R O C K Y
R E S T O R A T I O N
Film buffs love watching classic films on
DVD. Not only do these films look better than ever on DVD, but they sound better than ever, as well. New editions
of movies "remastered in 5.1" appear all the time, but the average
viewer may not be aware of the work necessary to make a film originally
mixed years ago and make it sound fresh in the home theater environment.
In the 1980's, Chace Productions pioneered
the conversion of older mono films into stereo with Chace Surround
Stereo. The latest incarnation of this process is Chace Digital Stereo,
designed to create 5.1 channel mixes. This technology has brought Chace
plenty of remastering work in recent years. Titles as diverse as The
Bridge On The River Kwai, Easy
Rider, Hellraiser, The Muppet Movie and This Is Spinal Tap have recently passed through the doors of
Chace's Burbank, California facilities on the way to DVD release.
James Young works in restoration and
remastering at Chace Productions. Young began at Chace in 1990 as a
"stereo programmer," creating directional effects for the sound tracks
of a number of Turner library titles. In 1992, he started Chace"s
restoration department, cleaning up and refurbishing audio tracks with
digital tools such as Sonic Solutions" NoNoise. Young"s sonic skills
have been utilized in reissues such as Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Recently, Young took on the king of cult
movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, creating a new 5.1 mix for DVD release.
We asked Young to guide us through the process of remastering a film
sound track, and to give some examples from his experience on The
Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The first " and hardest " step, Young
explains, "is the cataloging, and the tracking down of elements." The
age of the film plays a big part in the availability and quality of
sound elements. "The old tracks were mastered to optical," Young
explains, "but since the mid-50's, a lot of tracks were mastered to
mag." Mag is shorthand for 35 millimeter magnetic film, which is
preferred as a source because it provides higher fidelity sound
reproduction. With a mag available, "the only problems you have are bad
transfers over time, or physical wear and tear on the element itself,"
Finding all these pieces of the sound puzzle
can be daunting not only because of deterioration, but also because the
need for such materials was not originally anticipated. Restoring the
soundtracks to classics such as North By Northwest and Gone With The Wind has required a bit of detective work, and
sometimes a little luck. North By Northwest had to be reconstructed from several
sources, including music tracks that had become stuck together and an
airline version that had 30 minutes removed. "One of the key elements
that we found for Gone With The Wind was because [of] a music editor who had
been with MGM for years," Young remembers. "At one point, when there
was a vault being moved, like in the '60s, they found this element for Gone
With The Wind that they were
instructed to throw away. And he thought to himself, "Oh my God, this
is way too valuable to throw away!" So he kind of hid it in the vault
and 30 years later, it was the best soundtrack available."
Remastering in stereo is made easier when
sound track elements can be taken from discrete, non-composite sources.
Many films are archived with three sound track "stems," one each for
the dialog, the music and the sound effects " "DME" for short " and
each stem may have multiple tracks. Sometimes, Young points out, "we
are actually faced with evaluating three, or four, or five, or six
different versions, or six different copies or formats of a film. [On]
some films, there'll be mono, and two-channel stereo, and four-channel
stereo elements, or four-channel and six-channel stereo. And that's the
first step, getting together everything we can, evaluating it, finding
the best stuff."
"Specifically, with Rocky Horror Picture
Show," Young says, "we were
working from the original mono mag master. It was a 35 millimeter
three-track " Dialog, Music, and Effects." The film was originally
released in 1975, mixed in mono by Bill Rowe. As a musical, however, an
effective 5.1 mix of The Rocky Horror Picture Show called for more than just a mono music
track. "We also had access to the original 2-inch, 24-track music
multi-tracks," Young explains. "It's the best scenario for integrating
a stereo music source, when you have a DME, because then you can just
swap [stereo] music for [mono] music and still have your dialog and
your effects from your original master."
With the best elements for a project chosen,
the next step is to perform any necessary restoration. "In restoration,
we take our source and we try and return it to its original state,"
Young explains. "We try and remove the ravages of time, and wear and
tear, and bad transfers and projection, or whatever " deterioration
that's come into the element over time " eliminate that and leave
behind something that is as close to the element's original state as
Restoration work at Chace is accomplished in
Sonic Solutions" NoNoise, a software-based digital system. Young is
quick to point out, however, that digital processes which can rescue an
aging audio track can also ruin it. "One of my biggest kicks " one of
my crusades, if you will " is to fight the overuse of digital
restoration tools. Any audio process can destroy a track. And the more
powerful digital tools can destroy them quicker and with more
devastation if they're overused," Young says. "There's a great
temptation, when you have this massive digital power at your
fingertips, to take something beyond where it should [be]."
On The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the mono stems were first put through a
sonic restoration in NoNoise. "We cleaned it up, took out subtle little
problems here and there," Young explains. "For instance, when Riff-Raff
has just killed Frank-N-Furter, and they go, "You killed them! I
thought you liked them!" And he screams, "They never liked me!" Well,
that scream, at its source, was distorted. He yelled it and it got
distorted on the mic. In 1975, when they mixed it, they had limitations
as to how they could deal with distortion. Well, now in the year 2000,
we've got better ways of dealing with that kind of distortion. So that
line is" not completely undistorted, but it's a little bit less
distorted than it was before."
With the original mono stems in the best
condition, attention turned to the music multi-tracks. "There was no
real clean-up needed on the 2-inch 24-tracks. They just needed to be
edited to match the picture," Young says. "Greg Faust was the gentleman
who did the editorial in Pro Tools of the multi-track masters. It took
a lot of hard work cutting that stuff." Young points specifically to
introductions on some of the songs, "like the vamp that happens before
Frank-N-Furter's coming down the elevator for "Sweet Transvestite."
That was not recorded that way " they edited that. So we had to
recreate those edits."
Once cleaned up and properly edited, the
music and vocal performances needed to be mixed down to create a
finished stem. Young remixed the music himself, trying to remain
faithful to the original mono stems, but taking into account the
capabilities of the multi-channel audio format. "The multi-track music
source had a lot wider frequency response and dynamic range than ended
up on the mono mix. And that's because the mono mix was limited by the
technology of its playback. So I used the mono mix as a template.
They'd have sax recorded on the basic tracks through a whole song, but
it only came up on the bridge. So I was going to follow those kinds of
leads " basically re-create the music in the same vein. But of course,
I was mixing for a format that had a lot more fidelity to offer, so I
wasn't going to limit that."
The multi-track tapes, Young adds, "were
great recordings and I did very little equalization. I did no dynamic
processing whatsoever. I didn't compress it, or limit it, or anything
like that. I stepped very lightly on the music. All I did was give it a
stereo image, a little bit of ambience, and level adjust in the mix."
Working on Rocky Horror,
Young points out, "was a treat, because usually we don't get to remix."
Most films, he notes, come in with music tracks already mixed for
multi-channel, as was the case on recent Chace projects like Planet
of the Apes and North
Because Young was essentially re-creating the
musical portions of the film from original sources, some creative
editing became necessary to maintain authenticity. "What I discovered
as I started to scrutinize the multi-track tape was that there were
vocal performances in the final mix that didn't exist on the
multi-track," Young explains. "Additionally, there were some vocal
performances that matched" but because the final mix had the vocals
blended with other dialog sounds that I couldn't lose, essentially what
I did was I built a dialog stem." This finished stem of vocal
performances was pulled from both the 24-track studio tapes and the
original mono dialog stem. Young cites the song "Dammit, Janet" as an
example: "All the vocal performances matched perfectly. Except when
Brad is on his knees showing her the ring, even though I had his vocal
performance, I had nowhere where her "ooh"s and "ahh"s and reactions to
the ring were the same. So for that one measure, I took the vocals from
the mono master."
One surprise that turned up in mixing
involved all the vocal parts for the film"s titular character. "Anytime
that Rocky sings, he had versions on the multi-track, but none of
Rocky's performances on the multi-track matched the movie," Young
noted. The film"s music producer, Richard Hartley, had decided to
change Rocky"s voice after the film had been shot, and the vocals were
re-recorded. "And those recordings are probably sitting unmarked in a
box in London somewhere," Young laughs. "But I did not have access to
them." For the new 5.1 mix, Young had to pull all of Rocky"s vocals
from the mono dialog stem.
There were other challenges Young encountered
maintaining consistency between the original mono mix and the 5.1
version. "In one song, there was a guitar track that had been
punched-in on " recorded over " for the very end," Young explains. "So
in the mono master, the guitar performance matches the multi-track all
the way through, and then at the very end of the song there's this
subtle little three-note phrase of guitar that was missing from the
multi-track. At that point I made a choice that I didn't want to throw
away the whole song " the whole high fidelity multi-track version of
the song " for a couple of pretty subtle little guitar licks at the
very end... So in that particular song on the 5.1, it ends with other
instruments, but there's two or three little guitar notes that are
"There was one song on the multi-track that
was not usable," Young added. "[During] "Don't Dream It, Be It," from
the point where [Frank-N-Furter] jumps in the pool until "Wild And
Untamed Thing," that chunk of music came from the mono. There were
problems with the multi-track right there. Again, some tracks had been
mysteriously punched in on, and there were instruments that were
The final challenge that Young faced in
remastering the music for the 5.1 version of The Rocky Horror
Picture Show involved the film"s
signature tune. A shortened version of "The Time Warp" featuring a
saxophone overdub was used over the closing credits of the film " but
was nowhere to be found on the multi-track music tapes. "Even if I
could emulate the same edit that they did " shorten it " I didn't have
the sax solo anywhere on any of my sources. The only way that we could
maintain the same version of "Time Warp" at the very end would be to
put the mono through the stereo conversion process," Young explained.
"But not only would it change the stereo imaging, but there [would be]
a noticeable and significant difference in the fidelity" So the
alternative that I came up with is what you hear" I said, "I can't
recreate that precisely, but I can do an instrumental, edited-down
version of 'Time Warp.' It's a poor substitute as far as content, but
as far as fidelity, at least we'd be ending on a high fidelity,
consistent imaging, really kick-ass, punchy version of it."
After the 5.1 music stem was finished, it was
time to add the dialog and sound effects, which existed only in mono on
the DME. Chace Productions" solution for converting mono to 5.1 is the
Chace Digital Stereo process. With this system, "stereo programmers"
design cues which add directionality and ambience to mono sources.
"Eric Johnson is the stereo programmer who programmed the Chace Digital
Stereo for the track," Young says, adding that Chace"s Chief Stereo
Product Specialist, John Blum contributed as well. "There's not a whole
lot of directional movement in this film," he notes, but there are a
few distinct examples. "Like when Eddie comes out on his motorcycle,
you hear the motorcycle pan. And during the thunderstorm outside the
castle, you hear there's placement of the thunder in surrounds... All
the effects that are stereo, or that have stereo ambience to them, were
created with the Chace Digital Stereo process."
The final step in remastering is to combine
the restored and edited elements into a final mix master in a dubbing,
or re-recording, stage. Chace Productions has their own facility for
re-recording, and this is where The Rocky Horror Picture Show was completed. "We went to the Rick Chace
Theatre, which is a THX [certified] dubbing stage. And we used the mono
dialog and the mono effects " through the Chace Digital Stereo®
processor " and the mixed stereo music " 5.1 music " and created a new
5.1 English master."
"Hopefully people listening to it will hear
the same movie," Young says. "I spent a lot of time and effort trying
to maintain editorial consistency. And again, at any time where we felt
like maybe we were going too far, or whatever, we had the safety net of
the original mono, which had been cleaned up as best we could. And it
was going to be right there on the DVD."
This kind of attention to detail and respect
for the original work is important on all projects at Chace
Productions. "Even if we take an old mono track and we create a new
5.1, when you sit down and listen to the 5.1 track, it should sound
like the same movie it always has sounded like, in many respects,"
Young says. "As a company and as a remastering department, that's our
primary guide in the way we approach something."
As far as The Rocky Horror Picture Show is concerned, fans have responded quite
favorably to the remastered version. James Young, however, is happy
just to have been a part of the project. "I'm glad that people are
pleased with it, but more important to me is that I had a good time
doing it. And I'm going to have a good time listening to it," he says.
"That's what makes this job enjoyable, is these projects that come
through. It was a lot of fun."
-written by Derek Miner
Special thanks to Ruth Fink-Winter of www.crazedimaginations.com.
Derek Miner can be reached at