As fans look forward to The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Blu-ray, some people might not realize what it takes to bring this film, and other catalog titles, into the HD realm. Schawn Belston, 20th Century Fox's Senior Vice President of Library and Tech Services, spoke to the Official Fan Club about this process.
In 2000, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released on DVD, and the disc was created from a high-definition master. "Since the high-definition source for the DVD was a 1080i master, it wasn't suitable for use on the Blu-ray," Belston explains. "About a year ago, we ran some tests using footage scanned at 4K." This test footage was enough for Fox to proceed, using the original camera negative from the Fox vaults.
Not all of the footage from the film was readily available. "Many people don't realize this, but in the United States, the opening producer credits read 'A Lou Adler/Michael White Production'. Outside of the U.S., the credits read 'A Michael White/Lou Adler Production'. The original camera negative also omits 'Superheroes', so both of these key elements had to be tracked down for scanning." The film elements were then scanned at 4K (roughly 4,000 pixels across) resolution by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. Once the 4K scan was completed, the image files were downconverted to 2K resolution. The reason for scanning at 4K is that scanning at a higher resolution yields a higher quality image than simply scanning at 2K and working from there.
The next steps in the process were digital restoration and color timing. In the restoration process, hundreds of instances of dirt, scratches and print anomalies are erased frame by frame using computer software. "In its original print run", Belston explains, "a duplicate was made from the original negative, and that duplicate was used to create release prints. Later on, the original negative was used to make release prints, and was used quite a few times. That can damage a negative over time."
Some aspects of the scanned film image proved quite a challenge. "Shots in Rocky Horror using optical effects, like the many wipes and dissolves in the movie, were originally printed on CRI, or Color Reversal Internegative film stock. CRI film stock is highly prone to rapid fading over time, so we had to do a lot of color timing work on these shots."
Once the restored master was completed, the finished product was encoded for Blu-ray release. "No digital noise reduction was used during the encoding process. The result is fine film grain, and some people might complain about the amount of grain, but the image straight from the original camera negative is what you end up seeing on your screen."
Thanks to people like Schawn Belston, the folks in charge of digital restoration at Fox, and Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, The Rocky Horror Picture Show looks better than ever before.