Landmark PBS
documentary remastered in 4K for 25th anniversary rebroadcast and
Blu-ray release.

NEW YORK—When Ken Burns’s
11-hour documentary The Civil War first
aired on PBS in 1990, it set new standards for television documentaries through
its astonishingly detailed, sweeping and often heart-wrenching recount of the
epic conflict between the North and South. Working under the direction of Burns
and Restoration Producer Daniel J. White, Technicolor PostWorks New York
participated in a meticulous 4K restoration that brings the classic documentary
vividly back to life. The project was done in preparation for the 25th anniversary rebroadcast
of The Civil War on PBS and its
Blu-ray release this month, and also coincides with the 150th
anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and the end of the war.
The Civil War was
shot on regular 16mm film by Burns and his co-cinematographers Allen Moore and
Buddy Squires in a production spanning more than 10 years. For the new
restoration, 50,000 feet of original negative, conserved by George Eastman
House, was scanned frame by frame. This enormous task was shared between George
Eastman House and Technicolor PostWorks, using identical ARRIScan film scanners
at 4K resolution. 
Abraham Lincoln from the
4K restoration (left) and the original SD master (right)

The entire documentary was then re-edited on Avid Media
Composer by White, under guidance of Paul Barnes who cut the original 1990
series in classic A/B roll manner on a flatbed Steenbeck editing platform. “We
took the A and B scans and edited them together based on the original broadcast
masters,” recalls White. “We recreated the show cut by cut, reproducing every
single cut, every single dissolve. Episode 1 had about 1,000 cuts.”
Restoration was accomplished at Technicolor PostWorks by a
team of artists, editors and producers, including Vice President of Creative
Services Ben Murray, Conform Editors Jeff Cornell, Allie Ames and Ryan McMahon
and Colorist Jack Lewars. CTO Joe Beirne and Director of Technology Matthew
Schneider contributed workflow design and imaging pipeline management. Noelle
Penraat, who cut the negative for the original project, was brought in by Technicolor
PostWorks as a special consultant and worked with the imaging team to prepare
all the film elements for scanning.
Civil War ship from the 4K restoration (left) and the
original SD master (right).
The restoration team conducted a multi-stage process to correct
problems related to the age and condition of the original 16mm negative, removing
dust, scratch marks and other artifacts, and stabilizing the imagery. That was
followed by 4K remastering and color grading. 
“What began as a standard restoration workflow became more detailed and
nuanced as we worked with the images,” explains Murray. “After we performed an
initial automated dust pass, we realized the images themselves were weaving and
jumping, so we stabilized every frame. That process revealed more defects. As
we addressed those problems, we found smaller artifacts and we also found that
we needed to reduce grain in certain areas.”
“Everything was bobbing up and down,” says White. “The film weave
problem was so bad, it created a feeling like motion sickness.”
Fixing those problems required special attention. “Our first
step was to fix splice points,” says McMahon. “At every point where there was a
splice in the original, there was a jitter that was more pronounced at 4K. We
first stabilized every shot through a batch procedure, then we manually
addressed individual shots that needed additional stabilization or where we had
to reduce the automated stabilization.”
A variety of tools were used for restoration and image
stabilization including Digital Vision Phoenix, DaVinci Revival and Autodesk
Lower thirds and other graphic elements from the original
had to be entirely replaced. To recreate those titles, White first had to
locate small segments of negative that were used to produce the original optical
effects. Half were found in storage at George Eastman House, the rest were
unearthed in a painstaking search through unlabeled containers at a film
storage vault.
Cannon from the 4K restoration (left) and the original SD master (right).
Data management was a major challenge throughout the
process. 4K files for the full 10-part series comprised more than 110 TB of
data with more than 25 TB kept “live” at any one time. Artists worked on
multiple episodes simultaneously and shared sequences across several processes.
“We used our in-house collaboration tools to manage the project,” notes Ames.
“That allowed us to track progress, ask questions, indicate what items were
signed off on and instantly monitor the state of the project. Anyone could jump
in and immediately see where everyone else was in the process.”
Color grading was performed by Lewars on Autodesk Lustre. As
with editorial, the original 1990 broadcast masters were employed as reference.
“We had a lot more latitude in terms of density, light and dark. We were also
able to bring out a lot more detail, but our aim was never to stray from the
original intent,” recalls White. “The
Civil War
went through an earlier remastering process in 2002, but the
toolset then was much more limited. The new restoration is much closer to Ken’s
original vision.”
That vision appears with far greater clarity than ever
before. “When we began the process, we weren’t sure how much of a difference
restoration would make,” recalls Lewars, “but it quickly became apparent that
the difference was huge. We were astonished. We’d sit back in our seats and be
blown away by how good the image looked.”
White points to a segment on the Battle of Antietam to
underscore the improvement in image quality. “It looks like a painting,” he
says. “Only when you notice that the water in the river is moving and leaves
are shifting in the breeze do you realize that it’s real.”
White also notes that viewers will see “more” of The Civil War than ever before. While the
1990 documentary appeared in standard television 4:3 aspect ratio which cropped
in heavily on the 16mm frame, the new restoration gained about 10% image area
on the left and right side creating a 1:43 aspect ratio within a 16:9 frame.
“In a lot of shots in the original, people on the sides of the frame were
cropped out,” he says. “Now, you can see them. That is very exciting to me.
People can see everything that Ken intended them to see.”
White also had praise for the team at Technicolor PostWorks
and their months-long effort to restore The
Civil War
so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come. “They did
remarkable work on a challenging project,” he says. “They encountered many
complications along the way, but they dealt with them one by one. It was
wonderful to see how well their workflow performs.”
Antietam, Burnside Bridge from the 4K restoration (left) and the original SD master (right).
About Technicolor
PostWorks New York
PostWorks New York is the East Coast’s most comprehensive digital motion
picture and post-production facility, employing an exceptional team of artists,
engineers and project managers to serve our clients through the film and TV
finishing process.
PostWorks New York offers one complete source for every post requirement,
including data workflows, telecine/scanning, non-linear editorial and HD
picture finishing, digital intermediate and film recording, high-volume
encoding and high-speed data transmission, as well as comprehensive film and TV
sound services on nine mix stages.
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