×

‘Yellow Submarine’ Restoration Posed Challenge for Team of Specialists

When it was first released in 1968 at the height of the pop psychedelic era, the Beatles’ animated feature “Yellow Submarine” was immediately hailed by audiences and critics alike as another Fab Four masterpiece. And while the band members were only tangentially involved in the production (they appeared in a live-action cameo at the end, but actors provided all their voiceovers), the hugely influential result was a pioneering, surreal and visually stunning film. The movie was saturated with the group’s trademark humor and personality and propelled by classic Beatles songs, including the title Lennon-McCartney song as well as “Eleanor Rigby,” “WhenI’m Sixty-Four” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

Variety chief film critic Owen Gleiberman questions whether there has “ever been an animated feature as deliriously infectious, as blissed out on its eye-candy surrealism, or as sheerly madly gorgeous as ‘Yellow Submarine.’”

And to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary, a restored 4K version with remixed 5.1 stereo surround sound is being theatrically released this month by Abramorama and Apple Corps (which partnered on the Ron Howard documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years”). Also in on the release: Universal Music Group.

Film preservation specialist Paul Rutan Jr. and his team at Triage Motion Picture Services and Eque Inc. conducted the 4K restoration process. Engineer Peter Cobbin remixed the film’s songs and score at UMG’s Abbey Road Studios.

“The big challenge was retaining the original palette and look, as it was all hand-drawn, with little paint smears that were part of the animation process,” says Rutan, who previously restored Beatles films “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Help!” “But we also had to eliminate all the dirt and scratches that had taken a toll.”

The process, he says, began with “cans and cans of original material that were kind of a mess. We had a U.S. version of the original negative, but it wasn’t the same as the U.K. release, which had the ‘Hey Bulldog’ [musical] sequences. And some other scenes were shortened, so there was no original negative of the missing pieces in the U.S. version.”

Also, the material was of variable quality — some of it in good shape but some pretty bad, per Rutan. Elements included a 1968 interpositive and some low-contrast footage made from the original negative that contained the “Bulldog” sequence.

Rutan and his team worked until they were satisfied they had gathered the best-quality elements available, and spent two years restoring the film while also preserving it photochemically and doing the digital 4K transfer.

To do the cleanup, Rutan turned to Eque, which supervised the work of 40 artists in India. Due to the delicate nature of the hand-drawn original artwork, no automated software was used in the digital cleanup of the film’s restored photochemical elements; it was accomplished by hand, frame by frame.

Rutan sums up the project as high on the scale of restoration difficulty. “I’ve done a lot of them over the years, and this was very tricky,” he says. “But it turned out great.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • U.K. Freelancers

    U.K. Government Faces Pressure From Industry on Economic Measures for Freelancers

    The U.K. government is facing increasing pressure from the creative industries after it emerged that economic measures set out for the self-employed last week by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak have yawning gaps in them. The measures may have come as a welcome move for many creative industries workers, but not all are eligible [...]

  • Coronavirus Placeholder COVID19 Variety

    IATSE Estimates Up to 95% of Its Members Are Out of Work Due to Coronavirus

    As many as 95% of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) below-the-line crafts workers are currently out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic. The figures come as over 3.3 million Americans have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment benefits. In an email to Variety Monday, director of communications Jonas Loeb said, “Estimates are [...]

  • 20190702_788LCDP_S4_tamaraarranz_DSC_9303.nef

    Spanish TV Industry Adjusts to Harsh Realities of the Coronavirus Crisis

    The Spanish TV industry has been shaken by the dramatic impact of the coronavirus crisis, but it is fighting back. Industry players have reacted fast, pushing forward with development, post-production and other business activities using online tools, and with the expectation of supporting funds from both public and private initiatives that will mitigate the effects [...]

  • His Dark Materials HBO

    'His Dark Materials' Costumers Make Scrubs for U.K. Medics Fighting Coronavirus

    Costumers behind the Bad Wolf-produced HBO and BBC fantasy series “His Dark Materials” have united to make scrubs for medical staff fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the U.K. The initiative, titled “Helping Dress Medics,” brings together a number of staff in the series’ costume department in Cardiff, Wales, and around the U.K. to stitch garments [...]

  • The Pennybox LTC Sandra Pennington

    How DIY Gear Is Helping Camera Crews Get the Job Done and Changing the Industry

    Cinematographers and their camera crews often tweak equipment to fit their needs. Sometimes it results in Garrett Brown inventing, designing and building the Oscar-winning Steadicam, or Nic Sadler developing the Artemis Director’s Viewfinder, which earned him an Engineering Emmy. But DPs and camera assistants regularly create tools and accessories to help them and their colleagues become [...]

  • Charm City Kings Movie

    How 'Charm City Kings' Cinematographer Throttled Up the Realism

    Puerto Rican director Ángel Manuel Soto stuck with his decision to bring on cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi for Sony’s “Charm City Kings” despite the studio’s desire for someone with more experience. Though Arizmendi’s credits included just a pair of indie features, Soto knew that her use of naturalistic light with touches of heightened realism were ideal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content