By Paul Barnes, Editor &
Post-Production Supervisor, Florentine Films
Ken Burns and I decided to
remaster The Civil War for several reasons.
First of all when we completed the film in 1989, we
were operating under a very tight schedule and budget.
the main editor on the film, I always wanted to go back
and improve the overall quality of the film.
The other reason for remastering the film at this time
is that the technology to
color correct, print and transfer a film to video
for broadcast has vastly improved, especially in the
realm of digital computer technology. Viewers of our
recent productions such as JAZZ
Twain have written to us remarking on the visual
beauty of those films, which is due to new technology
we now use. Also, since Baseball we have been
mixing our sound in stereo for PBS broadcasts.
When PBS decided to broadcast The Civil War
on its 12th anniversary as well as re-release it for
home video purchase in new VHS
versions, Ken and I thought this would be the perfect
time to make the film look the way we had always intended
and to remix the soundtrack in both a two-track stereo
version for broadcast and VHS and a 5.1
Surround Sound version for the DVD release.
To accomplish this, we contacted
our original sound mixer, Lee Dichter, at Sound One
in New York, and one of our original sound editors,
Ira Speigel, of 701 Sound (also in New York) to oversee
the digital stereo remixes. Ken and I wanted to utilize
the talents of the people who originally worked on the
film since they would be familiar with both its content
and technical requirements. We also enlisted the expertise
of our colorist, John Dowdell at Tape House in New York.
John has been color correcting all of Ken’s films
with me since Empire of the Air in 1991, and
is completely familiar with how we want our films to
We transferred the film from our Master
Interpositives passing through a Spirit
Datacine film chain onto a digital video master.
We re-color corrected every single shot as it went through.
The Spirit also holds the film steadier as it is transferred,
eliminating the worst of the old film
"weave" movement. It also holds the focus
far better than the original film-to-tape machine used
for The Civil War. The Spirit is also capable
of a greater range of color possibilities, allowing
us to reproduce the original color cinematography more
accurately and to create a larger palette of sepia tones
for the still photographs.
In addition, the film was also
passed through another device called a "Scream"
that eliminated or reduced almost all of the "video
noise" – a noticeable pulsing movement
of the film grain (especially in white areas of the
images like the sky) – as well as greatly reducing
an odd color fluctuation that was present in our Interpositive
Masters that was apparent in the red areas of the
images and on some of the paintings used in the film.
We also were able to eliminate a great deal of the
dust and dirt that often get embedded into 16mm
film when it is printed. In the old days the film
would be cleaned as best as possible before printing,
but some of this dirt was impossible to get out. Filmmakers
working in 16mm had to learn to live with some of
it being present in their final prints. But not any
longer. Now utilizing another digital device called
a "Henry," we are able to
duplicate a clean part of a frame and "paint
over" all these annoying bits of debris.
Visually, The Civil War is now steadier,
sharper in focus, cleaner and with a greatly enhanced
visual beauty. The color is now the way it was intended
to be when the film was originally shot. The still
photographs all have been assigned a variety of sepia
tones that correspond to the intended emotional effect
of the sequences.
With the soundtrack, Ken was concerned to not alter
the integrity of the original sound mix. So we were
careful to reproduce the old mix as it was and only
reassign music and sound-effect tracks to the left and
right for the two-track stereo mix and into the surrounds
for the 5.1 DVD mix. The remix did allow us to re-transfer
all of the music from the original 1/4"
studio recordings onto a digital
medium and then relay them digitally into the new mix.
This vastly improves the overall quality of the music
throughout the film. The old 16mm
analog transfers were often missing certain subtle
musical tones and the 16mm-transport system had a tendency
to create digital "wow
and flutter" as the tracks were passed
over the re-record heads in the mixing studio. Occasionally,
stereo sound effects like cannon explosions or wind
or lightning were mixed in with the old effects to enrich
the stereo "feel" of the mix.
The overall end result of the remix is that the sound
feels richer and more enveloping, especially the music
and sound effects, while actually imparting a greater
definition to the dialogue coming out of the center.
The content of The Civil War has not been altered
at all. But we believe the digital remastering process
has created a film that will feel like a brand new,
richly textured, and more enveloping viewing experience
– one that we hope will only deepen the viewers’
emotional response to this crucial turning point in
our nation’s history.