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How Peter Jackson's team made World War I footage look new (recode.net)
185 points by wallflower on Feb 7, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

I used avisynth a few years back to restore my family's old 8mm movies. It is amazing how effective it is.

Here is a side by side of the before/after on one scene:


After finishing up, I wrote up my procedure. Skip down about 75% through the article to the section "Restoration Details" to read what the steps are. It is amazing that by correlating the information across multiple frames, the resulting image is significantly sharper than any one frame. I mean, it makes sense in the abstract, but it is neat to see it actually work.


My avisynth script was 95% based on the work of "Video Fred":


From there you can find his youtube channel and see more restoration efforts:


Given a budget and a team of talented and motivated people, I'm sure Jackson was able to wring a lot more juice out of his old films.

> I used avisynth a few years back to restore my family's old 8mm movies. It is amazing how effective it is.

> Here is a side by side of the before/after on one scene:

> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNQy36hcTNU&t=3s

That is remarkable! Now I wish I had some old footage so that I could restore it :P

> but it is neat to see it actually work.

Your brain does this all the time - the resolution of your eyes is actually quite poor compared to what you perceive (as much as a 25x difference). It's quite easy to demonstrate:

> For the most impressive results -- I guarantee you will be amazed -- use a dim room with no light apart from the computer screen; a pretty strong effect will still be seen even if the room has daylight coming into it, as long as it is not bright sunshine. Cut a slit about 1.5mm wide in the card. On the screen, display http://www.inference.org.uk/mackay/itila/Files.html

> Stand or sit sufficiently far away that you can only just read the text -- perhaps a distance of four metres or so, if you have normal vision. Now, hold the slit vertically in front of one of your eyes, and close the other eye. Hold the slit near to your eye -- brushing your eyelashes -- and look through it. Waggle the slit slowly to the left and to the right, so that the slit is alternately in front of the left and right sides of your pupil. What do you see? I see the red objects waggling to and fro, and the blue objects waggling to and fro, through huge distances and in opposite directions, while white objects appear to stay still and are negligibly distorted. Thin magenta objects can be seen splitting into their constituent red and blue parts. Measure how large the motion of the red and blue objects is -- it's more than 5 minutes of arc for me, in a dim room. Then check how sharply you can see under these conditions -- look at the text on the screen, for example: is it not the case that you can see (through your whole pupil) features far smaller than the distance through which the red and blue components were waggling? Yet when you are using the whole pupil, what is falling on your retina must be an image blurred with a blurring diameter equal to the waggling amplitude.

-- p553 of http://www.inference.org.uk/mackay/itila/book.html

Is AviSynth still a thing? It seems like there hasn't been much active development for several years. But it doesn't look like there are any alternatives either for things like this is either.

This is incredible.

I saw the They Shall Not Grow Old screening here in Atlanta. What Peter Jackson has done with virtually unusable footage is absolutely spectacular. Both the film, coloring and sound work is amazing.

Despite the absolutely spectacular footage. I thought the documentary itself was OK. It uses audio from people in British WWI regiments to tell the story—all from BBC and Imperial War Museum recordings. It was a good execution given the constrains, but there's no real angle or conclusions to draw from the documentary.

The real gem was the interview with Peter Jackson after the movie. It covered the restoring process—much of which is covered in the article. They basically used computer software to move the frame-rates from 12 to 16 fps up to 24 fps. Then tweaked the highlights and shadows. There's a ton of work that went into color and sound as well.

I hope these techniques can be used to restore other old footage.

> I hope these techniques can be used to restore other old footage.

Paul McCartney was so impressed by Peter Jackson's work that he approached him to restore 55 hours of old Beatles footage. Rumor has it that the film will come out in 2020.

I saw it as well, thought it was amazing.

I liked how it wasn’t pushing a narrative, because you obviously come to the conclusion that war is hell.

The "narrative" was simply "these young men weren't just grainy black-and-white historical artifacts". I'm old enough to have grandkids in high school; my elder grandfather was just old enough to have signed up as the war ended. A hundred years is a long time - long enough for the dust of history to start replacing the reality of the thing.

I'm glad it doesn't push a narrative. I like documentaries that get out of your way and let you think on the subject instead of being railroaded.

> It was a good execution given the constrains, but there's no real angle or conclusions to draw from the documentary.

Interesting because the thing that kills most documentaries for me is when they have a clear angle or are driving for a conclusion.

Completely agree. It seemed like they struggled to construct a coherent or particularly interesting narrative given the constraints they set out for themselves. I think it really would have significantly benefited from a relaxing of those constraints to may be have a narrator that tied things together or filled in some narrative gaps for which they didn't happen to have footage or interviews. Amazing technical achievement though.

Trailer for anyone who has not seen the film and is curious (like me): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrabKK9Bhds

I find it odd that this article/interview is about something very visual and has no images in it so I wanted to see what it looks like.

There was a NYT article on the exact same subject with some excellent examples: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/movies/peter-jackson-war-...

FYI that's a geo-restricted link. Here's an open version


I also thought it odd until I realised it's a podcast+partial transcript.

> "The Wizard of Oz" is a little bit different in the sense that they shot the first 20 minutes or so with black-and-white film stock and then they switched to color film stock.

Not exactly. They filmed using the 3 strip Technicolor process, meaning 3 strips of b+w film, each for a different color. This was also used in the 1925 Ben Hur, though they used only 2 strips.


Another interesting tidbit about the The Wizard of Oz - the house in which Dorothy leaves the black and white world was painted sepia so the same Technicolor process could be used for the transition to full-colour. This excerpt from a VOX video explains:


"The Finances of the Grand Duke" (1924) has been restored to that level of quality. Sprocket jitter and frame to frame exposure inconsistency was removed, along with dust and scratches. This was probably the first really high quality restoration of a major film. It's an milestone in film history, by Thea von Harbou ("Metropolis"), but really, only historians and film students watch it.

Annoyingly, when that was restored, it was on line as a free film. Now it's on Amazon, etc. as a product.

Found something on Youtube with the same name - is this the original?


That's some kind of hack job on the original. The restored version is better.

I find the ethical boundary between colorizing old footage and 'deepfakes' to be fascinating to consider. The former is celebrated here while simultaneously the latter is an object of increasing apprehension, abhorrence, and calls for regulation.

An obvious difference is intent. The intent of They Shall Not Grow Old is (I assume) to memorialize historic events and enable modern audiences to understand them more viscerally. The intent of (most) deepfakes is deception.

Still, what should we do when the same technology that enables deepfakes also enables better They Shall Not Grow Old's, perhaps concerning subjects more poorly-documented than World War I? It's acceptable to make assumptions about the colors and sounds of a moment from 100 years ago and represent them indistinguishably from truths, but how about assumptions as to who was present and what actions they took and words they spoke?

All of which reminds me of this: https://twitter.com/rivatez/status/1077035912494759936

Peter Jackson addressed the ethics of colorization in the behind the scenes extra after the credits. He believed that the original camera men wanted to get the most accurate picture of the front lines. However color cameras and steady frame rate capable cameras were not available. He believed the artists would have picked better cameras if they were available so he wasn't violating the vision of the original people making the films

Sure, but the point is that the colours aren't real, isn't it?

It's like, say, a movie or novel based on a historical event we don't know much about - it may aid understanding of the event, but the details are made up. It's fictionalized, "based on a true story", and to present it as fact or as history would be misleading.

I strongly recommend watching the behind the scenes extra with this film. Peter Jackson has this amazing personal collection of world war 1 stuff. Like the reason they knew what the uniforms color looked like was because peter Jackson has almost every type of uniform from world war 1. And the reason they knew how things like the wheels of the artillery sounded like was because peter Jackson has an extensive collection of world war 1 artillery. I’m sure it could have been better, but a lot of effort went into making this as close to life as is possible.

Sure, I haven't seen the movie. Sorry I didn't make it clearer - I was talking about what rfdearborn was saying more generally about colorizing, fakes, fabrication etc, not specifically Jackson or his movie at all.

I think using video as some source of truth is just as ethically shaky.

Synthesizing texture, adding faces, meh. It's all an array of pixels to aid hallucination. The sooner we break out of video = impartiality, video = truth, the better off society will be.

Choosing what to record, how to crop it, what to show destroys videos supposed fundamental impartiality.

Oh boy, this film is a masterpiece in almost every aspect. The narration (done with original sound recordings by actual WW1 veterans) is just perfect. The last third of the movie, where death becomes a regular, almost trivial annoyance, left a haunting impression on me. At the end of the film, one of the narrators describes the minutes after the truce: most of the men could not grasp the fact that they could now stand upright without dying immediately.

>minutes after the truce: most of the men could not grasp the fact that they could now stand upright without dying immediately.

But seriously, would you be the first to stand up, when the last guy that did it was mowed down?

Interesting sidetrack here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroo_Onoda

> was a Japanese holdout who did not surrender in August 1945. After the war ended Onoda spent 29 years holding out in the Philippines

The film has, after the credits, an extensive interview with Jackson about the techniques used to assemble, restore, and present the films. It's worth staying for. I just saw the 3D version last night.

Assuming the only difference is cost, would you recommend seeing it in 3D?

(Also: It's amazing to me that they could convert hundred-year-old film to 3D.)

Most 3D films are shot in 2D and converted in post, unfortunately. It’s very common.

See: https://realorfake3d.com/

Edit: To be clear, I'm saying that since most 3D films aren't shot in 3D in the first place, this film probably won't be substantially different from other films, in 3D. It seems some people thought I was confused about what the movie was.

Specifically, Jackson et al. chose a 3D conversion company to do the coloring, because one of the steps in a conversion is to separate out the various parts of the frame. So much of the work was already done.

I "liked" this movie, as much as anyone can like seeing dead bodies. It really makes you realize how much most war movies, fiction or not, leave out. I wonder to what extent the lack of the true horrors results in a pro-war propaganda film, regardless of the intent of the director. Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket tries to be realistic in a sense, but still glamorizes war. It takes a documentary like "They Shall Not Grow Old" to give the full picture.

Kubrick has a better example in Paths of Glory. It's still not very gruesome, but in the single combat scene of the whole movie, the soldiers don't get to fire a single shot, they just advance and die.

LOL this is true, but kind of off the mark... given that the whole point of this movie is to augment low quality movie footage with post-processing.

I think klodolph's point is still on the mark. I don't read it as:

"The 3D in this WWI footage was faked in post."

Which is obviously true. I instead read it as:

"The reason the 3D looks about as good as you're used to from other films, is that most of those modern films _also_ faked their 3D in post."

Isn't that what I'm saying? How am I off the mark?

Wait a minute, think about what you are talking about here for a second! :-)

Am I not talking about how this film is using well-established techniques for conversion to 3D, the same techniques that most 3D films use?

Ah, I see. I think what you said was clear now that I understand!

I saw it in 3D and I would classify it as nice, but not necessary -- 3D is mostly only used to add a little bit of depth, not to do anything that'll make you gasp in astonishment at the 3D-ness of it all. (Which is probably appropriate for this project.)

I didn't specifically want 3D, but this theater's evening showings were 3D only. It was $9 (vs. $5 for conventional) using AMC Stubs Tuesday discount, glasses included.

When the camera pans, it gives the effect of looking through a window.

I recommend 3D, I checked reviews beforehand, and the 3D was very immersive. Even the physical act of putting on glasses to let you look back in time put the mind in a different frame.

I look back at the experience now feeling like I time travelled.

For those with access to the BBC iPlayer, it’s available to watch at the moment.

It was shown in the UK again last weekend.

Lots of great restored early footage on youtube too. I'm addicted to this Guy Jones channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpUBuSn_Io93AMpOSw88afQ Not a huge fan of colorization, I prefer to see the footage as it was originally shot but sharpened up and speed corrected. I saw the Jackson WW1 They Shall Not Grow Old material on a TV, thought it was very cleverly done.

I hope this gets released to download/stream, it only had a limited release in my city. My friends who went said it was really good (both the coloring and the footage itself).

I've seen it on streaming sites before. You can definitely purchase it even now.


> Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

I listened to the podcast back when it came out and was disappointing that they didn't go into technical detail of how the restoration was actually performed. The only things that (I remember) were discussed were dealing with variable frame rates and the colourising of shots.

I understand that Jackson isn't much of a techie but it would have been nice if they brought someone that worked on the restoration from the tech side along to explain their process.

The actual film has a director's commentary after the credits that digs into the technical details quite a bit. It may have more of what you're looking for.


I'll have to check that out.

Peter Jackson says "I mean" 27 times in that interview.

Yeah, he'll probably never amount to anything.

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