I am a huge television junkie. I am going to date myself here, but I was around when many people did not have a television. If you had a TV in your home, you probably had a black and white model in the family room. We were one of the first families on our block to get a color television and it was a HUGE deal! My sister, mom, dad and myself would gather together almost every night to watch our favorite TV shows. One of our favorite characters was Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang. We would stay glued to the TV to enjoy all of the Peanuts specials. I have been so honored to have been asked to be a Peanuts ambassador and it has been super fun. We have interviewed some of the coolest people, like Sally Dryer, who voiced Lucy, Violet and Sally and jazz musician David Benoit, who graced the shows with his musical talent.
Our interviewee this month, was with Ron Smith of Technicolor, who gave us exclusive insights into the cutting-edge technology that is making the beloved 50-year-old classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, look as fresh and clean as the day it was created. Ron has worked on the Peanuts specials in three different jobs: first at CBS, which was airing the Peanuts series at the time; then at Paramount, which was distributing the show at the time, and now at Technicolor. Ron works with something called 4K, which means you see a richer image that is closer to the original film than any previous digital version of the special. There are more pixels per inch, so the picture quality is better than ever before on any television screen. Peanuts is at the forefront of this technology, which “future-proofs” A Charlie Brown Christmas and the other Peanuts specials for the day when ultra-high-definition TVs are the standard in every household. And the soundtrack has been cleaned and restored, too, providing the perfect sound for home theaters.
Question: From the viewer’s point of view, what’s the first thing we’ll notice now that the special is in 4K?
That it actually fits on your widescreen television! The picture is now designed for that screen. All the other presentations are designed for the old 4×3 screens.
You’ll also notice the soundtrack and music have been upgraded for modern viewing: it’s in stereo surround 5.1 We’re lucky that the original negative exists for these shows, and all the original soundtracks and magnetic tracks. We were able to go in, separate those tracks, and clean them up, along with the sound effects. You’ll get that nice stereo music in your surround speakers. So the special not only looks better, but sounds more current, too.
Question: Is there any scene in particular where we’ll notice the difference?
When I watch one of the shows at home, everything looks kind of small. Particularly any of the group scenes, the skating in the beginning, the rehearsal scenes for the Christmas play, they all look kind of distant. Now you’ll be able to see it much more clearly.
Question: What are some of the dos and don’ts of restoring classic animation? Is there a danger that it can it look “too good,” so you lose the charm of the hand-drawn originals?
There are some classic mistakes. It can look too sharp or over-enhanced. With the Charlie Brown stuff, you have to embrace the original look. The picture changes from frame to frame. You’ve got to realize you can’t fix everything. You’ve basically got to take the show as a whole, not nitpick it, then go back and smooth it out.
We were lucky to have the original artwork, the original cels, so we could see what the original colors were for characters and what they wore. Everyone in Peanuts family has been involved in this in some way, and they’ve been very helpful.
Question: How important is it for classic animation to be restored?
For every film that gets restored, there are 1,000 that haven’t been restored. There’s always an underlying race-the-clock mentality that’s associated with preservation. So many films have been lost and so many are at risk. Particularly with shows like this, we want our kids and our kids’ kids to experience the same things we did.
Question: Separate from your professional experience, are you personally a fan of Peanuts and A Charlie Brown Christmas?
Coincidentally, I am. I know I’m not alone. It’s probably my favorite Christmas show, no doubt. If the Linus scene doesn’t get you all choked up, then nothing will. My kids like it, and my daughter has a child who just turned 5, and she loves it. I’ll take her for a ride in my car and play the soundtrack, and when the picture comes up on the player, she’s in heaven. It just makes it that much more special that I can re-experience it through their eyes.
One of the things that really struck me when we started working on it here at Technicolor was that I discovered I wasn’t the only one with special relationship to the material. The colorists here, grown men and women, were fighting over the project. That’s how fondly it’s remembered by so many people.
On breaking news…that mischievous Snoopy has leaked a trailer to the new Peanuts movie, set for release in November 2015. I am so excited, I can hardly stand it!
Now, for more fun stuff! One USA reader is going to receive an adorable Peanuts inflatable from Gemmy, available for $33 at Walmart. This cutie is an easy and charming way to decorate your home or yard for the holidays. The inflatable features Snoopy in a fun-filled Christmas pose (Styles vary and will be distributed randomly.)