While fans have been waiting for ADV's release of Robotech early this summer, AnimEigo has been working on releasing another of the greatest anime classics of all time... the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross(Macross) series that aired in Japan in 1982. Because Harmony Gold's Macross footage was considerably old, AnimEigo has been putting the series through a comprehensive gauntlet of digital restoration, the likes of which no anime series has ever been treated to before. All the spit, footprints and coffee stains on the footage will be removed so that anime fans can enjoy the show with crystal clarity.
Shin Kurokawa is the head of production overseeing the Macross DVD release. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with us in detail about AnimEigo's restoration efforts:
Steve: You've been in the Anime industry for quite a long time... 12 years in fact. Has there ever been a project like Macross for you?
Shin: For that question, you'll have to first let me go get my cup of tea and calm down before I can even begin to tell you about my Macross DVD experience. (Insert a 120-decibel scream.) I'm very, superdimensionally excited about working on this project!! No one can deny the historical significance of the series, or how much it means to us anime fans. Personally, I still remember the days (I was in grade school back then... almost 20 years ago) when I used to put tracing paper on TV while freeze-framing using my dad's Betamax (if anybody would remember or know what that is!), and studied how all those Valkyries transformed or missiles shot off like noodles.
Steve: What is your role as far as Macross DVD production goes?
Shin: Basically, I'm responsible for pretty much everything. Aside from restoring this 20-year old show that I used to admire as a kid, I also do bits and pieces of DVD programming, authoring and subtitling work, script translations, etc. I have a few assistants who attempt to help me reduce my personal workload from 2000 hours/week to about half that. :)
Steve: Can you share with us some of your experiences when you began work on the DVD release?
Shin: When I first started working on the Macross DVD project, I noticed that the master tapes we had access to looked rather dull and noisy. Being a videophile and a pathetic 'tech-head' (I was a studio musician and engineer for years prior to getting into video production), I felt that they were full of video problems that needed to be corrected somehow. I wanted Minmay to be clean! I have a personal problem of watching old shows that scream 'old', when a lot of issues are purely technical limitations that could've been avoided if everybody had a timemachine to travel into the future to use the most technologically advanced tools that haven't been invented yet, but alas... ;)
So I knew that, given the right tools, materials, and enough caffeine, I could improve the final product by orders of magnitude. Since we are releasing the set on DVDs, it was clear that we had to start out with the cleanest possible master tapes. Which meant that the original set of the masters could not be used.
Steve: Tell us a little bit about the remastering and restoration process.
Shin: Macross was originally shot on 16mm (film). So we came up with plans to do a completely new, digital component video transfer using the only Macross film reels available outside Japan --- the same reels used to make Robotech --- which were maintained by HG. It's an honor to be able to put my hands on something so important, and everyone at Harmony Gold was so helpful in getting this project done.
The film reels were not in their best shape, however. Upon first examining these, I was flabbergasted by the scratches, film peels, dust, fingerprints, chemical splashes, color fades.... all kinds of problems you'd expect on any old film. Furthermore, the reels were release prints, which are generations apart from the original negatives, and have inherent 'defects' like highly visible film grain, blurry lines, and image instability.
In order to solve these problems, a variety of tools are used at several facilities: a highly customized digital telecine machine, color-correction computers, various software & hardware- based video processors and truckloads of Silicon Graphics supercomputers. By the way, the games on SGI rock!
Steve: Technology sure is wonderful.
Shin: I love it. Everyone who knows me can tell you, I'm a technology junkie. But I don't depend on gadgets completely -- they're just tools. You still need to have good eyes and ears, which I'm somewhat blessed with, having formally been trained in art, music and science. Working in the music recording business and in science have really opened my eyes to the world of hi-technology. But, most important of all, you've got to have love for what you're doing. There's nothing automatic about anything I do, maybe except for the huge studio bills I get regularly! Anyways, once images from the film are digitally captured with basic color corrections and grain reduction, everything is fed into Sillicon Graphics running various video tools. Some of the tasks involve reconstructing bad frames (or even missing frames!), removing scratches and dust specks. All kinds of film flaws get 'repaired' digitally.
Because it's rather easy to clean the images too much, which will give things a 'computer-y' look, some of the original film grain is added back. This actually creates a more visually pleasant result.
Steve: What about audio? Will that undergo any restoration as well?
Shin: Yes, audio is also receiving a similar treatment. The original mono soundtrack is processed in a digital audio workstation to increase the signal-to-noise ratio and fix other audio defects. I mean, we're talking about
songs that saved the universe; I think they deserve some special care!
In addition, we're treating the original music&effects tracks the same way, and will be including them as a bonus material.
Steve: How will video be encoded on the DVD?
Shin: The encoding process in itself is like magic, if it works, especially the video portion. As you know, video compression (MPEG-2) on DVD is only an approximation of the source material. In all of my DVD projects, I go through several different versions and perform data surgery before everything is ready for replication. That's a lot of work, and nothing is ever perfect. I've been playing with many of these encode and restoration techniques on my other projects such as "Spirit of Wonder", "Vampire Princess Miyu" and "Oh My Goddess!".
During the next several weeks, I'll be performing more restoration before starting the DVD authoring process. Actually, we've already completed some test encodes and the results
have been great so far, but we know we can do better, like making the video progressive.
Although Macross was never meant to be seen as a show on film (i.e. 24 frames per second), videophiles using elaborate systems (such as progressive-scan DVD players and monitors) will appreciate the interlace-free playback.
Steve: What about dialogue?
Shin: The DVDs will feature AnimEigo's famous DVD subtitles with faithful translations, and 2 digitally remastered audio tracks as mentioned before.
Steve: Will there be any DVD extras included?
Shin: We're still planning on including various extras for the DVDs, but our biggest concern is the video quality. We'd rather invest more data bits for the video than on anything else --- Minmay, especially!
My friends at Harmony Gold can tell you just how obsessed I am with this project. ;)
That's for sure. Shin is also notorious at the company and at studios for working into strange hours of the night. Communicating with him is also a pleasure, as his enthusiasm over the Macross DVD project shines through in everything he writes.
Well, that's it for our interview folks, and we'd like to thank Shin and AnimEigo once again for their time.
The 36-episode Macross DVD box set is expected to hit the streets later this summer. You can join the preorder interest list in the Robotech Store and enjoy the special preorder price of $250, a $110 savings off of the final retail price of $360. This special discount price is only available to fans who sign up early.
You can visit AnimEigo's Macross page for more information on their restoration efforts.