Artist in the Spotlight: Josh Clark.
9th February 2021
Josh Clark is a Content Processing Operative at ITV Content Delivery; ITV’s hub for all media digitising, transcoding, restoration and conversion at ITV Studios in Leeds. Josh’s restoration of the British comedy classic Carry On Up The Khyber recently won an RTS Yorkshire Award for Professional Excellence – Drama & Comedy Post-production.
Josh is one of ITV Content Delivery’s home-grown talents, having started at ITV straight out of university. He began processing live content for catch up on the ITV hub before moving into ingesting 16mm and 35mm film. Working in ingest led him to the restoration department. “It was really good timing, because we’d just started using Phoenix as our primary restoration tool”, Josh says, “which really was the catalyst for all the exciting work I get to do now.”
A large part of Josh’s exciting work is the restoration and digitisation he is undertaking for BritBox. BritBox launched in 2019 as a subscription streaming service offering British boxsets and films from the BBC and ITV archives, and later Channels 4 and 5. The demand for content on the platform has resulted in the colossal task of digitising, re-versioning, restoring, and delivering content from the extensive ITV archive – a task that is being expertly handled by the ITV Content Delivery team.
The first project for BritBox was the restoration of Carry On Up The Khyber, the sixteenth film in the Carry On series. “Not only was this the first title we restored for BritBox, this was my first restoration of a full feature,” says Josh, “it was a huge learning experience for me personally, as well as a big opportunity for the department.”
The Carry On films hold a special place in the British comic tradition and are beloved. “It’s nice to know that the Carry On films have such a passionate set of fans that can now view them in a quality not seen since release.”
However, the special projects for Josh are the classics stored away in the ITV archive. “The really special ones are the hidden gems – like Ill Met By Moonlight – that deserve to be seen by more people at their absolute best.”
Ill Met by Moonlight is a lesser-known Powell and Pressburger title starring Dirk Bogarde, Marius Goring, David Oxley, and Cyril Cusack. The 1957 feature was shot in VistaVision, a widescreen variant of 35mm film. The original film had physical damage that was a challenge to correct in the suite. “It gave us quite a unique challenge in that some of the scratches ran horizontally across the image rather than vertically”, says Josh. This was a serious issue as the Phoenix DVO plugin that detects and removes scratches only recognises vertical ones. “We literally resolved this by rotating the image 90 degrees and applying DVO Scratch Target as normal, which worked great!”
“It’s beautifully shot, and restoring it back to its best was a joy.”
Every restoration brings a new set of challenges and learning opportunities for Josh. Another of his projects for BritBox, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Josh was midway through the film when the first UK lockdown was announced. As with all post-production operators around the country, the issue of remoting into kit that could not be removed from the office had to be resolved. Due to limitations in bandwidth and playback resolution, the rest of the film had to be completed on a granular, frame by frame basis in order to ensure that quality was maintained.
“The 39 Steps was in by far the worst condition of any of the features we’ve restored in Phoenix so far, and it taught us a lot about just how far the tools can go, but also about resisting the urge to go too far”, says Josh.
“I think when you first start restoring, it can be really tempting to push the tools too far, but you can strip away the unique texture and characteristics of the medium and end up with footage that doesn’t even look like it has come from film. Restoration is about getting to how it would’ve looked when it was shot and not trying to enhance beyond that.”
Phoenix as a tool is designed to produce great results fast with less manual intervention. This is achieved with DVOs, Digital Vision Optics, plugins that digitally remove dust and scratches, stabalise, reduce noise and more.
“DVO Dry Clean is extremely versatile and effective. It’s always my first port of call for any dust, dirt and mark removal”, says Josh, “I also love using the matte tools to isolate different areas of the image. Difference Mattes in particular, used in conjunction with multiple effects, are hugely powerful.”
Currently Josh is restoring The Early Bird, a 1965 comedy starring Norman Wisdom with a huge emphasis on slapstick comedy. The physical humour has made the work incredibly enjoyable for Josh, “I don’t usually understand the gags until we’ve synced up the audio later on!”
Digital film restoration is a niche career path, Josh’s advice to those interested in pursuing it is to watch older films. “Imperfection is okay, so watch as much old film footage as possible – the worse condition the better. Watch and read about other restoration projects and consider why they may have left certain defects in. If nothing else, just remember – grain is supposed to be there!”
Check out more restoration examples from ITV Content Delivery on their YouTube channel.