The Blank: Restored!

One of my ongoing projects has been preserving/remastering/restoring the films that I made with friends in the 1990s, under the banner of Silver Screen Productions (SSP).

They were mostly put together in a very primitive way, linearly edited by recording from Video8/Hi8 camcorder tape to a VHS machine, sometimes with an Amiga computer attached via genlock in between, allowing some basic titles and animated effects to be superimposed. Unlike with modern systems, this analogue editing process led to a pretty big degradation of image quality, so the finished film never looked as good as the footage originally captured.

When I got a computer powerful enough to do video editing work in 2004, I started digitising all our SSP videos to preserve them for the future, and also to publish online. As I still had access to most of the camcorder tapes, I also began reconstructing the films from scratch, sticking (mostly) to the original edits, but building up master copies with much better technical quality than had ever been possible ten years before.

Here’s a video I made in 2004 about the restoration of early SSP “classic”, Asylum

I did manage to complete the work on most of our productions several years ago, however I’d put off The Blank because not only was it our longest film at 30 minutes, therefore a lot of work, but also there was no tape of the music available anywhere, without which there’s no way to rebuild the soundtrack. This meant the only way to do a restoration was to stick with original sound mix and overlay the camera tape raw footage, matching it frame by frame to keep lip sync – quite precise and time-consuming work.

I’m not even sure when I started this process, but it must have been a year or two ago. With having all this spare time, I decided that it was time to crack on and finally finish it. Reloading the project file in Final Cut, it was quite pleasing to find that I’d got well over halfway through the reconstruction, and another afternoon of work saw the footage completely reassembled.

With these projects, there’s always a decision to make about how firmly to stick with the original version. This usually comes down to what titles and effects are involved, and what they were created on in the first place. The Blank has titles and credits created with Deluxe Paint III on the Amiga, and also a pretty crappy piece of animation where a gas grenade thing is let off. The titles are superimposed over some grainy day-for-night footage and there is no way to recreate them without just using the original master footage in that section which is in pretty bad condition. I decided to just use brand new titles here, using a similar font, with the same colour and positioning as the original.

For the credits, I played around with exposure and saturation controls, as well as snipping out faulty frames, and so managed to keep the old Amiga generated graphics without them looking too hideous, so at least there is some flavour of the original in the film still.

With the gas release, I created a new effect with Final Cut, which won’t win any awards, but is stacks better than what was in it before, and fiddling with the sound effects a bit to make it a bit more “realistic”.

There wasn’t much else I could do with the sound, except running a bit of noise reduction on it, so it’s basically as per the original.

And that’s it! You can see it on YouTube here…

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