How They Restored Bambi
By James Wray Feb 26, 2005, 19:26 GMT
The original 1939 camera negative had been preserved in underground vaults at the Library of Congress (©Disney. All Rights Reserved)
Through the years several transfers of various film elements and restorations have been done. For this project, the team carefully analyzed what elements still existed and which ones would produce the best possible picture. Beyond restoring Bambi for the upcoming DVD release, the studio embarked on this venture for the long-term preservation of this classic film. The first step in the restoration process was retrieving the original 1939 camera negative, which has been preserved in underground vaults at the Library of Congress. There they perform annual routine maintenance to assure these assets remain in the best possible condition for as long as possible. These film elements are unfortunately slowly disappearing – literally. The reason for this is that all films during this period were photographed on Nitrate film stock, which is highly flammable and very unstable. As such, the nitrate is slowly dissolving into powder. Remarkably, Bambi’s original film element was in great shape.
It was crucial for Disney to preserve the content on that film so that many generations in the future might be able to experience the beauty of this movie. To the filmmaker’s credit, they also shot the movie on black and white film. How is that possible for a color movie? Each drawing was photographed three times by the animation camera onto successive frames through a color wheel with three filters – red, green, blue. The final print that was made from this black and white negative was created through a tedious “dye-transfer” process. Since black and white film doesn’t fade over time, we were able to retain the rich and vibrant images in this wonderful film.
Each drawing was photographed three times by the animation camera onto successive frames through a color wheel with three filters – red, green, blue. (©Disney. All Rights Reserved)
Bambi Takes to the Road
After retrieving the film, the team moved the negative to Los Angeles by refrigerated truck. Upon arrival, the restoration team inspected and scanned each frame at a staggering 4000 x 3000 resolution to make sure we captured every subtle nuance. The black and white files were then combined to create each final color frame of the movie. These final frames were then computer processed to remove any flicker and film dust. Then, a team of artists painstakingly worked on each frame – some for hours – to remove remaining dust and scratches and correct any other photographed anomalies. This work was performed over the course of 4 months and equated to thousands of hours of labor.
Once the frames were restored, the restoration team assembled it back into scenes, and the scenes back into the final movie, matching it against the original to make sure nothing was missing. Using several different sources for reference, the team then spent hours to adjust the color for each scene so that it was true to the original intent of the filmmakers. For this reference we retrieved from the Disney animation vaults original backgrounds from the movie, photographed them and printed film elements to mimic the process that would have been done at the time. The team also screened an original “Technicolor dye-transfer” 1950’s era theatrical print of the film to insure we were making the best possible decisions regarding the final color.
Before restoration (©Disney. All Rights Reserved)
After restoration (©Disney. All Rights Reserved)
And That’s Not All Folks!
Under the guidance of expert re-recording Mixer Terry Porter, we set out to optimize the original mono mix with the evolution of the 5.1 DEHT concept set forth on The Lion King Special Edition DVD. Terry researched Disney's sound archives and listened to many tracks before selecting the original mono master, the music and effects master, and a vocal-and-music-effects master to be used in the restoration. Digital copies of the archived master tracks were sent to Andreas Meyer at Sony Classics New York – the group responsible for the restoration of "Sorcerer's Apprentice" for Fantasia 2000.
In the 1950’s the Studio’s original optically recorded tracks were transferred to magnetic film for protection. These were further archived using Dolby noise reduction in the 1980s. Using an arsenal of tools, Andreas eliminated the majority of the artifacts inherent in audio recordings at that time and created a track able to withstand the scrutiny of contemporary home theater systems. The team back at Disney then had the task of taking these mono elements and creating an enhanced 5.1 mix without interfering with the filmmakers’ intent. The team meticulously mixed the 5.1 tracks to give them a perspective and spatial distance to match the visual images. This resulted in a far more compelling sound field when compared to the original mono mix. The sonic imaging of the new DEHT mix engages the viewer as never before and presents BAMBI in a way that it has never been heard before.
What results from all this effort? A new digitally restored version of the classic film Bambi is now truer to the original artistic intent than ever before. This film is now preserved for future generations to enjoy!
You can read our review of the new DVD release in this article.
Article courtesey Walt Disney Studios