished project should turn out. And Digital Vision is an important part of that process for us.”