Friday, September 16, 2011

Like Day and Night: The Animation Cel versus the DVD

A month ago, I talked a little about how beautiful Inspector Gadget's original animation cels look when compared to what we see on today's official DVD editions. Following up on that, I decided to post some more cels I found online; complete with their matching - and faded - episode screenshots.
Once again we start with a cel from Down on the Farm (right below); this time a great picture of Gadget investigating inside M.A.D.'s giant rocket ship. I love how fresh and strong the colors of this cel appear... just look at that brilliant blue on the machinery in the background! It certainly shines above the weak and unfocused quality of the DVD screen shot (below underneath).

Down on the Farm: The Cel
Down on the Farm: Official DVD Screenshot

Jumping to the episode Haunted Castle, we find another great cel example (right below); with matching lackluster screenshots from the episode (below underneath). One thing I love about seeing the original cel is all the additional picture information we get. The background in this Haunted Castle cel is really nicely painted... and while it doesn't exactly look bad in the episode, seeing it like this is truly an eye-opener. It just makes you appreciate the craft so much more.

Haunted Castle: The Cel
Haunted Castle: Official DVD screenshot 1
Haunted Castle: Official DVD screenshot 2
(Minor note: As is often the case when animation cels are reconstructed for sale, not all the layers in this Haunted Castle cel are exact matches of the episode moment. This is why I had to find two matching screen shots for comparison (above); one of Gadget and Brain, and one of the puzzled villain looking at them.)

The below cel from A Star Is Lost may not have suffered quite as much of a quality loss in the episode, but the sharpness of the drawn lines still says it all. And notice how we can actually clearly study the background details, like the pattern in the loud speaker seen between the agents. In the DVD screenshot (below underneath), this pattern is reduced to a gray spot.

A Star Is Lost: The Cel
A Star Is Lost: Official DVD Screenshot
(Minor note #2: The cel from A Star is Lost seems to have the same issue with the animation layers as the Haunted Castle cel. It appears that when the cel was reconstructed, the layer of the M.A.D. agent with the blue wig was placed underneath the layer with the photographer agent... whereas in the production of the original episode, the blue-haired agent was obviously shot on top of the photographer, so that his hand could tap the photographer on the shoulder to get his attention.)

The last example we're gonna showcase is perhaps the most striking of all. First, take a look at the below cel from the episode Amusement Park... then compare with the DVD screenshot from this dramatically aged episode:

Amusement Park: The Cel
Amusement Park: Official DVD Screenshot

See what I mean? Over the years, the circus tent's vibrant green has actually aged into a completely different color! Who knows how many "wrong" colors we might be looking at when viewing an Inspector Gadget episode today?

Of course, we don't know for certain that the episodes ever looked quite as good as the animation cels do. It depends on many other factors besides just aging... like, how good was the camera equipment with which they originally shot the episodes? But I think it still boils down to the same bottom line: Inspector Gadget is overdue for a high-quality restoration. The animation cels brim with details and sparkling colors, and it's a pity that the faded prints of the TV episodes have no chance of living up to that. Plus, restoring the episodes would help ensure that this classic show can live on in the modern world of HD TVs and Blu-ray. It's a win-win situation, Cookie Jar... it would definitely pay off in the long run! Go Go Gadget High Definition!


  1. Hi Mesterius. I just wanted to thank you for this great article. The original cells are so beautiful and it really does make you appreciate the artistry when you see them. The beautiful colours of this show is one of the things I really love about it. (One of the many elements missing from the 2015 series.)

    So thank you for this great article, as well as your whole site here which is excellent!

    In your article above, you mostly attribute the poor picture quality to the age of the video. That is a factor, but I really think the biggest factor is the medium itself: namely NTSC video. Here in the UK we're used to PAL video, which is poor. But NTSC (America and Japan) is far worse, particularly in the resolution and dull colours.

    Even with all the very best cameras, you just cannot get NTSC video to look good. For example, here's a comparison of a Star Trek episode, showing the original NTSC (before) and blu-ray (after) - This shows that even with the very best cameras and videotape, NTSC always looks lousy. Inspector Gadget was just another victim!

    By the way, I have a particular passion for issues relating to picture and sound quality. I am a graphic designer, illustrator, and I love video and audio production/remastering.

    For a while I have been thinking about taking an episode from an Inspector Gadget DVD and remastering it myself, to try to restore the original colours. However, even one episode would take me a lot of time, so don't expect me to do it any time soon, let alone an entire fan-made box set containing all 86 episodes! :)

    Also, I don't even own the DVDs yet as I never got round to buying them. That's because for years I've been unsure which release to buy, and still kind of holding out for a really good quality set. The "Megaset" box set by Cinedigm has all the episodes, but clearly the quality is nothing exceptional.

    And then there's another reason I held back on buying DVDs: I vaguely remember hearing somewhere, a long time ago, that there was a Inspector Gadget DVD release in some country (maybe Australia but can't remember), which featured multiple language audio tracks, including one blank track with no dialogue! For Shuki Levy fans like us, that really would be the 'Holy Grail' wouldn't it, allowing us to extract all the music tracks with only sound effects overlayed. (As you probably know, this was done successfully with the Real Ghostbusters - an incredible find for Levy fans.) But to be honest now I'm not sure if there was anything like this for Gadget. It's so hard to find out this kind of information, and I suppose if there had been, someone would have "ripped" it by now?

    Oh and by the way, speaking of DVD releases... your 2014 April Fool's joke about DHX producing a blu-ray version... that was quite cruel! I know it has a big "April Fools" disclaimer at the top, but at first I didn't understand what the "April Fools" was referring to, and whenever I'm reading an article and encounter something I don't understand, I tend to just skip down until what I'm reading starts to make sense.

    So I ended up reading that whole dreaded article and having a real "Wowsers!" moment... It was only when I got to the bit about Shuki Levy's missing tapes turning up that I started to find it hard to believe all that good news coming at once. Then I suddenly remembered the "April Fools" reference, and started groaning like Chief Quimby! :D

  2. p.s. I mentioned that one day I might try remastering an episode myself. Well here is a sample image I made showing my initial trial:

    Bear in mind this is not a quick and easy process that can simply be "applied" to entire episodes. It takes a lot of time and care to get right, working shot by shot. So doing an entire episode like this would be a long and painstaking process. However, what this does show at least, is that it is theoretically POSSIBLE to restore colour to the episodes.

    Also note that I attempted to make it widescreen! I just love everything to be widescreen! :)

    Lee B. Hart