As Disney’s 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea prepares for its voyage into the deep sea of digital restoration, one is reminded of the words of the hit film’s narrator as he boarded the Nautilus for the first time: “There is great genius behind all this.” With restoration of picture completed successfully under Studio Mastering’s Theo Gluck and Jayson Wall, the project was carefully handed over to the audio experts, the Digital Studio Services’ Audio Migration team. Through careful deliberation and thoughtful collaboration, audio was restored to its 1954 glory and an experience was delivered for modern listening. Here’s how it was done!
The goal of the audio migration process was to accurately reproduce the original, physical recordings in order to make the audio available for today’s digital formats. To start, the original 35mm, 4-track stereo magnetic film masters, created in 1954, were recalled from storage and cleaned in preparation for a final, critical transfer to digital audio wav files. Once prepared, the 35mm mag masters were transferred to ProTools at 24 bit, 48khz. To ensure the success of the transfer, the mag masters were played back, utilizing the Sondor mag playback machine. The transfer was performed under controlled monitoring conditions.
Sound Engineering was also consulted on the project. Through the historical research efforts of Chief Engineer, Steve Boze, the original recording curve was confirmed, resulting in an accurate reproduction of the original recording. With all of the research notes from Sound Engineering in mind, initial evaluations were done with Brian Saunders and re-recording mixer, Dave Concors in the critical listening Suite of Animation 1. According to Concors, “The research paved the way for a track that was more realistic in its high frequency response.”
During the initial evaluation, it was decided that only minor editorial fixes that distracted from the content would be made. Essentially, the effort was to smooth reel joins, remove larger optical and/or digital “ticks” and repair dropouts as needed. This was handled by audio migration editor, Randy Babajtis. Concors deliberately kept original levels, track layouts and perspectives intact. To ensure the integrity of the original recording, only equalization curves and occasional minor digital noise reduction were part of the mix. According to Concors, “No additional information was added to the show to enhance the surrounds. The original track used surrounds sparingly and we used that original track and split it with a phase- coherent plug-in to create a “stereo” field.”
Video restoration + Audio migration = Fantastic Results
The audio migration would yield fantastic results! For those who got the opportunity to see the newly restored 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it was like seeing and hearing it for the first time in 1954. The Mastering team in particular was very pleased with the audio restoration and was blown away when they experienced the true sound of the original recording. Jayson Wall was impressed with the sound and couldn’t have been happier to collaborate with the Audio Migration team. “The research your team performed on getting the correct vintage sound back into the film is simply astonishing,” Wall acclaims, “and it fully complements the original look that Theo and myself put back into the image on our 4k restoration of this classic. I really love how Dave got that nice warm tube mix sound along with applying the original RCA curve back into the track as it sounded in 1954/1955, and I couldn’t be happier! Wow, this track is awesome!!!”
Welcome back to “The mightiest motion picture of them all!”
A standing room only crowd enthusiastically received “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” safely back into harbor in all of its original visual and audible splendor during the TCM Classic Film Festival screening at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Friday, April 13, 2012.
In attendance and speaking to the crowd about the production was Kirk Douglas, who starred in the show as Ned Land. Douglas is seen in this photo along with Theo Gluck, Director: Library Restoration and Preservation, The Walt Disney Studios (left) and Jayson Wall, Project Manager, Library Mastering, Disney Digital Studio Services (right).