Emeryville, Calif.-based company, Athena Studio, which specializes in production and animation services for film and multimedia clients, and the Visual Effects Society (VES)/Bay Area, recently partnered to restore a legendary, Star Wars-era short film titled Black Angel. Black Angel was thought to be missing for more than 30 years. It was last seen in theaters across Europe and Australia in 1980 as a lead-in to The Empire Strikes Back. It made its North American premiere this past week before a sold out audience during the 36th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival.
“It was truly an honor to help bring this historical work back to life so that it may be enjoyed again after having been considered lost for over 30 years,” said Jon V. Peters, CEO/founder, Athena Studios. “Black Angel has tremendous historical significance for fans of both the Star Wars franchise and sword and sorcery tales alike.”
After reading a 2012 WIRED Magazine 4article about how Black Angel had been located by an archivist at Universal Studios, Athena Studios producer Brice Parker joined with VES/Bay Area chairman David Tanaka and contacted the film’s director, Roger Christian, with an offer to supervise the film’s restoration at Athena Studios.
“It’s been my great pleasure to work with Brice Parker, David Tanaka, and the talented restoration team at Athena Studios on the revival of Black Angel,” Christian said. “They’ve made it possible to bring Black Angel into the modern era with their delicate handling of the material and with their deep understanding of how the film was shot in wide screen Cinemascope, presently truly breathtaking images for its time. Brice, David and the restoration team at Athena Studios really understood that.”
Shot in Scotland in 1979, the 25-minute Black Angel was the directorial debut of Star Wars art director/Academy Award winner Christian. Made with financial aid from George Lucas, Black Angel centers on a knight returning from the Crusades, who is transported to a mystical realm where he must rescue a princess from a black knight. Black Angel was never released on VHS or DVD, and Christian himself was unable to track down the original negative. The director believed it was lost, until he got a call from an archivist at Universal Studios in December 2011, who had located that negative.
“We knew restoring Black Angel would be a challenging undertaking from the outset, but we also knew the rewards would be huge,” Parker said. “This was one of those legendary projects that we just couldn’t pass up. I was thrilled that Athena Studios offered its in-house expertise to tackle this project and help restore the film to its former glory. I’m happy that our efforts will enable audiences to see this film once again, after an interim period of more than 33 years.”
After Parker arranged for the negative to be transported to EFilm Digital Laboratories in Hollywood for careful cleaning and 4K scanning, Athena Studios received a hard drive containing frames scanned from the timed inter-positive to be digitally restored. Athena’s restoration team, which included restoration artists Jorge Martinez and Mitchell Tanaka, spent a combined 12 weeks painstakingly removing splice marks and unwanted artifacts which had been introduced by the film mastering process more than 30 years earlier. Cleanup was achieved using Pixel Farm’s PFClean software. The restored frames were then rendered and exported for a new Digital Intermediate color correction at Colorflow in Berkeley, Calif.
Black Angel by Roger Christian (clip I) from Athena Studios on Vimeo.