Directed by Luchino Visconti and shot by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno (Fellini Satyricon, And the Ship Sails On, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen) in 1963, The Leopard is a spectacular film. Taking place in the 1860s in Sicily, the film shows the waning of the aristocracy through the story of the dwindling fortunes of the Prince of Salina (the Leopard), while a one-time peasant rises to wealth. The end of the film is a 40-minute ballroom sequence.

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox and Pathé; click to enlarge

The Film Foundation approached Sony Colorworks about restoring this movie within a tight time frame. “We had just under four months, which sounds like a lot of time in movie-land but not in restoration-land,” says ColorWorks Senior VP of Sales Bob Bailey. “Restoration is a very tedious process, and you try to get six months.”

What made this restoration more unique was that the cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno, was still alive and well and wanted to give input on the DI. However, Rotunno lives outside of Rome and does not travel, so Colorworks had to create a 4K DCP version for him to view. “He screened it in Technicolor Rome in order to approve it,” says Bailey. “And Shawn Belston from 20th Century Fox flew there and sat with him.” Rotunno did make some very helpful suggestions, says Bailey. But more on that later.

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox and Pathé; click to enlarge

Sony Colorworks got an unusual element: a Technirama print, which is 8-perf 35mm, but with the frames going horizontally instead of vertically. “Not a whole lot of facilities can deal with that kind of frame,” notes Bailey. “And the print wasn’t in terrible shape, which is why we were able to make the time frame.” Colorworks scanned the print on a Northlight scanner at 6K, down-resed it to 4K (also on the Northlight) and then restored The Leopard in 4K on a Baselight. Other tools they used were PF Clean and MTI.

According to Colorworks senior colorist John Persichetti, the main problem with the print was color-breathing. “That’s where the density fluctuates in intensity,” says Persichetti. “Either one color would get brighter and darker due to the fading of one dye, or due to a developing or camera problem.” There were scratches, dust, and dirt, and the Colorworks team also had to recreate the titles. The sound was restored in Italy and, since the film would open the Cannes Film Festival, French subtitles were also required.

Dialogue was an interesting factor in the movie. “When they made the movie, they shot it silent and then recorded the sound after the fact,” Bailey says. “Burt Lancaster spoke English, Claudia Cardinale spoke Italian, and the others spoke French. It was a real international movie.”

The foremost challenge in recreating the titles was to match the font exactly. “We pulled it from the HD master, which Criterion created a few years ago [for DVD],” says Pesichetti, who used Smoke for the titles. “I could color-correct it separately to match with the HD font as a mask.”

Martin Scorsese was the first one to screen the restored master. “He liked it a lot and didn’t have changes,” says Persichetti. “He just felt one scene [should] be a little less saturated.” Next, 20th Century Fox’s Belson took the master to Rotunno in Italy. “Giuseppe felt certain scenes should be darker, maybe the equivalent of a point darker,” says Persichetti. “I had played it a little on the bright side to be safe. He wanted me to pull down some of the highlights, and I incorporated that into the new color-correction.”

Rotunno also had a comment with regard to the climactic ballroom scene, which had been lit naturalistically by candlelight. “He liked the saturation in the colors and he didn’t mind that the skin tones go warm,” says Persichetti. “At the end of the movie, morning light is coming through the windows, and the lighting is blue, hitting their faces, combined with warm yellow light from the candles. When I first saw that, I initially tried to correct some of that out. He commented that I shouldn’t correct it. He intended it, and he liked the fact that half their faces had a bluish tint and the other was warm, so I kept that.”

Persichetti noted that he and the cinematographer communicated a bit in Rotunno’s native tongue. “His one comment in Italian was molto misterioso: make it mysterious,” he says. “He was telling me to make it play a little darker, don’t be afraid of things going into the shadow.”

Fully restored, The Leopard was developed and recorded out via ARRI recorders at Technicolor and printed at Deluxe.