This post was written by Criss Kovac and Harry Snodgrass. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. Harry recently joined the Motion Picture Lab and is working on a project to preserve and digitize World War I and World War II films and photographs.
When the U.S. Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information tasked Garson Kanin and Carol Reed with directing a film that chronicled the events in Europe from the Normandy invasion to the fall of the Nazi Party, neither of the men had experience making documentaries. Kanin was known for directing Hollywood films such as My Favorite Wife (1940); Reed had directed The Way Ahead (1944), a British war-time drama. Despite their inexperience, they were right for the job–Kanin and Reed shaped a massive amount of unedited combat footage from nine different nations (including the United States, England, Poland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and The Netherlands) into The True Glory, an effective film that documented the events at the end of the war and bolstered the British and American home fronts. The film is notable for the use of first person narratives from multiple nationalities and roles, as well as for including the perspective of women and African-Americans. The True Glory went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1945.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Motion Picture Preservation Lab undertook a full digital restoration of The True Glory. Our first challenge was with the quality of the film reels held at the National Archives. The original cut negative is held at the Imperial War Museum in England while NARA’s reels consist of preservation prints and negatives several generations removed from the original negative. Further, even the original cut negative was made up of film with printed-in defects.
Using our DFT 4K Spirit film scanner, we captured the images from our best negative and then used our Digital Vision Nucoda Film Master color correction and restoration program to create the digital master. The Film Master software is extremely good at automated removal of defects such as dirt, dust, and scratches introduced over time, but it isn’t perfect, so manual defect removal is frequently required. Manual defect removal consists of performing fixes frame by frame, a time-consuming and tedious process.
The slideshow below features before and after shots from The True Glory. The first image is the raw scan from the negative, including the soundtrack on the left-hand side. The second is the same image after exposure correction and defect removal. The image has also been cropped to remove the soundtrack and has been sized for projection.
Click through to see frames from The True Glory before and after digital restoration.
While we digitally clean up the film to reflect the original production as best we can, this isn’t always possible, especially in scenes where there is a lot of movement. When there is a large change from one frame to the next, the software is unable to map the regions from the frame before and after to remove the defect without introducing digital artifacts. When faced with this situation, it is better to leave the damage than to introduce a new defect. Below is an example of a frame with an obvious defect and what the frame would have looked like had we left the digital “fix” in.
Sometimes a digital fix adds a new artifact. Click through to see how removing a splotch distorts this soldier’s face.
The soundtrack for The True Glory was also badly in need of restoration. When played back, the printed-in dirt and scratches that we can see in the image create unpleasant noise in a soundtrack. For our restoration, we started by analyzing multiple 35mm soundtracks across five prints and negatives. After examining and listening to each copy, we chose the best sounding copy for our work. Still, even our best copy was full of hiss, pops, and crackles that made it extremely difficult to hear the soundtrack.
We captured the audio for each reel with our Sondor OMA E sound transfer system using Sondor’s “Resonances” software. This system gives us the ability to focus in on the cleanest part of the soundtrack, thereby eliminating some of the surface noise that would be created by dust and dirt printed into the film. Additionally, we adjusted the contrast and focus of the soundtrack to better refine the quality of the audio capture.
The audio was further restored by removing ticks and pops using Izotope RX 3 Declick/ Decrackle and eliminating noise with Izotope RX 3 Denoise. We manually removed any ticks and pops that were missed by the automated process. We then applied a general equalizer curve to enhance the sound spectrum of the soundtrack and to decrease the remaining noise.
The sequence outlined above provides the best results without damaging or altering the original soundtrack. To verify the restoration process has not altered the original in any detrimental way, each step in the process is monitored before moving on to the next step.
Click below to hear samples of unrestored audio followed by the same clip after our work was complete. You will notice that some amount of hiss remains even in the restored versions. Although we could have removed all of the hiss, the result sounded a little tinny and lacked warmth. Instead, we made the decision to leave some hiss on the track.
To check that we did not take out audio that belonged in the soundtrack, we output an audio file containing only the sound that was removed. The file was carefully reviewed to verify that it contained only unwanted noise and no actual program material such as the music or narration. The soundtrack was then assembled into the full-length program and checked once more to make sure all the reels matched in level and noise profile. Finally, the track was reviewed by a second engineer to verify that the results were acceptable and our restoration was complete!
The restored digital theater copy of The True Glory will be shown in the McGowan theater at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C. at noon on June 6th to mark the 70thanniversary of D-Day. Our restoration of The True Glory will be available on NARA’s YouTube channel to coincide with the premiere.