×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How Peter Jackson’s ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ Crew Carefully Restored Archival Footage

Peter Jackson’s World War 1 film “They Shall Not Grow Old,” already one of this year’s top-grossing documentaries, began with 100 hours of archival footage from World War I. 

Clearly, creating a new film out of century-old footage presents daunting challenges, but producer-director Jackson and his team resourcefully pushed ahead, assembling the film out of original material — much of it never before seen — from the archives of the Imperial War Museum.

“Whenever we got clean, sharp footage to work with, we were in great shape,” says Wayne Stables, a visual effects supervisor at Jackson’s New Zealand-based Weta Digital. He worked outside his regular job to aid the filmmaker for six months as a colorist. Much of the footage was in bad condition, he says. “Most of it was moderately difficult, some of it was extremely difficult, and every so often God would smile upon us and we’d get something amazingly clean.”

The condition of the footage often depended on what stage during the war it was filmed. As cameras and technology improved, clips from the later war years tended to be better.

In a bid to make the material accessible and compelling, Jackson had the original footage colorized and converted to 3D. “Something that can happen when coloring old footage is that if it doesn’t look quite right, you actually have to wind it back to see what was happening inside the black and white,” says Stables, whose credits include “Avatar,” the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “Game of Thrones.” “Coloring old footage is usually done with broad strokes, but because we were trying to pull out so much of the detail, the level of care had to be that much higher.”

In addition to overseeing the 3D conversion process at Stereo D, Stables worked directly with Jackson, his producer Clare Olssen, senior colorists at New Zealand’s Park Road Post and Jackson’s full-time military historian Pete Connor. All collaborated on the multipronged restoration project, which, in addition to colorization and 3D conversion, included adjusting the footage to 24 frames per second as opposed to the old hand-cranked 12 fps. Every step had to be meticulous. Connor had to identify what was in each shot before they could color or convert it so that history would be respected. Stables says the process was more complicated than just saying, “That’s a British soldier; that’s a German soldier.” It was necessary to know what unit the soldiers were in, what type of soldiers they were, what the battlefield was and what time of year or day it was.

Jackson owns an extensive collection of WWI paraphernalia, which helped the team find items that matched and could be cross-referenced with the footage. The filmmaker also had traveled to photograph locations in Belgium, so he was often able to identify places where some of the action had taken place. Through this process, Stables was able to determine exactly what things like trains, buildings and even dirt would look like. 

Notes the VFX supervisor, “I made sure what was coming through was historically accurate, technically correct and aesthetically what I knew Peter would want.” 

More Artisans

  • DF-10193 – L-R: Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor),

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Leads MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Sound Editing

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” followed up love from Cinema Audio Society sound mixers with a pair of honors at the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ 66th annual Golden Reel Awards Sunday night. The musical biopic scored wins for dialogue and ADR as well as sound editing in a musical. The film is nominated for sound editing at the Oscars [...]

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • ILM John Kroll Star Wars VFX

    Sci-Tech Awards Honored After Effects, Photoshop Developers' Major Impact on VFX

    On Feb. 9, two weeks and a day before the Oscars, the Motion Picture Academy held its annual Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards — sometimes referred to as the nerd Academy Awards — honoring achievements in motion picture technology.  The ceremony included no surprise winners — Sci-Tech kudos are announced in advance, and the achievements [...]

  • Steven Spielberg Lee Orloff Mary Jo

    Cinema Audio Society Honors Steven Spielberg, Lee Orloff and Mary Jo Lang

    At the Cinema Audio Society Awards on Feb. 16, CAS is honoring a trio of artists. The event take place at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown hotel.   Steven Spielberg, Filmmaker Award It’s hard to overestimate the influence of the three-time Oscar winner, a towering figure in Hollywood for decades. A prolific director-producer-screenwriter, who also co-founded [...]

  • Alex Honnold being interviewed in El

    Cinema Audio Society Nominees Added Audio Realism to Film Action

    As the Cinema Audio Society heads toward the 55th CAS Awards, its nominees, who have created immersive and intoxicating work, agree that sound is becoming the new frontier in storytelling. “Today’s directors understand the importance of sound from the start,” says Doc Kane, nominated for “Black Panther,” “Incredibles 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” “Looping [...]

  • American Society of Cinematographers

    Cinematographers Blast Academy Response on Oscar Telecast Exclusions

    Cinematographers opposing the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations on the telecast have blasted the Academy’s latest attempt to assuage concerns about the move. The group responded Thursday to officers of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors, sending a letter Wednesday night to its membership, asserting that no award category [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content