Neverware • 7 March 2008 • The SnowBlog
Just in case anyone's interested, I thought I'd tell you about a project I've been working on. Yes, it's foolish and pointless. But I've learned a lot. But before I get into that, does anyone have a postal address for Neil Gaiman? (here's my e-mail if you do.) I'm not stalking him, but I happened to read about how disappointed he was with the way his Neverwhere TV project turned out in the mid-Nineties. So I thought I'd do something about that... As you may recall, I've been thinking about all things video of late. And I've been amazed at what can be done using a home PC and some visual effects software. So I thought I'd see if I could fix some of the problems with Neverwhere.
The BBC shot it on video. But according to the story, they lit it for film. Whether that was because the video thing was a last-minute change, I'm not sure, but the result looks pretty bad: dim with low contrast and harsh highlights. According to Neil, the BBC soothed his initial concerns by saying they'd run the finished video through some process to correct the bad lighting. But they didn't. So it still looks awful ten years later if you buy the BBC DVD.
For anyone out there who knows Photoshop, what I've done is to Photoshop episode one of Neverwhere. Except that for moving images Adobe offer After Effects, instead of Photoshop, though many of the adjustments you can make are the same. I've been adjusting levels, and saturation and color balance. I've also been screening off parts of the image (called 'matting') and applying adjustments to light a character's face more clearly or make a sick person look a little less robustly healthy.
Nighttime street scenes now have hard blues in them. Sunlight is softer. The baddies have a harsh yellow cast to them that looks a lot less boring than the monochromatic original. When underground, lights glow rather than glare now. And when the BBC got bored with washed-out colour and threw a massive purple light over everything, I've dialled it back down to a bearable mauve wash. Skin tones throughout are now good when they're supposed to be good and bad when they're supposed to be bad. I've even had a go at making the featureless off-white of the London sky look more interesting by blending in a ramp (what Photoshop would call a gradient). The effect is a little unrealistic, but then the story by this point has moved to the realm of the fantastic.
I've also tried my hand at a couple of little visual effects. When someone does something supernatural, now you can see it as well as hear it. It's not wonderful, but it's better than nothing - and I'm still only learning.
Here are a few stills to illustrate (though I've fixed the whole first episode). Original on the left; my version on the right:
So, has anyone got any suggestions for how to get a DVD of my version to Mr. Gaiman? I can't fix the editing and the various other problems he's identified, but I like to think that the whole enterprise looks considerably better - not to mention more expensive. Not bad, consider it didn't cost any money to do.
Update:: While I'm pretty happy with the results of my tweaking, I'm finding it really difficult to judge colours and brightness without a reference monitor. I think my versions are still an improvement, but they're sometimes only marginally better on my TV, when burned to disc, compared with how good they looked on my monitor as I was making adjustments. Might need to give this some more thought.