Saturday, March 7, 2015

Vintage Cartoon Digital Restoration Demo

I've recently had a request for more information about how to do digital restorations of animation art. This is of particular interest for those who would like to have their own copy of a particularly rare image but can't afford or don't need to own 'an "original".

The method is basically the same one Disney's "Ink and Paint" girls would use to create the image in the first place, except rather than starting with line art, we use a digital image - although if you have uncolored line art, you could use it also and try to paint by the numbers.

The best way to explain this is to do a step by step demonstration.

I use Macs in nearly everything I do that involves images. My desktop system is an older 17" iMac. My favorite image editing software is Pixelmator, which is available on the AppStore.

Let's pick a badly deteriorated image to use. I found this one by searching for "Donald Gets Drafted" on the web. BTW - Auction galleries often have very high quality images on their web sites before and after the auction. It's best to use larger images, if you can find them.

Tired, old, crazed, Donald
The first step is to upscale and resample the image to at least 600 dpi.

This is important because we want to blend out the jagged edges and be able to precisely remove the blemishes in the images. At 600 dpi we're at twice the resolution of a laser printer and 9 times the resolution of most computer screens, and twice the resolution of a Retina display. At that level of detail a lot of the jaggedness bends out, particularly when printing.

If we zoom in on the image the colors are much less chunky and pixilated.

Next, we pick an area to restore. With animation cells the colors are typically even and consistent - the subtle tonal and hue blending, which gives images a fully formed 3D look, wasn't used until Disney made the move to CGI.

Let's pick an easy area to start with. Donald's hands have well formed outlines and areas of good color to pick from.

Magic Wand Tool

Pixelmator's Magic Wand Tool is very handy - it grabs all the pixels which are similar in color and tone in an area and groups them. Select the tool, it's the one that looks like a Magic Wand, point to the middle of the colored area you want to work on, mouse down and drag until the dashed outline grows to include as much of the area as you can get, without spilling over into other colors.

Eyedropper Tool
The Eyedropper Tool lets you pick the color of individual pixels and apply it to any of the painting tools. In this case we're going to grab a color off one of Donald's gloves that we think looks fairly true to the original.  I grabbed the one with an RGB value of 205 194 166, as seen in the text of the circular target window.

Use the Paintbrush tool to fill the area inside the dashed lines with the color you just grabbed with the Eyedropper Tool. (You can resize the brush if you want to.)

Paintbrush Tool 

The next step is to clean up the darker areas the Magic Wand Tool missed. 

Select Deselect All from the Edit Menu and use the Paintbrush Tool to clean up any other areas.

Now Donald's left glove is full of fresh color.

Keep going... Fill in all the other areas which would have been the same color; Donald's body and face.

Next we clean up his tunic, hat and gun.

Select an area to restore, grab a color that looks the least "dirty", fill in the area, touch up the smaller blemishes. In every case the process is the same; pick an area to fix, pick a color to use, size the paintbrush and fill in the color. You can also use the Smudge Tool, but it's more difficult because it mixes the colors.

Eventually we get here...

Here's where we started, for comparison.

Obviously this sort of thing is subject to personal taste and interpretation regarding colors. It typically takes me one to three hours to get an 8 x 10 image cleaned up. The great thing about animation cells is that there weren't millions of colors used. Disney simply didn't have time for that. With thousands of cells to create daily, the process had to be fast.

You've just become a Digital Restorationist!

Next time, I'll show you how modern inkjet technology levels the playing field in medium format printing and opens the way for you to have your own restored attraction poster collection!

By the way, there is a great article in Vanity Fair on the Ink and Paint Girls called Coloring the Kingdom.