Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Thief & The Cobbler - The Recobbled Cut - Part 2

Garrett Gilchrist's Recobbled Cut

Independent film maker Garrett Gilchrist has spent many years trying to re-assemble the original director's cut of one of the great might-have-been animated feature films - The Thief and the Cobbler. In this second part of our interview (you can see the first part here), Garrett explains what inspired him to create his latest version of The Thief: The  Recobbled Cut - Mark 4.

FLIP: Your latest version of the original Director's Cut is titled The Recobbled Cut - Mark 4. Why now and what makes this one different from previous Recobbled Cuts?

GG: Back in 2006-7, I revised the film a bunch of times. Fred Calvert's version of the movie, The Princess and the Cobbler, we didn't have that in widescreen. Someone found us a timecoded VHS tape and I revised those scenes for the Mark 2. In 2007, we heard from an animator who had rescued 49 minutes of 35mm film from Jean MacCurdy's trash at Warner Bros. It was all early Thief and the Cobbler stuff, the scenes he showed to impress them and get the job making the film. 21 minutes of it is in the edit. It's mostly material of the Thief himself, most of his adventures, including everything inside the War Machine. That worked out amazingly well since The Thief footage was heavily cut by Calvert, throughout the film, and it plugged a lot of gaps. The Old Witch too, and some of ZigZag and everyone else. We raised some money with the help of Patrick McCart and everyone on our forums, and transferred all that to video along with Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, a 1977 movie Richard Williams mostly directed which isn't on DVD, and also The Little Island, Dick's first animated movie from 1958, which is wonderful. We'd never seen it before then. And I re-did and improved a lot of other stuff and that became the Recobbled Cut Mark 3.

Our copies of the workprint had always been pretty terrible. The copy used for the previous Recobbled Cuts was posted anonymously as an AVI via the file sharing protocol Emule. It's heavily compressed and blocky, making the pencil tests nearly unwatchable, much of the film's audio is missing or damaged, and for literally half the film, two frames are smudged together as one, making the visuals a muddy mess.

It was clearly taken from a high quality PAL VHS tape, and if we only had a VHS tape like that we could get all the original frames back and finally have a fully-watchable copy of the workprint, and therefore the film.

A few years passed, and Kevin Schreck was making his documentary. I spoke to an animator named Simon Maddocks, who had animated two complex shots for the film. One of an enormous iron killing soldiers in the War Machine, and one shot that had always fascinated me - the entire Golden City turning around as the camera swoops in through it and up to the three Golden Balls that define the story. Amazingly complex animation which was technically never quite finished in color, and doesn't appear in the Calvert versions.
The Golden City

Simon had pencil tests of this material, which show his amazing work in greater clarity than ever before. He had pencil and color tests of footage we hadn't even seen before, and certainly in greater quality. He had deleted scenes of the Brigands.

And he had the entire workprint on PAL VHS in very good quality. The difference was astonishing, and exactly what we'd been looking for all these years.

I met a German video restorationist named Christoph Nass at the Doom9 video forums and he began filtering and restoring the clean VHS workprint to get the most quality possible out of it. He then got to work on all the other footage, and by now he's worked for a year on it.

Meanwhile, 14 minutes of 35mm footage turned up - two reels on Ebay, and a German trailer. It happened that the reels were bought by film restorationist Peter C. in the UK, who paid to transfer them to 1080p HD quality himself. He also transferred a 16mm print of Richard's Oscar-winning A Christmas Carol.

Ebeneezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. 1971

The trailer was acquired by Helge Bernhardt in Germany, who used his own home-made scanner to scan the trailer at 5k.

Suddenly we had our first HD footage from The Thief and the Cobbler.

I also realized that there were shots I'd left out of the Mark 3 Recobbled Cut, and scenes I could have edited more clearly. It took me all these years to really understand the opening sequence and what was needed! I asked original animator Andreas Wessel-Therhorn to come back and draw new material of the "hands" for the opening.

The Hands, the unfinished opening sequence from The Thief

FLIP: That sounds like a ton of work. How large of an undertaking has it been?

GG: Pretty large. It was very clear to me that this restoration would have to be much more ambitious than the previous ones. I would remove dirt and splices by hand throughout the entire film. I would make all transitions from VHS to DVD quality seamless, by carefully warping and color correcting all the footage to match, and very carefully recreating lost frames in Photoshop. We would create new artwork, new elements, to restore shots and tell the story more clearly in the way it was meant to be told. I would follow Dick's workprint even more closely. The storyboards are dirt-free now, and the pencil tests perfectly clear.

One night, I was very carefully removing splices, dirt, film breaks and damage from the 35mm footage we'd transferred back in 2007. I cleaned up 96 frames that night. I've thrown all that out now, because I've realized just how bad that 35mm transfer really was. It's cropped at the top and bottom, it's overly blue, it's missing highlight detail, it's compressed and full of ghosting … it's terrible.

I decided if we were going to work for months removing splices and damage from this 35mm material that we should do it on a full HD transfer or better, something that could be shown on the big screen. Something that's future-proof. Something that does this film justice, and is ready for Blu-Ray, private big screen screenings, and - dare I say it - any official release that might happen in the future.

So, just like in 2007, I asked my forum to donate. Marcus B and Christoph Nass (our filtering restorationist), Mat Fitzpatrick, Sam Sleiman, Richard Hayes and twenty others all donated. So we're getting the footage transferred again. Hopefully at 5k. I've already mailed off the money.

There will be about 30 minutes of HD footage in this cut, much more if you count deleted scenes. We're going to clean it up, remove splices and damage. You'll finally be able to see scenes like the War Machine in the full big-screen quality that Richard Williams intended.

The One Eye War Machine

FLIP: What software are you using to put it all together?

GG: I'm a Mac loyalist. I'm also a frustrated artist and filmmaker who never knew how to find work "out there," so I'm usually pretty poor. I had the same computer, a silver Mac G4, from 2003 until recently. Now I'm using a Mac built from PC parts by a friend. Finally having a modern computer has been a great relief and has allowed me to really spread my wings on this edit and do it justice.

The editing is being done in Final Cut Pro 7. The previous cuts used Final Cut Pro 4. Artwork and frame restoration is being done in Photoshop CS6. More unusual work is being done in AfterEffects CS6. I've used a hundred different points to warp the workprint footage until it matches the DVD footage exactly. Now I can transition seamlessly from one source to the other.

I'm using Magic Bullet Denoiser and the CHV Repair Collection for dirt removal, which the forum bought for me. I also use MPEG Streamclip, Audacity, Compressor, and ffmpeg.

The Cobbler

FLIP: How difficult has it been to re-assemble all the missing elements?

GG: Pretty difficult. We have a VHS tape that Fred Calvert put together when he was starting work on ruining the film. It has a bunch of shots we don't see anywhere else, but they're extremely low quality. In many cases I've gone through very carefully frame by frame using Photoshop, just to get it to the point where you can even sort of see what's going on.

Also, pulling shots from animators' pencil test videos is very difficult, because those are shot on video and tend to be extremely low quality when you start working with them.

Some shots are taken from a VHS color test reel shot on video. Since these are just tests, they don't match the beautiful cinematography of the finished film and are often missing elements. In a bunch of cases, there is scotch tape over the background, and it takes a lot of work to remove that tape, using difference mattes and Photoshop trickery.

It's very difficult and time consuming to color correct these very different sources so that they even start to match. Results are never perfect. They also have to be warped and reshaped to match.

I've done little bits of animation in AfterEffects - like putting a backscratcher into The Thief's hands, when Calvert had shot the footage without one. I've added back lightning to a shot of the King ordering his soldiers around, when it was missing in our best copy. Lots of shots require new things added to them. I rotoscoped a spike sticking out of a Dying Soldier's chest that Calvert had removed, frame by frame. I think we're going to be adding back some bananas that Nanny is carrying. Or closing Tack's mouth, or YumYum's, or Nanny, so they're not talking when they shouldn't. Little things like that, that require some sort of minor new animation just so the story makes sense again.

The Princess Yum Yum

FLIP: Are there missing parts you would still like to get hold of?

GG: Most definitely. We're still working from poor quality VHS and DVD sources for the most part, and that Arabian Knight DVD has blown-out highlights and leaves a lot to be desired. An actual 35mm print of either Arabian Knight or The Princess and the Cobbler would be invaluable, as would a copy of Richard Williams' 35mm workprint from 1992.

But even that workprint is incomplete. Richard Williams completed a lot more footage in color than we get to actually see in that workprint, or Calvert's versions. We often have poor quality copies of shots, or incomplete copies, or no copies at all.

The Recobbled Cut is a case of making the most of the footage we have, which varies quite wildly in quality - from nearly unwatchable VHS to very good VHS to pretty bad DVD to very good big-screen quality, now.

I'm not sure what exactly still exists from the film. When Richard was fired from the film, the Completion Bond Company took everything away, at least that they were aware of, and the animation houses in Korea tended to throw everything away as shots were "completed." Richard himself had never been a packrat and threw out older material all the time. I am not sure if he managed to keep or acquire a full 35mm copy of the film at any point. Princess and the Cobbler and Arabian Knight were not released in theaters in any serious way, so prints will be extremely scarce. When Miramax bought the film, apparently - according to Alex Williams, anyway - all the elements and artwork they intended to keep were stored in the Disney archives - a "bunker in Burbank."

The Thief and the Cobbler started life as an entirely different film called Nasruddin, or The Majestic Fool, most of which is probably lost now, although who knows? Certainly we've found deleted scenes from earlier incarnations of The Thief film on these various 35mm reels and VHS tapes.

It would take an official release to look into Disney's archive and see what they have, or see what anyone else has. The fact is that this is old material, some of it dating back decades, and it needs to be preserved before it's faded into obsolescence.

In the meantime, we have managed to track down 30+ minutes of 35mm footage. Add that to a 35mm print of any full version of the movie and you really have something.


FLIP: Do you have any hopes of a theatrical release?

GG: Well, that's the question. I've kept my hopes up for any sort of release. We haven't even had a widescreen DVD release of the terrible versions of the film, outside Japan. The Weinstein Company has put out a DVD that is cropped, oversaturated, and Aladdin-themed, and which I suspect is bad on purpose.

Someone needs to buy back the rights, which are a bit murky right now after the dissolution of Miramax. That someone might be Richard Williams himself, if the companies in question would let him have the film, and if he'd be still be interested and able to revisit that dark chapter in his stellar career. Either that or a big fan with money.

While I can't know the mind of anyone there, and am basing this on almost no information, I suppose it depends on what sort of mood you catch the Weinstein Company in, or Disney or whoever you're dealing with. The people who were running Disney then are not running it now, and there are certainly people there who'd like to see this film released properly, just as I'm sure there are those who'd like to see it buried forever (and will probably speak louder when that time comes). I can imagine them raising the price if someone tries to buy it, even though any profits from this film have been almost nonexistent over the years.

So much bad blood was spilled back in 1992 and afterward, and many of those scars are permanent. I can't speak for Richard or anyone on this one. I would love to meet Richard someday though, just to shake his hand.

You could also argue that this is not a famous film, and a rerelease, such as a Blu-Ray workprint or Recobbled Cut, has no guarantee of making any money at all.

But I think the Recobbled Cut has proven that there is a significant fanbase out there, and that the public in general, if they hear about and see a glimpse of this film as intended, will be impressed by its scope and epic nature, and a great many people will fall for its artistry, and the sad story behind it, just as so many have before.

We know this film is good, and that there's a real story behind it. We know that it affects people. This is the sort of film that goes viral on the internet, and succeeds in this decade. It has all the makings of a huge cult success. In a way, the time has finally come for this film, and there is certainly money to be made if the rights can end up in the hands of anyone who cares about it.

For my part, I've edited a Recobbled Cut which has helped to rehabilitate the film's reputation and introduce it to a younger generation. Even if I'd only shown it to five people as I intended, it's a version which is watchable and gets the idea across, and is easy to pass around. Now, I'm restoring some 35mm material in full HD and doing other work that will be useable in any official, even theatrical, release, should it occur. I'm doing what I can.

King Nod

FLIP: How can fans get hold of the Recobbled Cut?

GG: You can subscribe to our Youtube channel, There you can watch the Mark 3 Recobbled Cut, the Williams Studio's commercials, A Christmas Carol, Raggedy Ann & Andy, documentaries about Richard's work, and hundreds of other wonderful things not available on DVD. You can also see some preview clips from the Mark 4 Recobbled Cut.

DVDs of the Mark 3 Recobbled Cut have leaked to the internet and seem to be available lots of places via torrent. I personally gave out hundreds of free copies at the time, so they're out there. Sometimes people just contact me.

We discuss the film at and on Facebook in the Recobbled Cut group, and every weekend, as I'm working on the Mark 4 edit, I try to stream what I'm doing to the internet via . I'm amazed anyone enjoys watching me edit. I'd assume it's extremely boring. But I'm told some people find it fun and educational, even inspiring … which is kind of strange. But Richard Williams always inspired me, all my life. I'm glad that this film can keep on doing that, 20 years later.

(Editor's Note: For for about Richard Williams and his extraordinary career in animation, check out this tribute video here,  read Alex's tales of the Annie awards and The Christmas Carol, and find out about his new animated e-book for the iPad due for a March 2013 release.)

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