‘Oz' Gets An HD Makeover

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As part of the 70th-anniversary celebration of TheWizard
of Oz
, Warner Home Video and Turner Classic Movies will bring a new HD restoration
of the classic film to nearly 450 theaters on Sept. 23. The one-night-only
event will be followed by the release of newly remastered Blu-ray and DVD
editions of the film.

Warner Bros. last restored the film in 2005, but advances in
scanning resolution, color correction, color registration and other areas -- as
well as a newly rediscovered 1939 Technicolor print, helped Warner Bros.
noticeably improve the visual quality -- according to Ned Price, vice president
of mastering at Warner Bros. Technical Operations.

The Wizard of Oz

The restoration also illustrates how much effort the studios
are putting into the restoration of classic films for Blu-ray release.

Using a pin-registered Northlight film scanner, Warner Bros.
employees were able to scan the three separate camera negatives at 8K, a much-higher
resolution than was possible only a few years ago, Price noted. The 8K scan
would have about 16 times the pixel resolution of an HD image.

Color-registration techniques for matching up the three separate
camera negatives have also dramatically improved. During the 2005 restoration, colors
were registered with a 16-block grid.

"We were basically cutting up the image into 16 parts and
registering it," Price said. "This time we were able to register it to the
pixel at 4K. So that is a quantum leap for us."

Better scanning resolution, color-registration techniques and
color-correction technologies also "rendered sharper grain," which meant they
had to do less processing to the image, Price added. "In the past we didn't
have sharp grain so we had to degrain, which means you basically have to soften
everything. When you do that, then you have to artificially resharpen the
picture. This time the grain was not an issue for us."

A recently discovered nitrate print manufactured by Technicolor
in 1939 also gave them a better insight into the way the film should look. "We
had reference Technicolor prints in the past but we weren't sure of their pedigree,"
Price said.

This print showed that "there was more grey curve in the
film, meaning that the mid-range was more open," he explained. "It wasn't so
contrasty in places and the colors were more muted. The early Technicolor films
were not so much about primary colors. They had more earthy tones, which is not
to say that they weren't vivid. It's just that the colors were more complex
than previously seen in photo chemical printing. So we went and made the
picture less contrast-y and toned down the color palate."

The improved visual quality is particularly apparent in a
number of scenes in the film.

"One of the most difficult opticals in the picture is [the
good witch] Glinda's entrance," Price noted. "When you first see her, you have
those round bubbles, which are supposed to be pink, but unfortunately there is
a lot of color breathing within that optical. [In the past,] it was impossible
for us to keep the bubble pink but this time we were able to track it and get
it right."

Viewers will also get a better look at Dorothy's little dog,
Toto.

"Toto isn't just a little blob anymore," Price said. "You
have much better definition and can see into his face," as well as some additional
shades of color in his fur.

When Dorothy is captured in the wicked witch's castle, it is
now possible to see more of the set and the witch. "The witch has hair coming
out of the mole on her chin -- a very coarse hair that is very funny," Price
said.

Even with these advances, the remastered version took over
18 months to complete.

A particularly involved aspect of the restoration was
removing evidence of dust, dirt and grim from the image. Even though the negative
was "in extremely good condition," and despite the fact that the George Eastman
House has done "a marvelous job of storing and protecting the negative," Price
noted that Warner Bros. still needed to clean up the image manually, frame by
frame.

"We had 25 to 50 people at any one time working for three
months on this," he said. "You can't apply automated dirt cleaning because it
would create artifacts. So you have people literally sitting [at computers] with
styluses, isolating the dirt, taking it out and then doing a preview to see
what it would look like."

The restoration work was carried out at Warner Bros. Motion
Picture Imaging, a 20,000-square-foot facility on the Warner lot in Burbank, Calif., which has developed a number of patented processes
to digitally restore classic films.

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