Sony Pictures Entertainment has completed an all-new 4K restoration of Cover Girl, director Charles Vidor’s 1944 Technicolor musical that starred Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. The restoration, completed under the supervision of Sony’s Grover Crisp, premiered at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in New York during Preserve and Project, its 13th international festival of film preservation.
Cover Girl was Columbia Pictures’ first big film shot in the Technicolor three-strip process. For the new 4K restoration, the team went back to the original 3-strip nitrate camera negatives.
“There was a preservation initiative with this film in the 1990s that involved making some positive intermediate elements for video transfer, but our current process dictates that we source the most original materials possible to come up with the best visual result for our 4K workflow,” recalls Crisp, who is EVP of asset management, film restoration and digital mastering at Sony Pictures. “The technical capabilities that we have now allow us to digitally recombine the three separate black and white negatives to create a color image that is virtually free of the fuzzy registration issues inherent in the traditional analog work, in addition to the usual removal of scratches and other physical flaws in the film.”
Crisp says they tried to stay as true to the Technicolor look as possible. “That specific kind of look is impossible to match exactly as it was in the original work from the 1940s and 1950s for a variety of reasons. With original sources for reference, however, it gives us a good target to aim for.”
The greater color range facilitated the recreation of a Technicolor look that is as authentic as possible, especially where original dye transfer prints were available as reference points.
In terms of challenges, Crisp says that aside from the usual number of torn frames, scratches and dirt imbedded in the emulsion of the film, there is always the issue of color breathing when working with the 3-strip Technicolor films. “It is an inconsistent problem and can be very difficult to address,” he explains. “Kevin Manbeck at MTI Film has developed algorithms to compensate and correct for this problem and that is a big advancement.”
The film was scanned at Cineric in New York City on their proprietary 4K wetgate scanner.
“Working with our colorist, Sheri Eisenberg, we strived to get the colors, with deep blacks and vibrant reds, right.”
She called on the FilmLight Baselight 8 for the color at Deluxe (formerly ColorWorks) in Culver City. “It is a very robust color correction system, and one that we have used for years on our work,” says Crisp. “The lion’s share of the image restoration was done at L’Immagine Ritrovata, a film restoration and conservation facility in Bologna, Italy. They use a variety of software for image cleanup, though much of this kind of work is manual. This means a lot of individuals sitting at digital workstations working on one frame at a time. At MTI Film, here in Los Angeles, some of the final image restoration was completed, mostly for the removal of gate hairs in numerous shots, something that is very difficult to achieve without leaving digital artifacts.”