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Old June 7 2010, 06:39 PM   #1
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TNG remastered in HD? It CAN be done.

I was reading a thread on here where posters were basically under the assumption that TNG can't be remastered to HD because it was shot on tape. Now, this thread went on for 11+ pages so I am not sure if this was ever corrected. But in case it wasn't or at least to reitterate the truth? Star Trek: The Next Generation was shot entirely on 35mm film, including all of its visual effects! It was simply transfered to tape for editing and compositing. So though labourous, the could re-edit the episodes together using the original 35mm masters (and using timestamps for reference). This would be more difficult for visual effects, but is still possible. Below is an article I found written by someone who clearly knows about this process:


"It is quite possible to remaster TNG in HD. As previously stated it was shot on 35mm film. Re-transferring and re-editing from film is not as difficult as it sounds. Even though the series was edited on video tape care was often taken at that time to reference KeyKode (the film equivalent of timecode) either by retaining this information in the extra timecode bits on the video tape or by transfer logs which match the videotape EDL to the film negatives' KeyKode. This makes finding the shots and re-cutting them quite easy. Even if this type of match-back is not possible there are many talented online editors who can eye-match the shots (although this does consume much more time than the match-back).

Many TV series have been remastered in HD by one of these two methods, although for distribution reasons some affiliates are not airing them in HD yet. Seinfeld was recently remastered in HD and re-cropped to 16x9 for syndication in HD. A show like Seinfeld however is very simple because it does not include any visual effects (with the possible very rare exception). All that needs to be done is a match-back and re-transfer/re-crop in HD, followed by colour grading and relaying the titles at HD resolution.

A show like Star Trek: TNG posses a bigger problem however mainly because of it's heavy use of visual effects. Now, I want to make a distinction here: to say that TNG's visual effects were done on video is not entirely true. The effects were composited on video, meaning the various filmed elements were layered together. However the actual elements themselves were shot on 35mm motion picture film just like the rest of the show.

The ship itself was a 7 foot miniature (a newer 3 foot miniature from season 3 on) shot in multiple passes with motion-controlled 35mm cameras. The film was transferred to videotape (Beta SP I believe) and then composited together into the shots you see in the final show. Now the original film negatives contain ample resolution for an HD transfer, so the actual shots of the ship do not need to be re-done with a computer generated version like they did with the original Star Trek. Re-transferring and re-compositing the miniature at HD resolution would be much faster and much cheaper and certainly look much better than CGI. The miniature work on TNG was some of the best even by todays standards, and even though CGI has all but replaced miniatures in Sci-fi TV (and most but not all sci-fi movies) this is simply because it is cheaper, not because it looks better. Compare shots of the Enterprise D in TNG (especially in the later seasons or ST:Generations) to any shot of the NX-01 in the Enterprise series and you can easily see how much more realistic TNGs effects were, despite their age.

And the ship was by no means the only effect shot on film. All cities and planet scapes were either large minatures or very detailed matte paintings which should hold up nicely with an HD transfer. Even effects like the transporter where shot on film. It was a fish tank full of glitter swirled around and again shot on 35mm film. All of these can be re-transferred and re-composited. Now I won't discount the possibilities that they may try to re-do some of the effects, mostly to in their minds add to the value of the re-release and to correct some problems (mostly seen in the first season). But those problems seem to be mostly due to time and budget constraints and often were problems with compositing rather than the actual elements.

As far as the time goes, the figure of ten to fifteen years is immensely absurd and I have no idea where that comes from. I have both worked on and supervised re-mastering projects for film and TV. Granted they have not been on the scale of ST:TNG but then again TNG may be the biggest remastering project out there, at least in TV. But I know first hand that re-masterings usually take a small fraction of the time that it took to originally transfer and edit the show in the first place. So considering that ST:TNG was produced at a rate of one season per year, and the remastering would only involve re-doing a small part of the work with tools that are much faster and easier than those available back then it would only take a fraction of the time. If I had to venture a guess I would say it would take a year to a year and a half. And that would be assuming they re-do some effects as CGI and depending on what kind of cleanup is needed. In fact TNG should take less time then the original one because the film elements are likely in much better shape (requiring less cleanup) and much more organized than the original series as well as requiring less effects to be re-done. FYI: Seinfeld is rumored to have taken less than 4 months to remaster all 10 seasons.

HD remastering of both films and TV are becoming quite standard these days, and there are companies who are dedicated to this kind of work. The only thing standing in the way of ST:TNG in HD is simply Paramount or CBS or whomever writes the cheques deciding that there is enough demand for both HD syndication and Blu-ray releases of the show. There has already been one TNG episode remastered in HD (although I'm not sure which one). It was done by the same team that did the original Star Trek remaster as a 'test' to show to execs. There are rumors floating around that the remastering of the whole series is already beginning but as of right now that is just a rumor.

Other shows have some big hurtles when it comes to HD remastering. Don't expect a HD version of Babylon 5 anytime soon if ever. Even though the live action was shot on 35mm and wisely composed in 16x9 (rather than TNG's 4x3) meaning that portion can be very easily remastered in HD, all the effects were done digitally and rendered only at 4x3 SD resolution. Making things worse the original models and project files were supposedly lost meaning they would have to be completely re-done rather than just re-rendered. The widescreen DVD release in fact was made from a HD re-transfer of the live-action elements, with the original 4x3 effect shots cropped to 16x9. Obviously there could be a Blu-ray version made from this but the upscaled FX shots would likely look terrible in HD, especially put next to the HD versions of the live action.

Obviously shows shot on SD video cannot be re-transferred in HD because nothing higher res than the SD video exists.

Finally to dispel a few myths:

As was already mentioned the original Star Trek was shot on 35mm not 70mm. I have never heard of any TV show being shot on 70mm since this would just be a complete waste. 35mm film contains resolution well above HD let alone SD. 16mm is about on par with HD as far as resolution, but shows a lot of grain. A lot of TV series were shot on 16mm and some that are produced for broadcast in HD these days still are shot on 16mm.

What about TNG though? It was shot in that cheap terrible 1980's TV film (think its 30 or 35mm film), and blown up on my 52 inch Bravia looks pretty bad.

First of all there is no such thing as 30mm film. And 35mm is not cheap or terrible. It is what most major hollywood blockbusters are shot on these days. The reason TNG looks bad on a big TV, is that the 35mm film lost most of it's resolution when it was transferred to the video tape of the era. I believe the best tape format available at the time was Beta SP and that's probably what they used.

Beta SP is analog and is only equivalent to about 330x486 pixels in digital terms. Digital Beta did not come along until the early 90's and delivered a Digitally stored 720x486 pixels (which is suitable for DVD mastering). This is why most films were re-transferred before they came out on DVD. Even though DVD is SD it still has superior resolution to the older broadcast video tape formats and required a re-transfer to Digital Beta. In the case of feature films this is easy because they were edited on film and seamless theatrical prints exist that can be re-transferred in one session rather than having to match-back or re-edit. You can see the difference if you watch an older film from the 80s on DVD (probably made from a re-transfer) and the same film on TV (networks often seem to use the older transfers they have had kicking around for years rather than the new ones made for DVD releases).

Because TNG was edited on video tape a D-Beta remaster does not even exist. Everything that has been released so far has been made from the original analog video tapes from the 80s. And that will remain the case until a full re-master like we are talking about here is done."
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