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Art Sonic CD Opening: Cleaned & Upscaled (...and a neat discovery!)

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Captain VG, Feb 7, 2021.

  1. Captain VG

    Captain VG

    Previously Tanks Member
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Hey all, my boy Quazza and I have been working with ESRGAN for a while now, building AI models for film cleaning and remastery purposes. After several months of us just talking about how cool a project it would be, we're happy to finally bring you the Sonic CD Opening, cleaned and upscaled (MKV). Now by popular demand: Youtube.

    Before I go further, we get it. AI upscaling is controversial, especially in a communities that pride themselves on archiving the genuine article. But the thing to consider here is that it's extremely unlikely we'll ever get a proper rescan of Sonic CD's animation ever (Seriously SEGA, hit me up! We can scan and clean using the latest methods, no AI needed!). The 25th Anniversary DVD release and Mega Collection versions are what they are, and this isn't intended to replace those, but the dot crawl, coloration issues, compression... There were always issues with the opening animation that made us feel we could do it justice with a little ESRGAN love. And thanks to a some new model training techniques and a little effort we've finally been able to achieve this.

    We stuck to our proprietary models for most of the frame cleaning and scaling, using the film cels SEGA released not too long ago as a guide post. Some of the darker scenes needed some extra support and it's thanks to the recently released celframes model we were able to fill in some gaps.

    As for the discovery I mentioned in the title? Well, while inspecting a near-final draft frame-by-frame, Quazza noticed Sonic does a flip just prior to his famous one-armed boulder pose in the video. While we hesitate to call it a true "animation error", it's pretty clear the original intention was for Sonic to front flip cleanly into a drop versus a middair pivot. See Quazza's tweet for a comparison video. It's just speculation, but it could have been an artistic choice on the part of the animation team to make it Sonic appear more active in that scene. Personally, it does seem to change the flow of things, looking back the intended frame order. We opted to use this frame order in our release.

    So what about the Sonic CD ending? Well sadly, despite being equally as amazing as the intro, the Mega Collection ending suffers heavily from temporal scanline blending, essentially ghosting and blending frames throughout the video. Gems might be a good candidate, but it suffers from its own issues, albeit less ghosting. Generally, from what we can tell, outside of the SEGA CD release, every release of the Sonic CD animations use the same, poorly scanned, digital source, from Sonic Jam onward. Now I'm not ruling out work being done on it (there's a chance we can salvage it depending on what tools we bring in) but truth be told the most ideal solution would be a rescan of the original film master by SEGA/Toei. As a consolation prize, I took the time to run our method on a few choice frames from the ending (scaled 4x, prior to scaledown for quality preservation) so we can at least dream for now.

    Anyway, here's hoping SEGA is willing to revisit Sonic CD's animations one day. Film doesn't last forever and this is a piece of animation history near and dear to me. I'd love to see Sonic CD rescanned, even if it makes this work obsolete.
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2021
  2. LilShootDawg


    LSD Member
    Wow! Looks great. Curious if you've tried upscaling the animated shows just for fun.
  3. Starduster


    Can bench press at least two Sonic the Hedgehogs Member
    Fighting my procrastination addiction
    My god, those stills look phenomenal.

    That said, and I’m not sure whether this me not having watched the intro in some time, or simply the presentation of the animation in official sources, but this seems a little bit too dark to me? I feel like particularly on Sonic the lineart blends in with the blue of his fur, and the grass in some shots seems quite strongly saturated to me.

    These are absolutely just observations on my part, though. You’ve put out something truly brilliant here and as an artist it always brings me great joy to be able to see things like these in higher quality.
  4. Fadaway


    I think it looks amazing. I am interested in these methods of upscaling. I have some old animation I did a long time back that has mediocre resolution and have been looking for ways to do something like this without redrawing everything. I'm at work right now but later, I plan on reading some about AI upscaling. It is something I'm not too familiar with.

    Again, this looks amazing.
  5. Dek Rollins

    Dek Rollins

    size of a tangerine Member
    Agh, "You Can Do Anything" is the Sonic Jam version! I'll have to mux the original with it myself I guess, haha!

    Regardless, this is quite impressive for an AI upscale. I also really hope Sega will make a true HD transfer (or 4K transfer), but this looks nice.
  6. Unlimited Trees

    Unlimited Trees

    we Do a Little Mischief, Mischief... Member
    UNITRES, Project Time, etc.
    this is incredible thank u for making this
  7. Tets


    one rude dude Oldbie
    Looks genuinely awesome! Almost like it was originally mastered in HD, but it still has that signature mid-90s Toei aesthetic. Imagine if we all had better TVs and higher standards for video quality in the 90s, but animators were still using cels. That's the sort of vibe I'm getting here.

    I've been a big advocate of AI assisted upscaling ever since I first saw Moguri Mod for Final Fantasy IX on Steam. Hope you guys can work some miracles on the ending FMV! Those still shots are dope.
  8. Beamer the Meep

    Beamer the Meep

    Better than Sonic Genesis... Member
    Oh it's absolutely stunning. AI can be hit or miss at times, but this looks absolutely incredible.

    Actually, if you look at the Cels that Tanks mentioned in his original post, you can see that it is supposed to be much darker than it turned out in all the versions we've had up to this point. It seems whatever technique they used washed out a lot of the color.

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  9. Captain VG

    Captain VG

    Previously Tanks Member
    We have not (outside of the OVA :ssh:), but I'm aware of someone who's actively been working on scaling SatAM. I'm not really sure how far they've gotten though, sadly. I was goofing with AoStH one day and I just can't find a source that's not an absolute wreck to start with, though I would love to work on a few of my favorite episodes.
  10. Dek Rollins

    Dek Rollins

    size of a tangerine Member
    It should be noted that animation cels are not necessarily accurate references for color correction, and should not be treated as such most of the time. That is, unless the accuracy of the cels can be corroborated by other, more trustworthy references. Similar to a prop or costume in a live action film, a cel is not made to be seen as the final product. Cels/backgrounds were made to be photographed. Captain Kirk's gold shirt may have been lime green in real life, but it isn't supposed to look like that on screen (that's an extreme example, I doubt there are many animated films where the painted cel is straight up a different color from the filmed image). After being photographed, there's usually additional color correction involved (films were "timed" photochemically). When a restoration of an animated film uses original cels as primary color references, it always causes some amount of controversy. The Transformers: The Movie is a prime example.

    In the case of the Sonic CD opening/ending animations, it's not like it was released theatrically, so it's hard to say if a finished, color timed interpositive or print was ever even made. But we do have the finished, more or less intended look in the released game (limited palette aside). Here I've compared the original Mega-CD FMV to this upscale as well as what's currently available in the 2011 version of the game. As an experiment, I also included an adjustment I made to the upscale to try and more closely match the Mega-CD image.

    I'd say the upscale is high on the contrast for the most part. For instance, the opening shot is very bright.
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  11. biggestsonicfan


    Model2wannaB Tech Member
    ALWAYS Sonic the Fighters
    VLC just shows black for me...
  12. Indeed, when I downloaded the video earlier, VLC would either crash immediately or play the audio over a black screen. No thumbnail ever appeared for it either...
  13. Myles_Zadok


    IDK Member
    Maybe try updating VLC? I installed VLC today since Windows Media Player wouldn't play it, and VLC ran it no problem.
  14. Thanks Myles_Zadok, I guess I just hadn't updated it in a hot minute.

    The footage looks great!
  15. DarkVDee


    Duke Of Palettes Member
    Sonic DVD [CD2]
    OMG THE VIDEO IS SO CLEAN! GOOD LORD EVERYTHING IS SO GORGEOUS! Seriously this is amazing. Can't wait to see more of this upscale AI thing happening for others like the Sonic Riders opening
  16. Blugenesi(Jarty)


    Wannabe Youtuber Member
    Imma download this just to halfassedly slap Sonic Boom over it.
    But seriously, you did a fantastic job with this, I am really impressed by how clean it is!
  17. RDNexus


    No need to slap it. It's already Dual Audio xD
  18. Trance


    The annoying guy you've probably seen around. Member
    Wow! I've always wanted something like this, and it came true!
  19. Captain VG

    Captain VG

    Previously Tanks Member
    Brought to you by popular demand, a youtube upload:
  20. Boxer Hockey

    Boxer Hockey

    Love to to finally see this with the saturation and values adjusted. Those deep blues really pop now.
    Also, regarding re-scanning the originals of both this and the OVA at the very least for archival purposes... we are trying. There are at least a few people inside that care about this stuff.