Vanity Project: First Hurdles

No small part of the issue with remastering Star Wars: The Gifted is what’s left of it. There’s no original footage—only the final cut of the film. That means that everything we did to the original tape—capturing, rendering, visual effects, the whole shebang—is there to be worked around.

SWTG was shot on NTSC VHS tape, which in and of itself is a poor medium to capture from. Wikipedia tells me that VHS records 333×480 pixels per frame at 30 frames per second. The source footage was captured by Chris in an early build of Premiere at 640×480, at 30 frames per second. I believe it was captured using the old Cinepak codec, which would explain a lot of the artifacting and blockiness of the footage and why it kind of looks like an old FMV videogame. For an example of what I mean, check out the heavily- banded opening shot of a pan down to Earth, lifted from one of the movies and compressed all to hell:

In the real Star Wars film this was ripped from, the planet was detailed and had smooth gradients where here it’s posterized and flickery.

Still, 640×480 would be something to go on. I could reasonably upscale that to 720×480 NTSC widescreen and do my best to fix the quality issues, smooth out the posterization that happens with Cinepak.

Unfortunately, I don’t have true 640×480. I also don’t have 30 frames per second.

Details for SWTG’s final cut–the only remaining footage.

The entire film is at 15 fps. And many of the visual effects shots weren’t done at 640×480—they were rendered out of Premiere as 320×240 filmstrips that we edited in Photoshop. You can see which shots were done at 240 versus 480; the tightness of the halos on the lightsabers are a dead giveaway.

Click to embiggen. Notice the difference in compression artifacts and overall quality.

Chris and I split the VFX work, and since this was my first time using Photoshop, I did the task based on a tutorial he found online without too much observation of what I was doing. The tutorial gave settings to make great-looking lightsabers at 240×320; some of the filmstrips I got from Chris were 640×480, which meant the lightsabers’ halos came out tighter and more solid. (I also just flat-out did some of them wrong, but that’s another story.)

So the film was not only captured at a mediocre resolution using a weak early-90s-era codec that resulted in horrible-looking banding, but the footage I have left to work with runs only at 15 fps and frequently drops from 640×480 to 320×240. Further, the DivX codec used to export the final movie resulted in lots of blocking, ringing, and colour noise.

There’s a general rule when upscaling that the more source pixels you have to upscale from, the better the final product will be. That’s why some BluRay players do an awesome job upscaling DVDs. But I don’t have that luxury. Those pixels I need simply don’t exist.

I’ll need to find another way.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals,


Related posts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.