When the opportunity came up to remaster all the episodes of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons in high definition for the fifty year anniversary of the series, the Network team knew it would bring a new lease of life to the show. The quality has always been there in the model work, puppetry, cinematography and lighting, but with new scans from the original negatives this could be seen as never before.
The master A and B roll 35mm negatives were called in from the storage facilities and carefully checked and cleaned prior to being scanned. The scanning equipment was fine-tuned to capture all the detail inherent in the original film, and the resulting files were then passed through to a high-end grading system. Despite careful physical handling and cleaning, there will always be some dust and dirt remaining as well as a fair bit of inherent grain evident in the image. The level of high-frequency raw grain on the 35mm negative (original footage) is more than would have ever been seen on subsequent positive film prints, with a loss of fine detail between generations of film, therefore the team’s view is that this grain has to be curtailed to a degree. Digital processing of the scans therefore results in a subdued (helping the compression to Blu-ray down the line) but still evident grain field, along with concealment of fine dust and dirt particles. Within the grading project for each episode, the option is still retained to go back to raw scans should the team notice any problems.
As usual with the mastering process, each episode (including the first two episodes derived from an existing high definition master) will undergo scene-by-scene grading with adjustment of the colour balance, brightness and contrast of every shot, not only with an eye on quality but also sometimes the intentions of the narrative. Despite this being a puppet series, the sheer quality of the production and attention to detail means that it can be treated as live action as far as possible with regard to the grading process, examples being matching close-ups to wide shots, puppet stages to miniatures and lighting moods. The result should be a viewing experience as close as possible to the intentions of the highly talented production team and certainly way beyond the level of clarity that viewers could even imagine back in 1967.
Dupe (duplicated) footage is another issue altogether with the shots having already been copied through several generations of film printing to re-use stock sequences or create optical effects. With Captain Scarlet, there is much use of stock shots in most episodes for scenes such as cloud-base, the angel interceptors being launched, the opening title sequence, generic episode sequences and so on. This type of footage often suffers from poor definition, varying picture levels, instability, flare, severe grain and much printed dirt and sparkle. It would be uneconomic to clean-up repeated shots over and over where essentially the same footage appears across multiple episodes so, as work progresses on the series, a library of processed, graded and cleaned stock shots is built-up. However, when it comes to using them in another episode it sometimes is apparent that a different section of the original footage has been used or an alternative take, in which case it’s back to square one in terms of improving the dupe footage. In an ideal world, the master negative of each complete library sequence shot would still exist enabling them all to be replaced to first generation quality in all episodes to match the surrounding material but sadly this isn’t the case. Fortunately, a master inter-positive of the opening title sequence with captions was retained and this has been used for all of the programmes except the end of episode one which features a longer fade of Captain Scarlet’s credit.
Unlike most of the live action, ITC series which employ a single roll master negative and hence require dupe footage for fades and dissolves, the A/B nature of this series allows for these to be produced without a quality drop. When a dissolve is required the two shots (or one shot and a section of spacing in the case of a fade) overlap on the separate A and B rolls of film. In the printing process, the light source faded in and out at the appropriate moment during both passes (A and B) to create the dissolve. In the digital age this is reproduced with a suitably rendered dissolve effect that mimics the original characteristics of film printing. For whatever reason, it was noted that the prints utilised for the standard definition remastering (used as a conforming guide) often featured episode start and end fades that curtailed a good few seconds of footage existing in the negative. As many of these had accompanying music stings that seemed to last a lot longer than the visual (previously over black) it was decided to move the fade to maximise the available footage on the negative. Often this results in a better timed visual and music transition. Also, the use of scans as opposed to a telecine transfer has highlighted size differences between the exposed frames of the model shots compared with the puppet stages. The former generally utilises a full silent-gate aperture which when printed up would normally be cropped to the standard academy ratio used in the final sound prints. Where possible, these new masters will exhibit more picture area on these types of shots giving a wide view of the model scape, taking care that scene edges are not made visible.
The fifteen-year-old standard definition master from 35mm prints were fine in their day and gave the opportunity for many to see the series in an improved digital form on DVD, but times move on and these new Blu-ray releases will bring amazing detail to fans showcasing the incredible level of work that originally went into producing this Gerry Anderson classic.