The Beatles: Get Back is a Disney+ original docuseries from three-time Oscar-winning New Zealand Director Peter Jackson. Made entirely from never-before-seen footage restored at Park Road Post Production in Wellington.
Peter Jackson’s “The Beatles: Get Back,” is a unique experience that takes audiences back in time to the band’s January 1969 intimate recording sessions during a pivotal moment in music history.
“The Beatles: Get Back” stars John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The docuseries is produced by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, Olivia Harrison, Peter Jackson, Clare Olssen (“They Shall Not Grow Old") and Jonathan Clyde (“Eight Days a Week”), with Apple Corps’ Jeff Jones (“Eight Days a Week”) and Ken Kamins (“The Hobbit” trilogy) serving as executive producers. Jabez Olssen (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) serves as the film’s editor, the music supervisor is Giles Martin (“Rocketman”), Michael Hedges (“The Adventures of Tintin”), and Brent Burge (“The Hobbit” trilogy) serve as the series re-recording mixers, and the music is mixed by Giles Martin and Sam Okell (“Yesterday”).
Acclaimed filmmaker Peter Jackson is the only person in 50 years to have been given exclusive access to the private film archives of the legendary band. He was so excited with what he found in the Apple Corps vaults, which included the unforgettable rooftop concert – The Beatles’ last live performance as a group – that he agreed to review and digitally restore all the unreleased film footage, 60 hours in total.
Jackson had found his next passion project: a docuseries that would provide a new narrative as to how the band made music together in their final year as a group, and he would spend the next four years working with a team of 14 talented technicians to bring it to life.
About the sound restoration in New Zealand
Producer Clare Olssen says, “For Peter to tell the story of those 22 days in January 1969, it became critically important for us to find ways of digging the voices out so we could hear what The Beatles are saying.”
“The majority of the available audio was recorded by the film crew on quarter-inch tape, in mono. The film crew’s recording was often unbalanced. In other words, the vocals might be too low, the guitars too loud, etc., all baked onto a single mono track.”
Initially, the challenge of cleaning up the digitized mon-aural Nagra tape recordings was done by the sound team using available state-of-the-art, commercial audio restoration tools, but they eventually hit a wall. “The main issue with this material lies in the fact that it is, essentially, already mixed by the microphone placement in the room,” says sound editor Emile De la Rey,
The sound team realized that the answer might only be found in source separation tools, which used machine learning that was not yet commercially available. The team went on an incredibly condensed R&D journey, which involved the recording of a high-quality speech dataset, the curation of a music/noise/Nagra dataset, and the eventual development and training of numerous source separation and sound enhancement models. Not one piece of audio went untouched by the separation models.
As the machine learning development advanced, more and more exciting tools became available to the sound editors, such as the ability to unfilter a muffled or damaged recording, the ability to remove reverb, the ability to undo distortion in certain cases, and noise reduction models that were essentially tailored for the problem areas in the Nagra recordings. Says Jackson, “The way in which machine learning has allowed us to pull apart the various layers of mono sound recording meant that I could finish this film with a sound clarity that was literally unthinkable when I started ‘Get Back’ four years ago. In fact, our audio clean-up has revealed previously impossible to hear conversations, which has allowed us to present a more accurate and detailed account of the January 1969 ‘Get Back Sessions.’”
About the picture restoration in New Zealand
The Park Road facilities feature state-of-the-art equipment and software, dedicated restoration suite as well as multiple online/grading suites featuring Mistika and Resolve grading systems. The team working on “The Beatles: Get Back” took over four of these suites for the majority of the restoration process.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s footage was shot on 16mm film and then blown up to 35mm.
Park Road Post developed a lot of very good techniques, both with ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ and even just restoring my own 16mm films,” says Jackson. “All that was already in place, so we were able to do that on day one when the Beatles footage started to come in.”
Once the carefully scanned material arrived at Park Road, the real work began. Says Newell, “We did an initial pass just to get it up into editorial where we automated every function and did a quality control over it, which quickly stabilized and removed a lot of the blemishes using algorithms that could remove things.”
The numerous AI-driven algorithms used in this process digitally removes imperfections on the film. Jackson’s team then reviewed the cleaned-up scans to look for any glaring issues. “We were looking for things related to the fact that it’s an organic piece of film,” says Newell. “To see if it had sparkle, little white bits or if it had dirt, little black bits, if it had scratches, which are sort of lines going through the film, if it had chemical marks, if it had splice jumps or if it was grainy.” All of these imperfections are completely natural for a piece of film from 1969, but they all needed correction.
The inital clean-up and removal of dirt and dust, as well as image stabilization and grain management (the reduction of film grain to reduce noise levels), took a little over a month. However, most of the restoration process does not involve AI but the manual repair of the film.
About the PDV Grant
The Post, Digital and Visual Effects grant aims to foster capacity and new business development for large budget PDV Production in New Zealand.
Eligible productions can access a cash grant equivalent to 20% of Qualifying New Zealand Production Expenditure (QNZPE) up to QNZPE of $25 million, and 18% of QNZPE for QNZPE above $25 million.
Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back utilised the PDV grant, for the work done by Park Road Post Production.
The Beatles: Get Back is streaming on Disney+ now.