Simon Lund (SL)
Director of Technical Operations – Cineric, NY.
Interviewer: Paul Frith (PF)
Conducted Via Skype (Length 00:45:41)
PF: This is an interview with Simon Lund from Cineric, New York, conducted on Skype by Paul Frith as part of the ‘Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema’ project, on 16 February 2018. So, thank you for agreeing to take part in this Simon. To begin with if we could talk a little bit about your background in film and photography, and how that really started.
SL: Sure. I mean I was always into photography and film. I went to art school, studying experimental film and photography, a lot of optical printing. When I got out of art school I needed a job, I moved to New York and went around the laboratories and it just happened that Cineric needed somebody. When I started here it was a two-person company and the boss needed somebody to replace one of the optical printers, so I started doing restoration and opticals – this was always maybe a fifty-fifty split at that point. I also continued on with photography and filmmaking as an artist, and continue to until this day. So that’s kinda how I started.
PF: OK fantastic. So, if you could go on to talk about your work at Cineric and the types of projects you’re involved with.
SL: Sure. Well when I started, I started in the analogue area, that was kinda around ‘95, and at that point, while we were doing scanning for feature work for new films, it was doing a digital shot here and there and maybe recording-out titles once and a while. But basically everything was analogue. And we were doing analogue preservations for Technicolor films, Eastmancolor films, we kinda specialised in difficult formats. We started as a company doing optical work for Technicolor because their internal optical department couldn’t really handle some of the work so we were doing… kinda blow-ups from 8mm and 16 reductions from library titles – that sort of thing. And we got into restoration because a lot of library titles were old films and they needed somebody to handle shrunken, or difficult to work with, films or difficult formats like Technicolor, two-perf, or things like that. So the technology developed to handle that sort of work. So the company developed ways to deal with shrunken film, deal with copying Technicolor which is a very challenging process. As I started I got into that and started working with ways to get everything lined up - the big challenge with Technicolor is you have to go shot by shot, re-register the three layers within one thousandth of an inch. And that process also moved on to then working with faded colour negative films and what we ended up doing was, in an analogue realm, making a colour print of the film and then making a print of just the yellow layer that was very thin and we registered that back with the original negative to reinforce the faded dye layers and sometimes we would do scene-to-scene levels to adjust for different fadings. Restorations like that were very challenging, I would say, very technically rigorous because you have to get this matte lined up with every shot of the film and, kind of, do testing to make sure you’re fixing the fading scene by scene. We did a lot of blow-up work with two perf formats which is an optical printing thing where you have to… because a splice would show in the frame line and you have to jump out all the cut frames before and after each splice and, so usually there’s a two or three frame handle either side of the splice so we computerised optical printers to do that process, that was kind of a logistical organisation thing. We did a lot of work with separation masters, recombining old separation masters and then creating new separation masters for library titles which, when you have an old piece of colour negative you have to get it to register rock-steady in three passes to make it a red, green and blue separation. We did a lot of work making film gates to deal with registering old shrunken film. And we did a lot of liquid gate printing which means… that’s when we print the film by immersing it in perchlorethylene that hides any scratches on the emulsion or base which ended up giving a cleaner copy. So that’s kind of the analogue history. And then, starting with the early-2000s we kind of did the first full 4k restoration, black & white and colour films. That’s kind of the transition period in the early-2000s. So we did, I think, the first black & white film was Dr Strangelove, the first colour film was The King and I or Carousel, which was 55mm CinemaScope so we built gates for that, then digitised it in 4k and did a full dye fading restoration that was recorded on new negatives. Now a lot of what I do is building motion picture scanners and, sort of, the scanning of film and dealing with high-contrast range of materials and high-density ranges, and also dealing with films that fall out of the colour gamut of normal RGB reproduction. I don’t know… that’s kind of a snapshot of what I do.
PF: That’s brilliant, thank you. So, if we’re looking at that transitional period particularly, what do you see as being some of the main benefits of moving into this digital realm? And, looking at colour reproduction specifically, how that has changed over the past ten or fifteen years and what kind of benefits and pitfalls there have been?
SL: Well, I mean, in some ways even starting with the late-90s the… going through a chain of analogue-digital-analogue, you have a better chance of matching the original negative colour reproduction than going analogue-analogue-analogue, meaning going original negative-interpositive-internegative, that, you know… creating the dyes to faithfully go those three generations is a very difficult thing. It’s much easier to fine tune it in a digital realm. So, I mean, we also had to do a lot of making the opticals for films where they cut in a fade or dissolve into the original negative and to match, you know, have a scene cut in where it’s seamless that you don’t notice you’re going to an optical. The idea then that in the late-‘90s that digital opticals matched it better than the analogue opticals. Over that transitional period there was a lot of pretty awful digital work, but… So in that sense, the digital has advantage of reproducing film really quite well. Obviously there’s problems with stability with digital and reproducing the grain structure of film is a difficult thing with digital. There’s always the … resolution of film is not in a fixed frame, it’s defined by random grains moving around an object, so the resolution is over time, where when you scan something into a digital grid you have a fixed grid that you’re capturing and that has no time component. So, that grain working against the fixed grid can give you some aliasing that is not natural to film. So, for the long-term preservation of film, black & white separation masters, I would say, of all the reproduction means, making separations and then recombining those to a negative got you about as close to the original negative. Second best is a digital intermediate. Third best is going colour interpostive-colour internegative.
PF: Brilliant. So, looking at long-term preservation of film, how active are the industry in that role as you see it? Obviously it became an issue, sort of, in the late-‘70s when they were becoming more aware of the issues of Eastmancolor fading, for example. Are they actively involved in that, through your experience?
SL: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of… it does depend studio-by-studio. Some studios have made a photochemical preservation of every film in their vault. Really only big a Hollywood studio that has, kind of, the A-list titles and with distribution can afford to do that. I mean, it’s an expensive thing. You know, the ones that can afford it and have the support from the corporation have done it and are very meticulous about it. So, you know, it’s a financial thing, some people choose to spend more money than others on the library titles. But it’s also a proactive thing that maybe the smart money is looking at that library and realising it has a long-term value and then spending the money to do that. I mean we do a lot of digital restoration now and… depends on the studio but if they look at it and say “oh we don’t have a good preservation of this material” they will record out a piece of film. If they do have a good analogue preservation they leave it as a digital restoration. They also have a massive digital archiving system, that … if you can archive, that data might be a better archive raw medium than the film itself – and that’s a big if.
PF: OK. So, kind of going on from there, we’re talking about restoration projects for some of the biggest studios. When we talk about restoring the original ‘look’ of the film, what is that in all instances because we sometimes have the original, the show print, the print which toured the country – or perhaps it’s something different, which is part of the new era that we’re in now, when you’re trying to get back to the original look of the film. What instances have you been involved where it might have been something else or perhaps you’ve had the original cinematographers, or crew involved with the productions, who’ve had their own say on what that original ‘look’ should be?
SL: Sure, I mean we… when we get a reference print we take it with a grain of salt we, obviously, you know, when you’re working on a film from the ‘50s and ‘60s there’s not going to be an Eastmancolor print – period. The dye transfer prints that exist, you know, I mean dye transfer prints have their own look, it’s not always the most pleasing look. You know, it’s a very specific thing and not always what the cinematographer would have wanted. We do work with the cinematographers when they’re alive and they often want to go back they always what to fix their mistakes. I mean, we have a pretty old staff – I mean I’m one of the younger people here honestly – and are grader worked from probably the beginning of the 80s, grading film prints and, you know, was around when a lot of these films were not faded and came from a film background which is pretty rare because film graders have not made that transition from film to digital. You know, I’ve been working since the ‘90s with this, the apprentice [unintelligible] of someone who was working in the lab from the 60s so I’ve kind of got a feel for the aesthetics of what each decade of film should look like. I’ve looked at a lot of film prints, good and bad, and I know the difference and when I see a print from the ‘90s, 2000s, of a film from the ‘60s I know to take that with a grain of salt, let’s say, it doesn’t necessarily want to look like that, you should find something else.
PF: Picking up on something you said there, in your mind is there a key difference between the look of, say a film that was made on Eastmancolor negative but then printed using IB printing rather than straight to Eastmancolor print stock. To you is there something, is there an aesthetic or style that you can surmise and give some indication of what that look was?
SL: I mean, there’s certainly… from that era, the films have more contrasty and colourful lighting and if you look at the dye transfer prints they tend to be pretty desaturated, kind of have, they have a contrast that are a little desaturated. So probably there is a relationship there that they kind of overly lit the… and made the films overly chromatic to compensate for the chroma they lost in the dye transfer printing process. So maybe those films are a little too colourful when you print them on colour stock, especially the Vision stocks. Since the transition which happened in the, it was kind of in the late-90s when Technicolor, especially, was guilty of putting lots of accelerants in their Eastmancolor baths to speed up the release print process. At some point I was doing tests with pulling print, pulling the processing of Eastmancolor print processing to make prints from Technicolor originals and a Eastmancolor print pulled about three stops in one looked like a normal print from Technicolor. And at that point all of sudden directors of photography were complaining that we have no blacks in our prints and at the same time Technicolor was trying to bring back dye transfer printing so they had dye transfer prints with good blacks and their Eastmancolor prints you could see through the blacks. So Kodak responded by coming out with the Vision stocks that had very punchy contrast, good blacks, then all the cinematographers said “what happened to our shadow detail, you know, we lit for this old Eastmancolor print stock and now the new Eastmancolor stock is eating the blacks that we lit for” and I think it’s sort of the same transition thing and if you look at a negative even from the ‘90s printed on Eastmancolor suddenly you have way too much contrast in a form that was not intended. And I think the same thing happens with Eastman, you know, dye transfer print negatives.
PF: Just to continue with that actually, so if we’re looking back to the early days of Eastmancolor and, moving through the ‘60s, would a film have been shot on Eastmancolor stock knowing full well it was going to dye-transfer printing or direct printing on to Eastmancolor? Would that need to have been considered during the production, the kind of the lighting and the set design?
SL: Honestly I don’t have a great answer for that. I mean the… An Eastmancolor film would go, you know, depending the release market, the matrices were expensive, so depending on what releases and what format it was going in, it would depend whether it’s on Eastmancolor or getting a dye-transfer release. It kind of depended how many prints they were making whether there were going to be matrices or make a negative so, or you know, work off the original negative. So, I don’t know, honestly. I mean I… when they were working with their dailies they were working with Eastmancolor dailies so I image that was a feedback the cinematographers were working with. Whether they kept in mind the dye-transfer release, not sure. Probably they went by the dailies they were looking at that were colour dailies.
PF: Sure. OK, so if we move on to Eastmancolor more specifically now then. So what is your understanding of the history of the Eastmancolor process and some of the key developments in the stocks through, sort of, the ‘50s and ‘60s, particularly with your experience of dealing with restoration projects?
SL: I mean as far as conservation… I mean there’s a… they went through a couple of generations of speed gains starting in the ‘50s. I think the first colour negative stocks were ASA 2 or 4 or something very slow. As far as conservation goes, you know, the films from ’55 ’56, which were the slowest emulsions, actually still have pretty decent colour reproduction. And then from kind of ’56 through ’59, suddenly the blue channel drops off, you know, you have horrible dye fading in the blue channel and the opticals, depending, are pretty horrible. And then once you hit the ‘60s, suddenly the dyes are much more stable. And then you get to the ‘70s, suddenly the red and, the red and the blue sort of fade together and you get his magenta-green crossover. And depending where the negatives were stored, that’s more the work of the Spanish National Film Archive, and you saw that a lot with ‘70s films because they weren’t stored that well. In Hollywood films from that era it’s not so apparent because they were in better storage conditions. And the… starting in the ‘80s, you know, we have another gain in speed and the grain goes up and then you get into the ‘90s with more Vision T-Grain stocks, suddenly the grain goes down you get better colour reproduction. So each, you know, each decade has its change in technology. The‘70s had some pretty big gains in speed again, and the grain, and structures, grows, and you have this very, kinda, pointillist look to the films. So yeah, each decade had its technology and look for sure.
PF: OK, you mentioned fading there so, in terms of issues relating to fading, we know that no film, no print stock was guaranteed to last, especially in those early days, you know, it was just a consequence of looking back, and we know about the issues of the late-70s, particularly that Martin Scorsese raised. So what are some of the key issues for you relating to Eastmancolor fading and how all that came about? Because there has been talk about the fact that it’s… some of it was sped up by the fact that the films were not processed correctly in some of the labs and that had an issue…
SL: Sure. I worked on one film were there was horrible fading across one side of the image, you would get to a cut then suddenly it would switch over to the other side of the image. And what that was is… had to do with stabilisation in the processor. Obviously there was a wiper not working quite right and something was carrying over to a bath and depending whether it went into the processor heads or tails, it changed which side of the roll so that’s definitely a stabilisation thing in the colour process. I’ve also seen film where it had rolls of outtakes, a Hammer film actually, the… before wet-gate printing came in they would lacquer films, pretty much all films were lacquered and what would happen is, immediately after the negative was cut, the film was cleaned and lacquered, you would make prints, and once the lacquer got scratched up, you would strip the lacquer, re-lacquer the film and keep on printing. I’ve seen a roll of trims, two rolls of trims from the same film, one was lacquered, the other wasn’t. The lacquered one was not faded, the un-lacquered one was. So that suggests that something with the chemical bath, the solvents or something, or contact with air, added to the dye fading. Definitely in a roll of negative where it’s been wrapped up, where air gets wrapped in the splices, you have less dye fading, because the off-gassing from the film would ventilate it better. So it has a combination of things: the processing; the film attacking itself, sort of the off-gassing of the chemicals; the chemical treatments of the film after its been… kinda all adds up.
PF: Yes I’ve read elsewhere that there were some issues with actually cleaning the film prints after they’ve been out on runs. Sometimes cleaning would remove the fixing solution from the films themselves which would have sped-up the fading. Is that correct?
SL: Yeah it could be, for sure. I mean, what they used to clean films varied over the years depending what they used and a what condition it was in. As you clean film and you don’t recycle the cleaning fluid the acidity changes and that could probably attack film and change the stability also. Probably, I would say, how was it stabilised in the first place and how was it stored has the greatest affect on it. Storage definitely but also the processing.
PF: OK. So there’s something else which we’re quite interested in to talk to you about in terms of the project. Obviously a number of films were branded differently, particularly during the ‘60s and ‘70s, we had Metrocolor, Deluxe colour, and we know that that was Eastmancolor negative being developed by, for example, MGM and Fox. Was there any, from your experience, was there any difference in terms of the colour reproduction, in those instances?
SL: You know, the branding… I think they were all using pretty much the Kodak chemistry, for sure. Sometimes the chemist got clever and that might have some long-term implications for the stability. I mean that’s what I was talking to earlier about the Technicolor release prints, that was a case of the chemist getting clever about speeding up the whole process [unintelligible] but it had a detrimental effect to the image and the prints look far less faded as they came out of the bath. As far as the stabilisation, I mean, I think, yeah, I mean that was where it was most critical. I think all the branding… I mean, actually an interesting thing, it’s not Eastmancolor, but I just worked on a Japanese film from the early ‘60s and that was actually… I had the cinematographer round and it was two films from the early ‘60s and they were both shot on Agfacolor negative which is interesting stuff as it has no dye layer base and it’s kind of more contrasty. One of the two film was a lot more desaturated than the other and I asked him about it and he said “Oh yes. The more saturated one they processed in Agfacolor chemistry and then they got cheap and started running everything in Eastman Kodak chemistry and it made the Agfacolor less chromatic and more desaturated.” So, there was another example of playing with the bath and getting a different look.
PF: So, there were instances where the chemists were actually playing with the baths?
SL: Sure. I mean chemists do that. In the black-and-white, if you… I remember seeing like a chart of, kind of, duplication stages of a film and they looked at the gamma, they develop fine grains and dupe negatives from every laboratory, because at that point pretty much every laboratory… every studio had its own in-house laboratory for black-and-white film, each studio had a look. You know, there was sort of ‘an average’ but there were [unintelligible] And it was creative, you know, people worked with it, played with the baths, went for specific looks. When colour came around it was more of a… something you didn’t play with much but I’m sure chemists did play with it. And when you get into… that sort of came back with bleach bypass with the negative and with the prints and that was happening in the ‘90s when cinematographers were trying that out. It was also things with cross-processing, process reversal as negative, which was also a look they were going with in the ‘90s.
PF: OK, so kind of just going back to what I was mentioning there, so there wasn’t really anything specifically different about the look of Metrocolor, or Deluxe, or compared with the branding of Eastmancolor? Generally it was pretty consistent would you say?
SL: Yeah my experience is between all the different… the biggest difference you’d see more the lighting than the brand naming, yeah. It’s like CinemaScope. There were a bunch of different ‘O’ scopes but they were all pretty much recycled CinemaScope ones that was on the used market.
PF: You started mentioning some of the projects you’ve been working on in the past. Have you got any particular stories about Eastmancolor projects you worked on that were of particular interest or a problem which arose from projects that you worked on in the past?
SL: I mean… really it’s more… I mean I could name titles but the more interesting thing is, kind of, the general time frames of… each era has a specific look and problems and, of course, there’s examples of that. Maybe even interesting is before Eastmancolor printing, with some films they actually made a Technicolor matte. They shot in combinations of Technicolor and Eastmancolor negative, Technicolor and Kodachrome, so even before, you know, ’56, ’55, ’54, there was some colour negative coming in or, even like ’51, ’52. I think the first… ’53 might have been How to Marry a Millionaire or, I’m not quite sure but I guess we… but before that I definitely worked on so. I remember there was an Alan Ladd western, or Knight’s Castle, where they had Eastmancolor negative in the film. So yeah, I can’t say any particular titles, it’s more about decades.
PF: Well it’s interesting you mention that Simon because there are a few examples we’ve come across where they’ve used Kodachrome or Eastmancolor within a film which was branded as a Technicolor film. In terms of restoration projects you’ve been involved with have you come across any of those original negatives which you’ve worked on? Perhaps you have the negative, the Eastmancolor, and the Technicolor to work from?
SL: With the ones with Eastmancolor negative, no. But I found ones with Kodachrome, you know. I found the Kodachrome shots and I found contrast masks and we did new dupes from those Kodachromes and combined those with what was Technicolor original with the original Kodachrome and made combinations of that. I think we did some separate… Treasure Island for Disney and that was… had some extra shot on Kodachrome. I’ll try and think of some other ones. But yeah… we worked on other Disney ones, Seal Island that was a Kodachrome blow-up to Technicolor.
PF: So what… did you say they were using masks to incorporate the Kodachrome into the Technicolor three-strip? Was there something they could do to match the Technicolor three-strip they were working towards?
SL: I mean it was a standard creation thing for slides where you would make a black-and-white negative from a slide and then bipack it with a slide and that knocked down the contrast so you could get better shadow detail. So that’s what they did to make a dupe that matched better with the original, with Technicolor.
PF: I suppose there’s one key thing I’d like to talk to you about which is, if you can, kind of, just give me an idea of the process you would go through if you have a number of film material, a number of film elements, which have all succumb to Eastmancolor fading, how do you go about bringing that back to life?
SL: Interestingly we’re working on a film right now that, kind of, brings that up. We have a very dated original negative from the mid-‘50s. We had separation masters that were made with poor contact. So, we scanned in the original negative, we scanned in the seps. The seps alone were really not as sharp but they have really nice colour reproduction. The original negative is very sharp but poor colour reproduction. So we did some tests with taking the chroma from the seps but the image content from the original negative. Also when we’re working with faded film, this was in the analogue era, we would sometimes make a separation negative from the blue sep master and print the red-green information from the original negative and blue information from the sep for the same reason of keeping the sharp, principal sharpness, from the original negative and bring back the faded information from the different elements. So yeah, we’d play those games and usually if we have a bunch of different elements we’ll scan in a reel of everything, near everything, and see what the best material is or the best combination of materials, depending.
PF: Have there ever been any instances where you’ve had very little reference to compare to? If you’ve got a series of elements which all have issues, is there always some kind of solution to that problem? Do you always find some comparative material?
SL: You know, there’s times when… I just worked on this film from Singapore where the only thing existing was a completely faded magenta print with horrible mould damage and it’s one of those restorations that make a very good before and after demonstration but will never look like the original because there is a certain point when something is lost and you always, when dyes fade, you lose something and there’s not a miracle to bring that back. You can make educated guesses but when it passes a certain line, it’s more like, you end up with one and a half colours.
PF: I mean I’ve noticed that myself with, particularly with amateur film from the ‘60s and ‘70s which have faded and, for the local regional archive, they obviously have that issue with, how do we restore that faithfully? And have you come across that as well with sort of amateur productions? Is that where it is most prominent?
SL: I mean, all films have the same problems, whether it’s a Hollywood film or an amateur film. The Hollywood films tend to have more copies and they were stored better but, you know, you can restore an amateur film as well as a Hollywood film, it’s kinda… And we definitely have some tricks to bring back films that are on the border. Is it something that’s specific to amateur films or professional films? No.
PF: I didn’t know… is there anything else, any other examples that you’ve got that you’d like to share with me today in terms of restoration or Eastmancolor, at all?
SL: Some of the big jobs along the line where maybe The King and I and Carousel. The King and I was maybe ’56 and it was Eastmancolor negative shot on 55mm 8-perf, so it’s a massive image format. We… all our opticals were faded and we had 55mm separations so we went through, built new 55mm gates, we scanned in the separations for opticals. We also… that was right on the transition period between digital and analogue and so, the ones where there weren’t… the seps were made before cutting was finished so when we didn’t have seps. We then did digital restoration opticals and combined it all, made new reduction elements for distribution and preservation. That was, sort of, a massive job that, kind of, brought in all the analogue tricks and all the digital and, kind of, turned out being a beautiful looking job. That’s the case study and everything. I mean we worked on about 50 films a year. We have two offices one in Lisbon one in New York. New York would work on about 50 films, Lisbon would work on another 20. You know, we work on a lot of high-end titles, low-end titles and, you know, we do the same restoration for all of them. So, to say, just because it’s an ‘A’ title or a ‘B’ title, or has lots of money behind it, or not, I would say do the same thing. So I would, generally, I wouldn’t come out and say this colour negative versus that one.
PF: OK. I think that’s pretty much all of my questions for you Simon so is there anything else that you’d like to mention?
SL: I don’t know. We’re always working on reproducing colour and getting better results. I mean we’re doing a lot of work this year on things like Kodacolor, you know, where you have a black-and-white film with a lenticular process. We’ve been working with reproducing tinting in nitrate film where we’d be working on larger gamut colour reproduction where, you know, once you deviate from the Eastmancolor RGB peaks suddenly you can think of far more complicated process to capture with those dyes. Dufaycolor’s like that as well. So we’re always doing research, how they do these things. We’ve been doing a lot of work on reproducing prints, faded prints, the contrast range of things like Vision premiere prints. We’ve been working on sound reproduction because each era has its own soundtrack formats and problems with those formats. So we’ve been scanning soundtracks coming up with ways to deal with that. Are these just Eastmancolor problems? No, but everything is kind of related.
PF: Yeah it’s interesting you mentioned the soundtracks actually because I’m aware that there were some issues with applying soundtracks to colour film back in the, sort of, in the early days. Could you talk a little bit about that? Any experience that you’ve had with those issues?
SL: Sure I mean the… well, obviously when you had dye transfer prints you would just… the matrices stock was black-and-white stock and was printed with a black-and-white soundtrack on the side and that was relatively simple. When you got to colour negative you actually had to… the sound readers are infrared readers which, infrared light passes directly through the dyes of colour films so they had to make a wheel that ran along the side of the film applying the black-and-white developing solution to the soundtrack area and there was horrible problems with that. Keeping that developing solution there was always a gel on the wheel and if it was too liquid it would start flinging off and splashing onto the image and we’d start getting these magenta spots blotching onto the image. Or you didn’t get enough developing solution and then you would hear a rumble on the track from the sound passing through an un-applicated track. That means… interestingly that Singaporean film I was talking about, the dye image had already faded and was completely mouldy but because the toxic sound developing solution tends to be a good fungicide, so on that film the track, well it wasn’t faded because it was silver but it had no fungus problems because of this fungicide, effective the toxic developer. In the ‘90s, they got away from that and started going to cyan tracks to get away from the environmental problems of that soundtrack developer which led to lower quality soundtracks but was easier for the labs to add on some cyan track. And then quickly that transitioned into digital tracks which became… with its own tricky problems.
PF: OK. I think we’ll wrap it up there. Thank you very much Simon
SL: Sure thing.