Q&A with Jim Hardy CEO of Illuminate on Remastering 'The X-Files' in high definition - Part 1/3
When 20th Century Fox decided they wanted to fully remaster the cult classic sci-fi series 'The X-Files' in high definition, they turned to one of the premier production facilities in the United States; Illuminate. But there's a lot more involved than just pulling the original 35mm negatives from storage, where they've safely resided for the last two decades.
Over a period of nearly two years, Illuminate scanned millions of feet of 35mm negative and completely reassembled each episode from the ground up to pull Mulder and Scully out of the standard definition dark ages, and into feature film quality high definition. We talked to Jim Hardy, the CEO of Illuminate to find out what the project entailed.
Illuminate has worked on a number of high profile 35mm TV restoration projects in the past, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, 24, and feature films such as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Pulp Fiction. What specific challenges did The X-Files project pose and how were they overcome?
When you take on television show projects like The X Files, there are a number of unknown challenges before the project begins. You have to go into these projects with your eyes open and take on the task. Even the studio, who has stored the original negatives for two decades doesn't know or have all the specific details. They really don't know how much film was shot for each episode. Is the 35mm negative shot in three perf or four perf? Is there missing film footage? How were the stock shots acquired during production? How many visual effects have to be recreated?
On the first few episodes of season one, production shot approximately 60,000 feet of 35mm four perf. As the show became more successful, later episodes had as much as 120,000 feet of 35mm three perf negative per episode. Before we begin, we log all of the film assets and evaluate and organize the negative. After the initial scans, there are about 29 different processes to undertake in order to complete each episode. This starts the beginning challenges for our hardware, software, and organization.
How long did the entire project take, from conception through to delivering the final masters to Fox?
In total, it took about 18 months to complete all 201 episodes.
What was the condition and cataloging of the negative like and was there any damage or degradation that prevented its use?
The original negative was in excellent condition, although the organization needed some care and attention. We reorganized and reboxed each episode for the studio once it was transferred and complete. Often, not all of the film for each episode was boxed together. In many instances, we would find a missing scene from one episode in cans for a later episode or even a different season. We kept track of all the scenes that were missing over every single episode, and we would have to constantly search our database for them. Our software was able to keep track of those missing scenes, and once we found them, we would go back and edit those shots back into the master.
What resolution was the negative scanned at and what was the final output resolution?
For this project, it was 1920x1080.
Is there a benefit to scanning negative at 4K, even if the final delivery is 1080p?
Yes, definitely an advantage. The overall image would be slightly better than standard HD, absolutely. For The X-Files, it was a little too early to consider 4K. It would have been a massive amount of data wrangling if Fox had wanted it in 4K, a huge undertaking. We recently remastered the television series Freaks and Geeks in 4K for Paramount and Shout Factory. We did the same process where they shot in 4x3, and we created a 16x9 version and it looks really great.
Throughout the series, some visual effects sequences have been uprezzed from the standard definition D5 master, while others have been re-composited from the original elements. Can you discuss any issues or decisions that went into selecting which sequences were re-composited or upscaled?
We would have loved to have recreated all of the visual effects shots for the show, although there's a very high percentage that we did recreate per episode. Unfortunately, some VFX were not possible due to missing elements, complexity, time or CG. For those shots that we didn't recreate, we were happy with our uprez process we call 'SmartRez'.
We believe our process is the best upconversion software out there, which we developed and fine tuned as we progressed. It really makes a big difference. We can create a better quality image and resolution when we upscale using the existing NTSC. We can make it sharper, quieter; we can do a lot of manipulation that doesn't make it artificial looking, but as natural as possible.
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