For its debut on DVD, the Indiana Jones trilogy had to look
better than ever. The incredible picture quality of the DVD
format delivers crystal-clear detail and rich colors ... but
it's only as good as the source material from which the DVDs
Films do not last forever. Their photochemical nature coupled
with the wear and tear of exhibition or mishandling, often
take s toll on classic films. Thankfully, DVD promises a permanent
recorded of films in pristine quality. But repairing the ravages
of time isn't easy. That's where Lowery Digital Images comes
into the picture.
"People say film lasts a long, long time, but in fact,
movies do deteriorate relatively rapidly," says John
Lowry, the company's founder. Burbank, Calif.-based Lowery
Digital Images has restored a number of classic films for
home video and, in some cases, theatrical re-release. "The
quality of images is very much a function of how well the
film has been handled over the years."
Lowery Digital has been erasing the signs of age from classic
films since 1998. Paramount Pictures has entrusted the company
with some of the most cherished films in its vaults, including
sunset Boulevard and Roman Holiday - and now THE ADVENTURES
OF THE INDIANA JONES.
"We are basically in the business of restoring, cleaning
up and extracting information from motion images," Lowery
explains. "We've done 60 films in the last three years,
many of which are well known." A large percentage of
classics that Lowery Digital has restored date from the time
the Indiana Jones movies are set - not from the 1980s, when
these movies were released. Relatively speaking then, the
Indy films were easer to work with.
"There were still a few challenges, but it was much
easier than doing a film from the '30s, '40s or '50s,"
Lowry says. "The films were, in our opinion in quite
good shape compared to most. Raiders though, had a very serious
scratch on about 30-some-odd-thousand frames and blue line
that was right across all the faces and eyes of the characters
that proved to be an interesting challenge."
Lowery Digital uses more than 300 computers and more than
40 terabytes of computer space in its restoration efforts.
Technicians scan and convert motion-picture imagery into digital
information at high resolution, and examine it frame by frame
from imperfections. They correct flaws using proprietary software.
"We will do a number of things that the granularity,
sharpness and the stability of the images, dirt, scratches,
flicker - the whole range of things that really come about
from film being used over and over through the years,"
Lowry says. "For example, in some movies we deal with
hundreds of pieces of dirt per frame - literally millions
of pieces of dirt that we have to remove from a motion picture.
IN the case of the Indiana Jones films, we had maybe 100,000
pieces of dirt per movie. Now, that sounds like a lot, but
when you have 172,000 frames its only one piece of dirt on
average, every frame or every second frame."
Enhancing the detail of the original photography also enhances
defects dating back to the time of production. Even these,
though, can be corrected - provided they do not compromise
or alter the director's envisioned shot. IN one scene originally
filmed in front of a blue screen for instance, the image "ended
up with blue 'fringing' in the shot, and this has been in
the movie since day one: a blue fringe around all the edges,"
Lowry says. "When we enhance it and clean it up, it looked
pretty ugly." After working on the shot for just a half
an hour, "We had removed all of the blue fringing. It's
an example of an interesting little case where something could
easily be cleaned up by using our automated processes."
While the ability to alter these imperfections is powerful,
Lowry's technicians take great care not to tamper with the
content of the original image. "Rather than dealing with
art, we tend to deal with science," he says. "For
example, we make very little, if any change to the contrast
or color or things of that nature. We are not in the color-correction
business, because that is an art. We can improve the overall
quality of the picture, but generally speaking, we try to
do it from a very scientific perspective. It is extremely
important that we do everything we can not to impair what
the director or cinematographer was trying to do in the first
Having restored such landmark titles as Sunset Boulevard,
North by Northwest and Snow White and the seven Dwarfs, Lowry
says he is happy to ad the classic Indiana Jones series to
his company's roster. "Oh, I love it," he says.
"It's a joy to work on movies of this caliber."
The filmmakers, meanwhile, are equally happy, says Jeff Radoycis,
Senior Vice President of DVD Production for Paramount Pictures.
"The work that Lowry Digital Images did on the Indiana
Jones movies was so tremendous that it made the people who
created the films look at them in an almost brand-new way."