You know what they say – no project is ever finished. You just stop working on it. Case in point – my recent restoration / upscale of Jammin’ the Blues.
Of course – sometimes that break lasts only until fresh inspiration comes along or, as in this case, you stumble on a better source to use for the project, and you feel obliged to start it again from scratch.
TLDR: I’ve massively improved on my Jammin’ the Blues upscale / restoration. More after the fold.
Quick note – if you haven’t yet watched Jammin’ the Blues, you are in for a treat. Nearly eighty years later, it’s still one of the finest and most beautiful jazz films ever made.
Cutting to the Chase
The geeky stuff is below, but first – here’s the result. To appreciate it full, make sure you watch it in full screen mode, on as large a screen as you have available.
If you don’t want the geek stuff, just skip to the end for the video.
I bought a new DVD boxset! It’s a treasure trove of jazz and swing shorts – and it includes Jammin’ the Blues. As far as I know, there are three versions available on DVD and blu-ray. One is terrible (the official Jammin’ the Blues DVD) One is decent (it’s on Blues in the Night, and Passage to Marseilles, amongst others). The one I just got is, I am fairly sure, from the same scan of the film as those two – it’s just been compressed ever so slightly less. I say “fairly”, as it’s cropped slightly differently – but it does have a couple of giveaways to suggest it’s actually from the same source.
When I worked on my first version, one of my main measures of success was Prez’ pinstripes. In the first long shot where the camera pulls away from Prez, as it gets to the end – the pinstripes tended to merge into one big gray mass. When I started work on it, if I could keep them looking like pinstripes, I felt I was getting somewhere – and that took a fair bit of doing. Then I saw this version and looked at the pinstripes – and realised I needed to restart the project.
This might not look like a huge difference – but if we zoom in a little, it might become clearer – see how those pinstripes on Prez’ lapel become so much clearer! Another oddity is that the positions are slightly different – the new version sits a little lower in the frame – the cropping is a little different. The new one is also very slightly brighter.
And it probably helped that I’ve been learning a few new tricks about video restoration tools since I did this one – although I still have a long long way to go.
In case you’re wondering how the above translates to upscaling – the difference is night and day. A small difference in the source can make a huge difference after upscaling. The example below shows a 2x upscale of each version.
This time around it was easier. Much easier. Except, of course, when it wasn’t. The hardest sections were the light-background scenes – where all the film grain becomes glaringly obvious – I think it stands out more because the grain, while still present, is much harder to see in the dark sections. No matter how good the method, remove the grain from the light sections, and you’re left with a horrible flickering mess. In my previous version, I found some pretty over-the-top ways to deal with it. Those inevitably brought their own problems – and it was all in all a very tricky process – and the final light background was a bit *too* stark. This time I found a much nicer way, which I think has left a bit more of the original lighting, and just looks a little softer and more natural. It’s also less damaging to Marie Bryant’s hair. Here’s a comparison:
The overall aim was to improve one some of the bits that didn’t quite work last time, and to give it a slightly more natural look, while trying to keep the lighting as close to the original as possible. I think I’ve succeeded better this time around – certainly I’m a lot happier with the result.
Thank you for getting this far through the geekery, and very happy viewing to you!
Software used, for the curious – Topaz Video Enhance AI for the resolution upscaling, Final Cut Pro for various bits of editing and putting various bits together, RIFE for increasing the framerate to make it all smoother, Vapoursynth to get rid of the flickering and for a little more upscaling, and ffmpeg for various bits of conversion, resizing and so on.
The Previous Version
If you do want to compare it to the first one I did – here you go.