One day in 1953, Michael Wayne invited his then-girlfriend, Gretchen Deibel, to attend a 3D screening of Hondo, a new movie by his father, John Wayne. It was one of the earliest screenings of the Duke in 3D before the stereoscopic version was released across the nation. It turned out to be the only 3D film of John Wayne’s career, and within a year, the 3D craze had started to peter out. After 1954, Hondo was only seen as a traditional 2D picture, built out of the original left-eye negative, and in the decades since, it has been seen in various home-video and broadcast versions as a standard 2D movie.
But seeds were planted that day 44 years ago to some day return Hondo to its 3D glory. Gretchen Deibel went on to marry Michael Wayne and became Gretchen Wayne. This year, four years after her husband’s death, she fulfilled his 3D restoration dream for Hondo with technical help from Post Logic, Los Angeles. A special 3D screening earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival was the successful culmination of that dream, and Gretchen Wayne says she is now working to relaunch the movie in a new 3D theatrical tour around the nation.
“In 1953, I’m just going with my boyfriend to see his father’s movie,” Gretchen Wayne says. “But it was one of only three screenings, if my memory serves, in 3D for the movie. They shot it for 3D [the process was called WarnerColor 3D at the time], with that big behemoth of a camera [actually two 35mm cameras locked together] on location in Mexico, and the cameras kept breaking down as wind blew sand into them.”
Gretchen Wayne says her husband had always wanted to restore the movie in 3D, but the technology wasn’t available to make it financially viable until recently.
Michael Wayne did restore the movie’s basic film elements by creating separation masters in the 1970s for the 2D version of the movie, and a video restoration also took place in 1995 for a home-video release. Those earlier restoration efforts served the dual purpose of leaving behind acceptable elements to begin the 3D restoration process earlier this year at Post Logic and to properly educate Gretchen Wayne about the film to the point where she could serve as the visual gatekeeper for keeping the imagery consistent with the original intent of filmmakers — including John Wayne, who produced the movie, and Hondo director John Farrow.
“I sat there with my husband [during those earlier sessions] as he kept updating the materials, and I watched as he went frame by frame, discussing the proper color of a shirt in a particular scene, or whether the sky was too dark or too light,” she says. “So I feel like he left an outline for me to carry forward with this project.”
Production in Mexico of the 3D version of Hondo, shot with two 35mm cameras locked together, was a long and difficult process, and Warner Bros. quickly scrapped distribution of the 3D version.
The successful conversion of Hondo into a high-end, stereoscopic 3D, digital-cinema presentation, however, was a painstaking and complicated affair from the start. (The soundtrack was also restored, given a complete 5.1-surround-sound treatment at Chace Productions, Burbank, Calif.) According to Merle Sharp, CTO at Post Logic, the biggest challenge up front was that the original left-eye negative was in a radically different state of quality from the original right-eye negative because of the decades of striking release prints from the left-eye negative, as well as the separate storage procedures for each negative.
“There were big differences in the two negatives,” Sharp says. “One had tears in places that the other didn’t, there were places where original negative was replaced with a piece of dupe negative, and there were lots of stabilization issues. After all, if the two elements have different characteristics of weave, it will effect the 3D presentation. We basically had to spend a lot of time comparing the left eye to the right eye to determine how much work — and what kind of work — to do on each of them. And we created lots of test material, laying it off to D5 tape, locking it together, and viewing it and comparing it in a theatrical setting.”
“[The left eye] got really beat up,” says Kris Santa Cruz, the Post Logic colorist on the project. “And the right eye had some damage, as well. … And these two negatives definitely aged differently. All that created a lot of work to color correct the left eye to begin with, before I could use it as a guide for the right eye — as we normally do with modern 3D movies.”
Post Logic scanned the two negatives using its Thomson Grass Valley Spirit 2K system, and because the purpose of the restoration was to create a D-Cinema exhibition master, the company methodically built two HDCAM-SR masters in the months leading up to the Cannes screening.
The facility’s restoration team performed basic scratch removal work using the Digital Vision 2K ASC3 ME system, and grain reduction using the DVNR AGR4 ME system. Post Logic artists, however, had to do much of the repair work by hand on a frame-by-frame basis using the MTI Film Correct DRS system. Post Logic also faced lots of stabilization work in Autodesk Inferno to halt any jitters in either negative, which would better lock the two negatives together.
Santa Cruz then used his Da Vinci Systems 2K color correction system to satisfy what he calls “benchmarks” for the imagery, as directed by Gretchen Wayne.
“We looked at director-approved prints [of the 2D version of the movie] and the D5 mastered version of the movie to give us direction, but mainly, we relied on Gretchen,” Santa Cruz says. “She really knew how this movie was supposed to look and kept us moving in the right direction. There were a few times where she would notice a handkerchief was too red, or not red enough, and point out that is not how it was originally.”
Even when finding the right color and tone for particular shots, the process of matching left eye to right eye was painstaking.
“For example, there’s a shot of John Wayne sitting at a little pond with his feet in the water,” Santa Cruz says. “I spent a lot of time on that shot. One of the elements had a much denser quality to it, with more contrast than the left eye element had. It took a lot of fidgeting to match the color. Did I match them perfectly? I’d like to think so, but it’s never perfect. Density is not always about color, and each negative had a certain density value with that shot that was not quite the same. So the color is probably right there, but the density isn’t perfect — it can’t be. On that particular shot, the left eye fell into place while the right eye was problematic. Most of the rest of the time, it was the other way around. It could have been because of how that particular element was processed one time in the past. You never know, but it illustrates why a 3D restoration is more complicated for a film like this.
Digital cinema solution
Post Logic provided the Waynes’ company, Batjac Productions, with two HDCAM-SR 4:4:4 master tapes, color corrected in full-range Rec. 709 color space. “That is what went to Cannes, and they loaded the two images — left eye and right eye — into their server, did the final JPEG encoding there onsite, and played it out on a [Christie Digital CP2000-X] projector,” Sharp says.
One of the ironies of the process was that there was, and remains, no pressing need, or financial model, to consider a restoration of the two original negatives for archiving the 3D version of the movie on film. Gretchen Wayne points out that it is no longer feasible to exhibit 3D movies on film, and virtually all digital, 2D home deliverable versions in the future can now be struck from the HDCAM-SR masters made during the 3D restoration project.
“To make new negatives would cost a great deal of money — you would really have to start from scratch,” she says. “Certainly, we’d want to save the film down the road, which can become very expensive. But if we can retain the entire movie in 3D, in a completely digital format, and if we will always show it digitally [in theaters], why go to that expense right now? We now have elements for future home versions out of this project, as well. I’m not sure how practical it is right now to restore the film negatives themselves.”
Given her history with the film, Gretchen Wayne insists the resulting digital cinema 3D experience is superior to the original.
As she works toward bringing the stereoscopic version of Hondo to more audiences, Gretchen Wayne points to another irony in the effort. Hondo, after all, was made originally in an attempt to capitalize on the 3D craze, which was itself a reaction by the film industry to the rise of television. Today, with high-end digital home entertainment technology becoming ubiquitous, 3D is making something of a niche comeback to lure consumers back into cinemas.
“What goes around comes around, I guess,” she says. “They were doing 3D [in the 1950s] to get people back into theaters, and today, we have digital cinema, and about 700 or 800 theaters in the U.S. that can now show this movie in the format they wanted it shown in. And look what Jim Cameron and others are doing — that’s all coming forward as a response to home entertainment systems. That’s why I think a Hondo tour would be a huge hit. Everyone knows John Wayne, but very few people have ever seen him in the 3D format.”