This World War I Footage Was Smoothed and Colorized. And It’s Amazing.

Director Peter Jackson painstakingly restored archival footage for the new movie They Shall Not Grow Old.

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It’s been 100 years since World War I ended. To mark the occasion, director Peter Jackson took hundreds of hours of battlefield footage from the Imperial War Museum in London, updated it, and turned it into a moving documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old.

Since none of the footage had sound, Jackson’s production company, Park Road Post Production, in New Zealand, added it in. “We wanted the full gamut of sounds,” Jackson says. “From the wind in the trees to footsteps in the mud to the jangle of the equipment to the click-clack of the rifle bolts to the horse hooves and the squeak of the leather. Subtleties upon subtleties.”

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Jackson also wanted to hear from the soldiers themselves. He used hours of audio recordings of WWI veterans, preserved in the collections of the BBC and IWM, to create a narration. And then he turned to lip readers. Since many of the men in the film are speaking, Jackson wanted to include what they most likely were saying. Forensic lip readers provided a transcript, which was then reenacted by British actors, who, in order to get the accents right, were from the same regions as the soldiers would have been.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

The footage itself was cleaned up by a company called Stereo D. Some of the films were copies of copies, and the quality reflected that. Studio D had to remove 100 years of dust, scratches, tears, and chemical splotches that had accumulated.

Because it was originally shot on hand-crank cameras, the footage was jerky, with a frame rate anywhere from ten to 18 frames per second. Modern films are presented at 24 fps, so Stereo D ran the footage through computer software to smooth it out by creating digital transitional frames.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Then came the color. For the backgrounds, Jackson’s team traveled to many of the locations where the film was shot. They also worked with an historian to ensure that the uniform colors and other components were correct.

The last step was to convert all of the film to 3D.

They Shall Not Grow Old is being screened tonight, December 17, and December 27 at theaters around the country. to find movie times in your area.

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