From fixing stains in the Millennium Falcon (in a way that doesn’t upset Star Wars fans), to preserving the legacy of one of America’s greatest sitcoms, Marco Fernandez has been through Hollywood helping to restore some of cinema’s most loved films and TV shows. He recounts stories of carefully painting back Arnold Schwarzenegger’s behind in The Terminator and what the future of restoration could be, whether its changing ratio perspectives or how the integration of AI is opening up possibilities with the new Loki 2.0.
IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
Although he was the ‘new guy’ at Lowry Digital (now owned by Reliance MediaWorks), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) arrived at the same time he did and was one of the first projects he was a part of – ‘it was really cool, (restoration is great because you’re) working with films and nostalgia’.
One of the difficulties Marco faced when restoring Star Wars was that the technology would mistake stars in the galaxy for dust, so he would have to go back and manually return each one: ‘it got pretty tedious’. There were also stains on shots of the Millennium Falcon and going back and forth trying to fix the iconic ship – you want all your parts there when jumping through hyperspace…
Star Wars fans are famously protective of the original cuts, with many of the re-releases receiving criticism for making too many changes or updates. In 1997, for the franchise’s 20th anniversary, Director George Lucas made changes to the original cut that he wasn’t happy with, and made even more changes to further releases in 2004 and 2011, with changes ranging from CGI to music to inserting Hayden Christensen’s ghost, as well as many others.
‘With this job we are always trying to toe the line with some benefit of doubt for the quality. You find compromise with what the Director is envisaging in the amount of time you are given to work on it. You want to stay a little later in the day or come in early just so you don’t have to compromise that quality. I guess only time will tell what new audiences will respond well too’.
Fans have even put together Star Wars: The Despecialized Edition in protest as a fan-created film preservation of the original trilogy, with the project’s leader, Harmáček, claiming that these alterations to the film constituted ‘an act of cultural vandalism’.
“I’LL BE BACK”
Another American classic he restored was the The Terminator (1984), the sci-fi action film that launched the careers of Director James Cameron and lead actor Arnold Schwarzenegger who plays a cyborg assassin sent back in time to kill the woman who will birth a son who will one day save mankind from a hostile AI in a post-apocalyptic future.
Its legacy was confirmed in 2008 when the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. The Terminator redefined science fiction and action despite initially being dismissed as a B movie, with a scope and complexity that equals and imitations have not been able to match.
Schwarzneggar himself was sceptical at first for the movie’s success, he told GQ recently, but then after he watched the first 20 minutes of edits he realized ‘this is really intense, this is wild, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before…this could be bigger than we all think’.
Despite only having 17 lines amounting to 55 words, including the iconic line “I’ll be back”, Schwarzenegger commanded the heartless and glorious character – Cameron even commented that ‘somehow, even his accent worked … It had a strange synthesized quality, like they hadn’t gotten the voice thing quite worked out’.
Marco goes through his experience and recounts a certain story: ’I was working on restoring the film with the company’s limited tools on their proprietary software and I remember a brush stroke helped extrapolate both sides and give you a clean fix. I was given all the intro shots so I was working on the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger comes out of the cocoon and he is butt naked, and I’m stroking my pen trying to fix the image thinking, “What am I doing here?”.’
The 2017 restoration available on Blu-Ray includes no less than three versions: the original theatrical release (James Cameron’s preferred version), the special edition, and the extended special edition that includes The Future coda ending.
ALEXA PLAY ‘CREEP’ BY RADIOHEAD
Marco recently used Phoenix for restoring the classic horror film Creepshow (1982), the horror comedy anthology film that was Stephen King’s screenwriting debut. Consisting of five short stories and inspired by the EC horror comics of the 50s like Tales of the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, director George Romero hired long-time effects specialist Tom Saving to replicate comic-like effects.
‘The tools were just incredible. It did such a great job recognising and distinguishing artefacts because with older films there are scenes that are really challenging. With Creepshow, there was a scene by a beach and it did a great job distinguishing what was sand and what was dust. I was very proud and honoured of that film and Phoenix was definitely the key factor there’.
Marco’s prediction for the future of restoration is dependant on the advancement of technology, suggesting automated workstations – like the upcoming Loki 2.0 – will be crucial to how the industry will look like. Loki 2.0 supercharges your workflows by removing time-consuming manual restoration tasks by running the image-processing algorithms automatically.
Once enhanced, upscaled, and digitised, this content will then give you back the opportunity to rediscover small gems you may not have known of, and recycle this footage into something new and equally incredible. Marco mentions the looming presence of AI in the film industry, citing the recent writers strikes – but to stay ahead of the curve, you want to be able to use the technology that everyone is talking about.
“I DON’T WANT TO BE A PIRATE”
Seinfeld (1989-1998) was also restored by Marco, all 180 episodes, and he ‘touched every single one’ of this iconic American sitcom that ran through the 90s. Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the show focuses on a fictionalised version of Seinfeld’s personal life and his encounters with his three friends – whilst many said it was a ‘show about nothing’ with focuses on everyday trivialities, many consider it one of the greatest shows ever made.
When Marco began working on it, the original footage arrived in different forms, with the earlier seasons in different film cans and then once the production company had more budget, the celluloid films were upgraded to better quality. Marco jokes that there’s a saying in the industry that “you find your perfect workflow once you finish the project”, because there’s always twists and turns when you embark on a project.
‘I remember at the time the tools we were using would chew out too much so we were going back with highlights and things like that that had to be placed back in. But sometimes you don’t see how the colour is going to be on our restoration screens so I’ve gotten to work alongside some incredible colorists to work hand in hand to see what is best for the TV show’.
Working on the restoration meant that Marco got to see the two different actors who plays George Constanza: whilst fans may know him as being played by Jerry Stiller, he was first cast with John Randolph, with his debut in the 22nd episode of Season 4, “The Handicap Spot.”. The not-so-subtle switch around was attempted to be covered up by re-shooting some scenes, but the Season 4 DVD release of Seinfeld includes both versions.
‘All of a sudden his dad switches right in the middle of the episode as if people aren’t going to notice – I didn’t know what the schematics were but all of a sudden one man replaces the dad sitting on the couch. We had to wait for that footage to figure out which episode they wanted and needed to clean both of them to compare and figure out how they want to go about it’.
WHAT’S THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE?
When Netflix added Seinfeld to their roster in 2021, it was met with some criticism by fans for changing the aspect ratio. Originally filmed to be shown with 4:3, which looks more square, it’s been re-adapted to fit our HD TVs and is shown in a wider, more rectangular perspective of 16:9. Although it fits our screens more, it means viewers lose the tops and bottoms of the screen – one critic joked that “we will never see Jerry’s sneakers again!”.
A little bit of film history for you: when film cameras were first being popularised the aspect ratio was 1.33:1, which means the width is 1.33 times its height, and as such TV screens mimicked this presentation and were built relatively square. With the advent of 35mm film stock became bigger to accommodate sound, so the ratio changed to 1.37:1, and became known as the Academy ratio. What’s more, as TV began to become increasingly popular, there was a movement to make the distinction and so film became wider (1.78:1).
Marco looks to the future and ruminates on the possibilities of even further changing aspect ratios – ‘laptop screens are changing, you can now have desktops and TVs that are curved, the integration of VR headsets, how are we going to adapt to that?’
Amongst other projects that Marco is proud to be a part of is a credit in The Godfather (1972) restoration, Heavy Metal (1981) the amalgamation of sci-fi and fantasy stories that now has cult status, Ready Player One (2018) which earned nominations for Best Visual Effects at the 91st Academy Awards, 24th Critics’ Choice Awards, and 72nd British Academy Film Awards. Whilst he was at Larry Digital he also worked on some Disney classics, like Dumbo (1941), Peter Pan (1953) and Snow White (1937).
He also helped out with the production of Avatar (2009), ‘testing out how to create clean plates for the 3D version and trying to paint out characters using clone tools and things you would use in restoration – the technology allowed us to extrapolate as much information from these plates as we could’. Whilst people would assume restoration is solely used for older movies, the skills, tools and techniques can be moulded, manipulated, and used for other areas, opening up a whole field of potential ideas.