Colorflow recently applied its color grading expertise to a newly restored version of Black Angel, a fantasy-themed short film with a Star Wars connection that was believed lost for more than 30 years. Black Angel was written and directed by Roger Christian, who won an Academy Award for his work as art director on the first Star Wars movie, and it originally screened alongside The Empire Strikes Back in Australian and European movie theaters in 1980.
The film, about a medieval knight on a mystical quest to rescue a princess, was not seen again in theaters or elsewhere, although it was credited influencing a number of later Arthurian cinematic adventures including John Boorman’s Excalibur and Ridley Scott’s Legend. In addition to being Christian’s first outing as a director (he later served as second unit director on Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace), the film also featured the first work of cinematographer Roger Pratt (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and composer Trevor Jones (Notting Hill, Dark City).
Christian, who thought the film was lost, recently rediscovered a 35mm interpositive in a vault at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. A story about Christian’s find appeared in Wired magazine and that caught the eye of Brice Parker, a producer at Bay Area animation specialist Athena Studios, and David Tanaka, chair of the Bay Area Section of the Visual Effects Society. Parker, who also serves on the board of the Bay Area section of VES, and Tanaka reached out to Christian with an offer to restore the film and, when he agreed, organized a grassroots effort to get the work done. “Everyone we talked to had either seen the article or heard about the movie,” recalls Parker, “and they were all super interested in lending their time and expertise.”
Athena Studios CEO John Peters donated his company’s services for digital clean up and restoration. EFilm, Hollywood, performed a 4K scan of the 30-year-old interpositive, while its affiliate, Chace Audio, transferred the optical sound negative. DI color grading was performed at Colorflow. “We were excited to jump in and help the process,” says EFilm vice president of operations Josh Haynie, “and the relationships we formed on this project have evolved into working relationships. So, it’s a positive all around.”
Colorflow lead colorist Kent Pritchett said that the film’s unusual pedigree required that it be treated with a degree of reverence. “Thirty years ago, when the film was made, it went through a traditional color timing process that was obviously quite meticulous,” he recalls. “Our role was to preserve what was there. We wanted to get the contrast right and address any obvious flaws, but our primary goal was to maintain the integrity of what the filmmakers were going for.”
Parker notes that the interpositive had originally been timed under the supervision of Christian and Pratt, so it became the guide for DI processing. “It was a great baseline to work from and it showed that the film’s look was slightly saturated with a sepia tint,” he says. “We confirmed with Roger that that was the look he intended and we didn’t deviate from that.”
Pritchett did apply one or two new tricks. He used his grading tools to paint out cars briefly visible in the far distance of a few shots. “They didn’t have that capability in 1980,” Pritchett says.
Noting Black Angel’s connection to George Lucas and Star Wars, Tanaka says that it was fitting that most of the restoration work was completed in the Bay Area. “I work around a block away from Athena Studios and around six blocks from Colorflow,” he says. “I could walk over on my lunch hour to review the restoration. It was a nice boost for the local film and visual effects community.”
The restored version of Black Angel made its world premiere at the recent Mill Valley Film Festival.