Porn Remastering Pt. 3: Young Gladiators & New Technology

Posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

 

I wrote a couple of blogs last spring (Part 1 and Part 2 can be read here) about my work process at Bijou on remastering vintage porn movies for re-release on DVD and streaming. We had a slower period during the first year of covid, when we weren't able to put out as many new releases as usual, though we still managed to do a handful of movies during that time. In the past several months, however, during which we've picked back up to our normal pace at the office, we've made some technology updates that should allow for us to put out many higher quality digitally remastered versions of movies. I'm excited about these upgrades, so I wanted to write a new blog on the subject.

Our most recent release, the first to fully make use of the tech updates, is the glossy John Summers-directed J/O video, Young Gladiators (1988), starring Steve Hammond, Tim Lowe, Matt Ramsey (aka straight porn megastar Peter North), and three other guys showing off and jacking off for the camera. This movie turned out to be an ideal candidate for high quality remastering, because it was well-lit and well-shot to begin with and our VHS copy held up well, so we got great results from the new program we have been using for upscaling video sources, Topaz Enhance AI.

 

Matt Ramsey on the cover of Young Gladiators

 

I've spent a million hours tinkering with this program recently, but it has so far provided very promising results (after a substantial amount of troubleshooting). I used to think there wasn't much hope for actually increasing quality when upscaling VHS or Beta sources; I thought it would mostly just be making the same low quality larger, but not better, and this seemed to prove true from older programs and plug-ins we tried out for upscaling. But Enhance AI has done amazing work on several of the movies we have processed through it, and seems to greatly increase the clarity and fine detail in many videos. It not only upscales them, but it helps to remove noise and other artifacts from low resolution video sources and adds crispness to the image.

This program seems to have amazing potential, though it is not without quirks, as it still seems to be in the process of being fine-tuned by its makers, and also because it was not designed specifically to work with and improve the quality of VHS, so the output from it sometimes is full of odd glitches, artifacts, or distortions. Restoring movies at Bijou, we often work with older video sources, and outmoded sources are increasingly unfamiliar to software designers, so determining if and how new pieces of software can actually function well with these older formats requires a lot of hands-on tests. The most persistent initial problem we had with it (an issue with jittery-looking playback from repeated frames) required a lot of testing and consulting forums and software support staff to work through. Processing a full movie in Enhance AI takes around 20 hours on our computer, typically, so the testing process was not a quick one.

In the midst of all this, we had to build a new computer for me to work on at the office, but my new one is very powerful and even better able to handle the heavy-duty processing required by this program. This computer upgrade seemed to eliminate the jittery playback issue, but the resulting files had a new problem; they were not correctly functioning in the program where we do the remainder of our remastering work (Adobe Premiere). After even more research and testing, I discovered that there was an issue with the frame rates of the video files created in Enhance, and I figured out a roundabout, multi-step process to correct for this, which finally produced a high quality file that could be successfully used for color and audio corrections, glitch/tracking/splice removal, and any other steps in my standard remastering process. So that's my new routine until we inevitably figure out new and better ways to continue to improve our procedure in the future, as always!

Even with the additional steps required to produce something usable, it is exciting to come into Premiere to color correct these files that are noticeably larger, crisper, and more clear than what we previously had to work with from video transfers. I've included several comparison images below that show the difference between the initial VHS version of Young Gladiators (left) and the remastered version (right). You can see how the initial VHS version was fuzzy and noisy, compared to the images on the right, which have more smoothness, crispness, and depth of detail. This video further illustrates the before/after results on this movie.

Before and after restoration images from Young Gladiators
Before and after restoration images from Young Gladiators
Before and after restoration images from Young Gladiators

Before (left) and after (right) restoration images from Young Gladiators

 

Prior to the new computer, but as our very first test subject for Enhance AI, I worked on the 1982 Mark Reynolds movie, Summer Fantasy. It was another movie that got a major quality increase from that program, which you can see in the before/after image examples below. This quality increase really benefited the film, as it is very visually lush and seductive.

Before and after restoration images from Summer Fantasy
Before and after restoration images from Summer Fantasy
Before and after restoration images from Summer Fantasy

Before (left) and after (right) restoration images from Summer Fantasy

 

A couple of the releases that we did put out during the fog of 2020/early 2021 were Steve Scott's Gold Rush Boys (1983) and Joe Gage's super-popular Heatstroke (1982). These were done before either of our tech upgrades, but both movies were able to be significantly improved through our old process of noise reduction, color and audio correction, and more.

Gold Rush Boys seemed to take very well to adjustments, and we were able to get richer color, cleaner image, more detail, and crisper quality out of it, as you can see in the images below and in this video comparing the pre- and post-restoration stages.

 

Before and after restoration images from Gold Rush Boys

Before (left) and after (right) restoration images from Gold Rush Boys

 

Heatstroke is an absolute classic that has been begging for a higher quality release for decades (existing ones were in poor shape), and it was a thrill to tackle it. Though hopefully some day there is a new transfer from the film print for the optimal quality release, in the meantime, we were able, with our new version, to put out one of the best copies of this movie yet to be made available on VHS, DVD, or VOD. Of the many video sources for it we looked at, we found one that had thankfully retained its quality fairly well, and we were able to reduce its noise and get good clarity and color from it. We've been happy to hear positive comments about this release from a few of those who have been eagerly awaiting a better version of this important porn film.

 

Images from Bijou's release of Heatstroke

Images from Bijou's release of Heatstroke, featuring Clay Russell, Richard Locke, and Roy Garrett

 

I realize much of this may sound very boring and technical, zoomed in on the minutia, but in the zoomed out perspective that veers into the comical, I'm spending the majority of my time at work very, very slowly going through footage of dicks and asses, squinting and examining them to see if they look slightly better with this effect or that, with a little less orange or more shadow, etc., like some kind of sexually explicit vision test. I've easily eaten the majority of the meals I've consumed during the past 13 years of my life while at this task. (Perhaps why I was inspired to put together our Food Sex compilation several years ago.)

It's always a pleasure to get to make long-unseen porn movies once again available, or available in better quality, and we always aim to continue that process, adding to and improving upon our existing catalog of classics and making use of technological advancements whenever possible. It's particularly satisfying on the occasions, like with the movies mentioned here, that we have a source that held up well to begin with and also proves to clean up so substantially that it comes out looking great. (And all these titles can be found through Bijou on DVD and VOD.)

Anyhow, all this is to say: we're looking forward to remastering many new releases at a higher quality level in 2022!

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