Filed under: Image Manipulation
As a contribution to G.I. Joe fan site hisstank.com I took it upon myself to restore some of the art used in the toy line’s card and box art from back in the 80s. Hasbro still has some of the original art used for packaging, and they showed it to fans last year at a tour of Hasbro headquarters in Rhode Island. Fans took pictures and those photographs were shared over the internet. Since the standard resolution of most cameras is pretty high these days I thought it would be worthwhile to clean them up. After a few proof-of-concepts to confirm that it could be done to a satisfying degree I set to the task.
The process began by gathering as many photographs of the art as I could find, and then deciding which of them would work best as the beginning piece for each image. Image quality varied wildly, as the images came from different cameras, different ISO settings, angles and noise levels. Some were out of focus and some had too skewed a perspective. Some of the art on display was behind glass, so reflections and camera flashes blocking part of the pictures were a major concern. The biggest, cleanest and sharpest photo I had of each would become the base image for each piece.
Once the best image to work with was chosen I had to decide whether any other images I had of the same piece would add anything that the original was missing. Sometimes it was better to replace an area that was covered by a camera flash from a different picture than try to remove said flash from the base image. I wanted to keep the cleaned-up images faithful, and removing opaque elements such as those would require creating too much from scratch. Keeping that consideration in mind, the first step was to fix the perspective and deformation due to the camera lens. Some guides and a simple free transform would have been enough if camera pictures were flat images, but correcting the lens required a bit of subjective deformation in order to get the image to look like the original. The warp tool and the lens correction filter were a big help. Photos of actual packaging were used to compare and make sure the proportions were faithful.
After size and proportions had been defined I looked at color. White balance is an easy fix. But before adjusting the levels I made sure to remove any flashes or traces of extreme black or white that would throw them off, otherwise the level regularization would adversely affect the image’s colors. I did not want to lose any color graduations or detail, a close to 100% white flash or 100% black smudge would for example make me lose smoothness in gray gradients. Burning dark smudges into the background or cleaning light colors by dodging proved the most effective solution. Compare the shuttles in the two following images to see what I mean, the gradients are a lot softer on the left image, which I fixed up as detailed in this post. The image on the right has undergone the same process, but came from even lower quality photos of the original packaging I found in an eBay listing. Gradients are a lot harsher in it, but unfortunately if the colors were lost with the original picture there is not much that can be done to recover them.
With the colors looking correct-ish comes the most time-consuming and arduous part of the task, the clean up. We want to remove any blemishes, compression artifacts or other irregularities. With this however comes a small dilemma: We want to strike a balance between cleaning up the image and preserving the original’s brush strokes and texture and the character that comes with them. On the bigger planes of color fixing a blemish is as easy as a click with the healing brush. Unfortunately, all too often cleaning up required zooming in and matching pixels one by one. Big single color planes were also a big problem. The camera may have captured several shades of red, but you know this is illustration and for the most part they should all be the same. Forcing these planes into a single color gives us a look which is not really vintage or coherent with the rest of the art for that matter, so once again all of this will vary in a case by case basis. The “digital explosion” background found in some of the art posed a particular problem: its lines are so fine that on most of the photographs the bright colors bled into the black background. This meant the black needed to be restored, which in most cases turned into a zoomed-in pixel level correction with the brush, eraser and clone stamp tools.
The final step in the restoration is sharpening. Working with illustrations seems to be right up Photoshop’s sharpening filters’ alley, so most images were able to see some level of improvement from it. All it takes is a few tries with the smart sharpening filter’s values to find a sweet spot. Quick and painless.
I must say that, whenever the source image’s quality was up to par, I am quite satisfied with the result. Conditions were less than ideal with some, which unfortunately meant that one can only take the restoration so far before going past the point of reason. Let’s just say that if I could get my hands on professional photographs of this art I’d be willing to do this all over again, to perfection. But if you are handicapped from the start, the ratio of time invested vs results may not be quite as satisfactory. The results were, however, encouraging enough that I began working on images of the actual packaging after I was done with the original art.
This was, by far, the most extensive Photoshop work I have ever done. Not in complexity, but definitely in scope. A full resolution composite of three images edited and cleaned to a per-pixel level ( The Defiant above) took around 40 hours of continuous work. A restoration from a good single image took anywhere from 12 – 16hrs. And yet, looking at the finished images, I can’t help but feel it was worth it.
Check the gallery below for a few more before and after examples:
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