4K RESTORAT ION | POST- PRODUCTION
So, is selling a 4K upscale of a film that wasn’t shot in 4K a bit naughty? Bolter believes that films captured in this era should just be embraced. “They’re a time capsule,” he says. “They have that sort of smeary, early digital look that’s beautiful in its own way. I don’t think it needs to be upscaled and changed; it needs to be appreciated for what it is, because it’s the master version. Upscaling something like Apocalypse Now is different – and necessary – because if you saw it in cinemas when it first came out, it would have looked an awful lot better than the VHS, DVD or Blu-ray look now.” FUTURE-PROOFING We’ve reached a point in resolution capture technology where 8K is on the horizon, but unless you’re standing in front of your TV screen with a magnifying glass, the difference between that and 4K is marginal. “I think 8K will only really become relevant once we have digital cinemas, and projectors are replaced with LED screens. But we can future-proof for that, because 8K cameras are already available,” says Bolter.
However, it’s impossible to completely future-proof, because filmmaking has always gone hand in hand with technology, which is continually changing. “For a time, it looked like 3D might take over, especially when Avatar came out. I remember seeing a lot of rereleases of old movies in 3D. Like Pixar’s Toy Story . And now, with 8K and beyond, our canvas is so much bigger. So, who’s to say what’s going to happen next?” says Bolter. “Let’s say we have 12K virtual reality; Apple has just released some glasses and everyone’s watching movies in their head. You’re going to want to watch E.T. and Jurassic Park like that, but I would hope (as a film lover) it’s done in a way that mimics how it was first seen. And doesn’t cross a line by changing all the CGI, for example.” If a film is constantly being remastered, at what point does it become finished? Restoring it to its rightful form is one thing, but adding extra details or modifications surely makes it a different film. Bolter wonders: “If you update the prose of Charles Dickens with modern words, what are you actually doing?”
The quality of digital film, however, is dependent on storage (or pixels). This means that, to increase that quality, you need to increase the number of pixels. “There are many ways to take something from HD to 4K – even a 4K Blu-ray player will automatically upscale an HD Blu-ray disc to 4K, but the process by which it’s doing that is AI. A machine amalgamates the additional pixels and decides how they should look,” explains Bolter. “In theory, you could run it through a very clever AI, then go through each shot frame by frame to improve it, but you’re still just creating pixels – it’s not a natural process.”
ABOVE On the left is a frame from Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) with Tom Cruise (far left) and Jamie Foxx (centre), depicting how it was shot and released in HD. On the right is the same frame, restored in 4K. The differences are quite subtle.
APR I L 202 1 | DEF I N I T ION 27
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