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I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Sun Nov 29, 2015 9:15 am
by ctlw83
Hi Everyone,

Long time no see I know! I will start by saying that I truly appreciate all the great stuff that has come from Garrett and these forums over the years. I regularly re-watch the Thief and the Cobbler and the Jim Henson Hour restorations and look forward to seeing more in terms of the game project as well. I might not have been as active on the forums (or social media in general) of late but, that doesn't mean I haven't been keeping an eye out.

Anyway, I've decided to do a somewhat easy but, still important "restoration" of my own. I had spoken about this a while back in another thread and finally got the gumption to sit down and start working.

In 1979 Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty! created a very strange stop-motion film loosely based on The Nutcracker Ballet and the story Nutcracker and Mouseking. By loosely, I mean VERY loosely. It is an extremely strange but, well-done story. The English language version had quite the voice cast, including Christopher Lee, Eva Gabor, and Roddy McDowall.

The film did not have a huge audience in the United States and only saw a short-lived TV run and VHS distribution in the 80's. Mark L. Rosen, the film producer, did a "DVD Collector's Set" on eBay in 2005 which featured a signed copy of the script, a CD with the film's songs, another CD with the lobby music from the US premiere, and some behind the scenes photos scanned and printed but, the DVD itself was nothing more than a copy of the existing VHS. I was lucky enough to have purchased one of these sets when they were available but, it is still not the ideal experience of the film.

As it turns out, the original Japanese version of the film did get a DVD release in Japan. It is actually about 15 minutes or so longer than the English version but, that isn't what is important. The print used for the Japanese DVD was amazing and didn't have muted/dull/dark colors like the US version. You can really appreciate how intricate and detailed the miniature sets were in the Japanese video.

Sanrio actually "re-mastered" The Nutcracker Fantasy last year for Hello Kitty!'s 40th anniversary. I'm hoping to get this at some point but, the remastered colors look extremely blown out/over-done and evidently many scenes have been cut out even compared to the shortened US 1979 version. There have also been new effect animations and CG added, which I feel are un-necessary but, would still be fun to work with. There is a blu-ray of this restoration which I have asked for as a gift from family this Christmas but, it is also only in Japanese.

So, long story short, I have finally started on the "restored" English version of this film. I am taking the English VHS audio which I did some minor cleanup and normalization on, and then cutting the Japanese DVD video to match the English audio. It sounds easy in practice but, again, the Japanese film is longer than the English version, and some cuts can't be perfectly replicated, which is bad for lip sync. There is also a significant difference in the credit sequences so, I will have to use the VHS-quality English opening and closing credits. Not much can be done to improve upon the video quality there. Garbage in, Garbage Out. But, for the main body of the film, the Japanese DVD video is amazing. This will bring a whole new appreciation of the artistic qualities of the film to those who were never able to appreciate them due to VHS degradation and due to the poor-quality print used to make them.

My goals right now are as follows:
- "Restored" English Version using Japanese DVD video and English VHS audio sources - Hopefully released before Christmas this year. This is the primary goal.
- "Extended" English version using Japanese DVD Video with some Japanese audio to fill gaps and the VHS English Audio. - This will prove more challenging as if there are any extended scenes with Japanese dialogue, I still won't be able to use them. However, I'd love to give English/US audiences a glimpse of the darker, longer cut of the film that they never got to see, even if it can't be in full. I can't promise this will be completed this year, as it will take a lot more work, and I might need to isolate sound effects and such from the Japanese DVD audio to even things out.

If I get the Japanese blu-ray, I'll probably take on these additional challenges:
- Place English VHS audio to "Restored" cut of the film. - Meaning the blu-ray/restored cut will simply have English VHS audio placed to it where it can be. There appear to be no plans to do an English version from Sanrio at this time.
- Combine original Japanese DVD video, Blu-Ray footage, and English VHS to re-create the full original English release in the highest possible quality. - A tricky business because I'll have to both upscale and stretch 4:3 DVD footage to fit the 720p format.
- Create ultimate English extended cut using Japanese DVD video, Blu-Ray Video, and English VHS and Japanese audio sources. - This would again, be very tricky but, would be great for US audiences.

Again the second set of goals are more "stretch goals" than anything else. My primary goal is to give English speaking audiences access to a better quality version of the film than the poor-quality version that has been their only source of the film since 1979. I kind of believe that even the original US English version was based on a copy of a print of the Japanese version and wasn't properly captured in terms of brightness and contrast. The quality of the Japanese DVD video makes watching this film a new experience and that is not an over-exaggeration.

I'll try to post some screen shots for comparison sake as I go. Right now I only have the first scene or so lined up, and even they are off by a frame or two somewhere. As a way of giving back to this community I will also release the film here first when it is done. I'm not sure if I will do it as a torrent or a private download from a sharing site. Then, after I get feedback I will likely release it as an anonymous torrent to the public. I plan on taking no credit in the film itself for the restored version but, will put a standard fan-edit warning at the beginning and end and a dedication to Mark L Rosen and Sir Christopher Lee.

Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Sun Nov 29, 2015 7:52 pm
by Garrett Gilchrist
Sounds great. Good luck!

My thoughts: Don't be too attached to the old US version of the film -- if more footage can be included without causing issues, do it!

[And thanks. The video game project is still a priority, but the work at the beginning of this year was semi-secret -- actually a lot of what I've been doing lately has only been sent out to my Patreon patrons. Message me privately if curious.]

Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Mon Nov 30, 2015 10:00 am
by ctlw83
Thanks for the encouragement and suggestion. I'll probably still do a one to one version of the U.S. Release but, based on your suggestion I will shift my attention to the "extended" cut first.

It will be a little tricky but, I think it will be worth it. The movie is a lot darker than what the original release depicted, and even that was pretty dark.

Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Mon Nov 30, 2015 11:28 pm
by Garrett Gilchrist
LM writes:

Oddly enough, I assembled my own sloppy dub of "Nutcracker Fantasy" a few Christmases ago, when a generous soul provided the US dub.
I was intrigued by the strange and, frankly, creepy atmosphere of the film.

After roughly two minutes the USA track would go out of sync with the Japanese dvd. (I use old equipment and software with limitations). I could get around this by looking for a harmless spot to make a trim and start a fresh segment. But the scene that took forever to sync correctly was Clara in bed talking to Drosselmeyer. Nothing worked so I cheated and left dead air in spots.

And there was nothing to be done about scenes that were cut from the American print but leave them in Japanese.

After I made a few copies for friends, I added a warning label.
"If you have a sensitive child then preview this film. It isn't a Rankin-Bass Xmas special."

My niece refused to watch it as soon as she saw the Ragman.

It's a unique film and I hope you do a great job.


Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Tue Dec 01, 2015 6:08 am
by ctlw83

I will see how all that will line up. I am hoping it will but, we will have to see. The Japanese version has extended Rag Man scenes, including one when Drosselmeyer first appears. There are lots of little "gotchas" in the mix. Will have more time to work on things Wednesday and Friday so, should know by then if that scene will sync or not.

Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Wed Dec 02, 2015 8:59 pm
by ctlw83
Played around with things a bit tonight. Yes, there are definitely some oddities in syncing the English audio to the Japanese video. It may be due to different frame rates between the two but, I'm not sure if that is an accurate assessment.

From what I am finding, the audio slowly ends up being faster than the video. If you sync it in one place, it is off about 25 seconds later.

I may have to see if I can convert the framerate of the Japanese video somehow or, simply make small tweaks to the audio as I can.

Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Thu Dec 03, 2015 1:54 am
by Garrett Gilchrist
That can be the difference between material running at 23.98 fps as opposed to 24 .... it can be corrected for.

Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Fri Dec 04, 2015 10:31 am
by ctlw83
I think I may have figured it out.

Both sources are DVD sources. Both sources were originally encoded at 29.97 FPS. However, for some reason when I used Handbrake on the Japanese DVD source it interpreted the frame rate as 46.875. I guess this happens due to an error in audio encoding or something.

Even so, film is 24fps which will still be off compared to the DVD releases. I am going to try ensuring that both sources are at 29.97 and see if that helps. If not, I may run both sources through some kind of interpretation via ffmpeg or something of that nature. I don't have higher-end video editing software that would do that level of interpretation for me.

Update: Ensuring the 29.97 to 29.97 match didn't do anything. I just hope that if I go down to 24 fps that the videos will retain the correct animation frames...

Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Fri Dec 04, 2015 3:37 pm
by Garrett Gilchrist
Well, this is an important thing to get right.

Are your DVD sources 29.97 with interlacing [3:2 pulldown], or already converted to progressive 24 or 23.98 fps frames?

On a Mac you'd remove the 3:2 pulldown on a 29.97 source using Cinema Tools. I'm never sure what the PC equivalent of this is, although After Effects has a mode for it.

Re: I'm Finally Doing It! - The Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 4:04 pm
by Garrett Gilchrist
Whatever became of this?