Song of the South DVD Project
Converting and preserving classic animation
Why isn't "Song of the South" on DVD? It's truely a Disney classic and deserves to be preserved. Therefore, after checking out one of the available bootlegs and seeing how crappy it was, I decided to do it myself. Why does it always have to come to this? Am I really that picky? But honestdly, the bootleg was really bad and this film deserves better treatment.
So I decided to make my own "Song of the South" DVD. The first step is locating the best source material. I discovered that there is a rare laserdisc from Japan, and an even rarer laserdisc from Hong Kong. Both have their share of problems. And finally, a PAL VHS release in Europe. The bootleg DVD I bought was made from the Hong Kong laserdisc, and I confirmed this by talking with one person who owns it. I even got a DVD copy of it. The Japan laserdisc shows burned-in subtitles ocassionally (usually during the music), but is otherwise near perfect. And the PAL VHS is, well, PAL and VHS... but no subtitles. Since it was the cheapest, I decided to acquire the PAL VHS.
You might think that converting PAL to NTSC is difficult. Well, it is not actually. But you have to know what you are doing. And you have to be able to actually play the PAL VHS and capture it. This proved to be the most challenging part. I searched around and found a nice little Sony PAL VCR which I bought new. Bonus was that it works on U.S. power. Then I had to find some software that allowed me to use my capture card in PAL mode. Virtual VCR (free) did the trick.
So the movie was captured at 720x576 at 25 fps (PAL) using a Hauppauge WinTV card. It was still interlaced, but was easily corrected. I now had 25 fps progressive frames. The framerate was changed to 23.976 and resized to 720x480. The audio was exported and slowed down to match (PAL audio is sped up 4%).
The artwork was created in Illustrator and was based on the VHS artwork. I styled it to match current Disney DVD releases. I got vector logos for the "Disney DVD" logo and other logos I needed. I matched the fonts and colors from my VHS, did a little Photoshop cleanup and I was done. Turned out pretty nice I think.
The DVD menu was created using a still frame from the movie. I rushed that part, but it's not too bad. I may skip the menu altogether next time.
Checking out the other DVDs
I started by ripping the DVD I already had which was a bootleg (http://www.songofthesouthdvdremastered.com/). From talking with an owner of the Hong Kong LD I confirmed that aside from compression artifacts, it was a faithful reproduction of the Hong Kong LD. Too bad, as the LD seems to be a NTSC > PAL conversion done the wrong way. In other words, the pulldown was not undone before resizing the frame and speeding it up.
Here are some grabs from the bootleg DVD, which by the way sucks ass.
The picture of the wolf really shows the compression artifacts. You don't even have to zoom in to notice them. Notice the rectangular shapes. That's called "blocking". You can also tell the color is washed out. Look near his had and his front foot to see the "ghost" image of the last frame.
Here are comparitive frames from my DVD conversion made from the PAL VHS tape. I was a little inexperienced when I made this capture, so the settings could probably be tweaked better. Maybe next time.
The Japanese laserdisc
I've since purchased the Japanese laserdisc. And finally, after tweaking the capture settings for the LD, here are some better captures.
I captured the entire LD with decent capture settings now. I spent some time splicing side-1 with side-2. I had to get out my DVD made from the PAL VHS to compare so that it would be frame accurate. It took a little time because I also made a spiffy AviSynth script to inverse the telecine (3:2 pulldown) pattern. But now it is progressive frames. There were I think five pattern disruptions including the switch to side-2.
Here are some more screen captures, just for fun. I tweaked the saturation up 25%, and darkened the blacks a little. I think it looks better now.
Here are some screen grabs showing the difference between the PAL VHS and the Japanese LD. Notice how the PAL VHS has the opening sequence in a white frame. I wonder why they did that?
Of course, I have to deal with Japanese writing superimposed over the video. This will be a challenge to remove, but I think I will have a go at it. The writing does disappear before this frame goes away, so I have a reference to cut and paste from. The problem is that the writing appears while the camera is panning back from the book.
Here is another frame with Japanese subtitles. The subtitles appear when there is singing.
I spent some time with the artwork. I am thinking about making new DVD artwork based on the Japanese LD. I scanned in both sides of the LD jacket, which was no small feat! Each side had to be scanned in four passes because my scanner is too small for the 12x12" LD artwork. I then had to stitch them together.
Here's how it turned out (scaled down to 600x600)
I'll get around to making DVD artwork from these scans later. I need some time to think about what I want to do.
To match the chapters on the LD, I will have a tedious task. First I start a capture and then play the LD while changing to each chapter. I let it play at each chapter until I see a unique frame I can identify later. Then I go to the next chapter. Later, I compare the frames at each chapter stop to frames in my full movie capture. And I write down the frame number at each chapter stop. It's a pain, but I like it to be just like the LD.
I was checking out my other sources (Hong Kong laserdisc and the PAL VHS), and I like the color balance and levels way better in those sources. So I am experimenting with combining the VHS with the Japan LD. I've done a few quick tests and I think the best result is to combine the chroma of the LD with the luma of the VHS. That way you get all the detail but better colors. I am capturing the VHS again at the moment in hopes of getting a better capture. I know more about how to tweak the capture settings now than the first time I captured it.
For the images below, LD is on the left, VHS is on the right. Ignore the number in the frame. It's only there to help me with the pulldown pattern changes.
You might be wondering, why not just use the HK LD source? Well, the HK LD has its own set of problems. It seems to be an NTSC conversion of a PAL source. Only it was not done in the typical way of using the 3:2 pulldown pattern on a progressive source. Instead, it took a PAL 25 FPS source, and converted it to 29.97 FPS (NTSC) by way of blending. Amazingly, I was able to undo some of the damage thanks to some clever scripting in AviSynth, but I cannot get it perfect. Strangely, the odd field makes a perfect conversion, so if I were making a VCD, I could do a nice one. But the even field is plagued with blending frames. I fixed some of it, but I cannot fix all of it. It's wierd.
I may be able to use the HK LD for the chroma only, even if I just use the even field. Or maybe I will use the VHS.
I made a new capture of my VHS tape. I did it without using the TBC (I have an AV Tools AVT-8710 TBC). I got the levels looking great! But I get this dark band across the bottom of the frame, plus the usual VHS field shifting. So I hooked up the TBC and captured it again and the dark band is gone, the field shifting is stabilized, but the levels get all out of whack! I tinkered and tinkered with the TBC's settings and I can't get it right. It's losing subtle details in the bright colors. I believe the whitest whites are getting digitally clipped. I think I need a better TBC. Why can't this ever be easy?
See below, the left image is the new VHS capture without using the TBC. The right image is captured using the TBC and the best tweaking I can do to the settings. Look particularly at the detail lost in his teeth.
I synced up my LD with my VHS frame for frame. Many of the splices did not match, so I had to add frames to the LD. It has become clear to me that the VHS source material was superier to the LD source material. It appears the LD was made from a first gen copy of a broadcast tape. The colors are washed out, the dark details are mostly gone, and there are missing frames in certain places. And on top of that I think the VHS has more image in the frame!
Now I have added the Buena Vista title card back into the movie. It had been removed from the Japanese LD, but was still present in the HK LD and the PAL VHS tape. So I took a nice clean frame from the HK LD and made a new title card sequence. I spliced it in seamlessly and edited the audio as well.
A good friend of mine knows Japanese pretty well, so I asked him to translate the text on the back cover of the LD. Now I can make some decent artwork for the DVD and the menu.
British TV broadcast
I just acquired a DVD recording from British TV. It's amazing quality and far surpasses the HK laserdisc. But it is also a PAL conversion done wrong. Strangely, it appears to have been done a different way than the HK LD. This is a PAL recording of an NTSC source played back at real time. So the running time is correct, not shortened. But there are still blended frames. I think I can work with this.
Here are some caps from the British TV broadcast. I've resized them and converted them to NTSC as best as possible. One thing I notice right away is the right side of the frame is cropped considerably compared to the LD and VHS sources I have.
I just spent the morning sync'ing the LD audio with the VHS audio. I consider the VHS audio a reference as far as timing goes. Now that it's synced up to the LD, I plan to replace the VHS audio with the LD audio. I may make other improvements as well such as bringing in the audio from the soundtrack CD if possible. But for now this is the audio I will be using.
I've had to make some corrections to the VHS video. Being a proper PAL video, it was progressive. Except the even and odd fields were in different frames. I manually undid the interlaced frames simply by shifing the odd field by one frame. That gave me progressive frames throughout the movie. But one scene still needed several manual corrections. I also found several single interlaced frames throughout the movie. So given only half the fields, I was forced to bob those. Now I need to spend some time and make sure the audio is still in sync. And of course I will have to redo the LD audio to match.
I now have on loan a better TBC, a DataVideo TBC-1000. I captured my UK VHS tape yet again and the levels are much better. But now it is flagging at the top of the frame. Also, the fields jump every now and then. If I had to I could correct it, but it would be a very tedious manual process. And I would have to paste in the un-TBCed frame at the top to take care of the flagging. This is all because of my worn out UK VHS tape. I deliberately bought a worn out one because this started as an experiment and this wornout tape was so cheap. I may look around for a better quality tape now.
I managed to win an auction for the French version VHS. I should receive it in the mail sometime this week. This one is new, so I expect much better quality captures from it... especially through the better TBC. I will also be redoing the artwork slightly since more of the back cover image is visible in the French version. Br'er Bear's leg and the briar patch at the bottom can now be seen.
I finally managed to get the footage out of the "Alice in Wonderland" DVD. It's quite nice, actually, and longer than I thought it would be. Screen caps coming soon.
I just bought a better TBC. It's a Prime Image Freeze II (Model 50II). This is a higher end TBC than my old one, which is an AV Tools AVT-871. This one is intended for professional use, possibly broadcast. My hope is that it will yield better results with regard to the whites. The old TBC seemed to cap the white levels too low, losing some detail. I will report more after it arrives in the mail and I have a chance to hook it up.