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Hell Drivers

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Hell Drivers starring Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan, Peggy Cummins and a young Sean Connery, was shot mostly in and around Pinewood Studios in 1957, so it seems fitting for the new 2016 restoration to be completed at the iconic studios. Commissioned by the BFI, the work was carried out by Pinewood's award-winning archive and restoration team, as part of Pinewood's role as a preferred supplier to the BFI.

Thanks to the BFI National Archive's preservation of an original, eight-perforation fine grain positive, printed from the original negative in 1957, Pinewood Restoration and the BFI were able to work from the best existing source.

To ensure that every frame of Hell Drivers was restored to its full glory, the restoration team at Pinewood utilised a Northlight Pin registered scanner with a custom 8 perf VistaVision gate, which was specially developed by Northlight's research and development team in partnership with Pinewood.

Utilizing the eight-perforation fine grain positive, printed from the original negative in 1957, Pinewood Restoration scanned open gate at 6K resolution. Though the BFI originally commissioned 4K scans, the Pinewood team and the BFI decided it would be best to scan the film as 6330 x 4280 at 10 bit due to the film being originally shot as VistaVision. This resulted in richer scans, giving the grader the opportunity to present the photography in its glistening tones. However, this process took 10 hours per 10 minutes of run time, with the total raw scans being approximately 20 Terabytes of data. The final graded files were resized to 2k (2048 x 1556) reducing the 110-minute film to a manageable 2 TB master file.

VistaVision used 35mm film stock in the camera, but ran it horizontally so that images were captured across an area usually encountered in still photography: almost 36mm side by 24mm high. After production and editing, the original negative was printed optically to make a 35mm film master in the usual 'geometry'. The result was an image fitting within the standard four-perforation height and running vertically, this could be duplicated and run in cinemas without additional lenses. Widescreen projection was achieved from a print that was compatible with existing equipment.

The photo lab technique to make the 35 VistaVision element had several defects, this manifested as light horizontal lines or 'd-lines' throughout the film, caused by particles of dirt trapped in the exposure gate at the time of printing. To minimize these defects, the BFI and Pinewood Restoration were able to utilize a combination of key framing and power windows during the grading process, to reduce the imperfections. The processes took many hours of extra care and attention and demonstrates the willingness of the Pinewood Restoration and the BFI to go the extra mile in order to deliver a gold standard restoration.

The digital cleaning process took more than six months and required three operators using PFClean restoration stations. Over this period, elements such as dirt, sparkle and flicker were removed and shots were stabilised. The grain structure of the film has been left intact with no noise or grain removal, which from a restoration viewpoint, was important to retain the film's original visuals. By adopting a more sensitive approach, Pinewood Restoration and the BFI were able to achieve a sharper and more detailed restoration, rather than taking a digital sledgehammer to the whole restoration process.

Simultaneously at the BFI, a sound source that matched the VistaVision copy was needed – which is of the original UK release and not the shortened US version. Fortunately, three 35mm copies in ITV's collection were loaned for analysis and the best track from those was digitised at very high specification for mastering and equalisation. Respecting the characteristics of the original mono mix, noise was reduced and the clicks and pops from particles on the track have been removed.

The Pinewood Restoration team was led by Patrick Wilbraham, Head of Archive and Restoration, project manager Jon Mann, along with Jashesh Jhaveri who handled digital delivery, Nick Melville, Lucie Hancock and Rob Langridge who were responsible for PFClean, Jason Stephens who handled audio conform and colourist, Michael Davis.

Hell Drivers revolves around the drifters and dropouts working at Hawletts haulage company, including ex-con Tom (Stanley Baker). As the drivers compete to hit their daily delivery quotas, speed is everything and if you can't keep up, you're out. Red, played by Patrick McGoohan, is the most experienced driver and a competitive dynamic soon evolves when Tom decides he wants to break Red's record of 18 runs. This challenge sets pace for the rest of the film.

This article is also available to read at BFV online as part of this issue's Archive feature here, page 14.

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