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Creating some picture-perfect images

Edward Han

Thanks to the work of Lowry Digital Images, movie buffs can soon

watch C-3PO and R2-D2 squabble in all their digitally remastered

glory. The original “Star Wars” trilogy is the latest project that

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has been completed by the Burbank-based company that restores and

remasters classic films.

John Lowry, CEO of Lowry Digital Images, started the company in

1998. With two people and 12 computers, the company took 3 1/2

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months to transfer the Alfred Hitchcock classic “North by Northwest”

to DVD, and the response was so great that the company instantly made

a name for itself.

“Today, one of the computers we use is more powerful than all 12

that we had back then, and we’ve got about 80 people,” Lowry said.

“It would take us a couple of days [to do the same film].”

At the heart of the company are 600 Power Macintosh computers

running on dual G5 processors, a mammoth amount of processing power

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necessary for scanning and enhancing the hundreds of thousands of

frames that make up a typical motion picture.

“We receive the original camera negatives from the studios, scan

the film, process the images and clean them up to the point of being

pristine,” Lowry said.

The company has restored more than 100 films since “North by

Northwest,” including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Roman

Holiday” and “Citizen Kane,” and is working on nine James Bond

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movies.

“What sets us apart is the combination of focus on a particular

goal and technology,” said Mike Inchalik, president of Lowry Digital

Images. “We stack ourselves up with those that are routinely aiming

for the best image quality possible, and because all the software is

written here, we can bring to the table a whole different approach.

We can find and enhance a lot of the detail that’s lost in pictures

with aging.”

Lowry’s business didn’t start in Hollywood, however. Originally

from Toronto, Lowry had his first experience with image processing

when he founded Image Transform in North Hollywood in 1971. Receiving

several patents for his image processing technology, Lowry was called

upon by NASA soon thereafter to clean up the live video feeds from

the Apollo 16 and 17 lunar landings. After moving on to working with

digital television hardware and multimedia, Lowry eventually returned

to image processing.

“The early ‘70s were really a precursor to what I’m doing now,”

Lowry said. “I looked at the industry seven or eight years ago, and

everyone had gotten around the patents I had at the time of the moon

landings, so I decided to get back into cleaning up images.”

Lowry’s work has impressed more than major movie studios. The CIA

has contacted him about doing work for the federal government.

“I can extract information from images and make various details

more visible,” said Lowry, declining to give any more details.

But whether his work is for George Lucas, Warner Bros. or the CIA,

Lowry doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

“I have the opportunity to do something special, and to work with

major studios on great films is a real joy,” Lowry said. “It’s by far

the most satisfying work I’ve done in my career.”


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