Zach Smothers of POP COLORTURE recently spoke with UMU in regards to his colorization of The Munsters and his overall love for the popular 60’s television series.
There are several aspects that stand out in regards to the classic Universal Monsters movies and various off shoots. The Munsters being a popular take on Universal’s iconic films payed homage in many ways. It was one of the only productions to ever use Jack Pierce’s copyrighted Frankenstein make-up, along with continuing the iconography of Dracula and The Bride of Frankenstein. The 60’s television series came at a time when love for the classic monsters was at an all time high and while its take may have been solidly cartoonish in nature and humor, The Munsters have undoubtedly become a part of the Universal Monsters legacy that is still enjoyed today. This past week we had the opportunity that saw us not only meet someone who loves the classics, but also get to speak with this same someone in regards to his current work and involvement with The Munsters. That someone is Zach Smothers of POP COLORTURE and we’re sure you’ll soon be a fan as much as we are.
Zach Smothers, from the age of nine, has been a “Munsters fanatic,” but it was first an adapted kids version of “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” that introduced him to the world of monsters. “I read it several times in elementary school. I thought it was such a cool story and since then, I’ve always been a big Frankenstein fan,” Smothers told us. Naturally, it was this enjoyment of Frankenstein that eventually led to The Munsters. As someone who was a big fan of all things in the 60’s, it’s easy to see why Smothers grew attached to Universal’s television series starring Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis. While at a young age, the show’s “cartoonish approach to monsters and physical comedy” drew Smothers in, but it was later on that he began to see just how relevant the series was. “At the time it premiered, The Munsters was hip with social commentary and jokes based around current events, and in the past 50 years, it has aged nicely into a campy capsule of its time.”
Just by talking with or reading anything Zach Smothers has said about The Munsters it’s easy to recognize that he’s not only an enthusiast, but also has a near encyclopedic knowledge of the series. It was his first encounter with Munster, Go Home! that increased his desire to colorize and learn a skill that would eventually cement him as a premier The Munsters fan and artist working today.
The first time I saw the show, I thought it would look great in color and being a fan pushed me to learn how to colorize. I wanted to see what the drippy, waxy text looked like and I was just gung-ho from the beginning about seeing the show in color somehow. I saw a TV listing for the movie Munster, Go Home! shortly after I saw the original series and I thought the “in color” bullet next to the title had to be a printing error. When I saw Herman for the first time, I yelled “He’s GREEN!”
Despite his desire to see The Munsters also in color, Smothers does know that there are purists “who consider colorization to be blasphemy of the film and television world.” Smothers response?
Colorization in the past was not good. In fact, it was pretty terrible and even today, colorizations are typically flat with little shading and color variation. I’m with you guys; they are bad. But I’m not here to do bad things! Especially not to a show so near and dear to my heart.
When speaking to Smothers about the process of colorization and his approach to the classic like The Munsters, he did bring up that the black & white of the original show does pay homage to the Universal classics. Interestingly, he went on to speak of the first 13 episodes and of how they were much different than the rest of the series. “The cinematography was much darker and shadowy and almost felt like you were peering in. Past episode 13, the set became brighter, shadows disappeared and instead of being bizarre, creepy-crawly comedy, the humor became more cartooney and jovial and I think color would have benefitted the series from this point on.” While the show may or may not have benefited, we now know (thanks to Smothers) that it was $10,000 more to do The Munsters in color; this was not an expense Universal wanted to make. But thanks to people like Zach Smothers of POP COLORTURE, fans now have the ability to watch, albeit in clips, The Munsters in color.
My process is constantly evolving with the goal to increase speed and improve quality. Before The Munsters opening, I had colorized images and I knew there were more efficient methods for video, but I figured doing at least one frame-by-frame project would be good for me. Now for efficiency, I use motion tracking and rotoscoping to animate color on top of the black and white footage. I’ve timed projects and using motion tracking, I work almost 10 times faster than painting frame by frame. The color actually takes the least amount of time, but is the most fun, of course. I’ve imagined these scenes in color for so long, I am amazed every time I finally see the color fall into place.
Black & White and color are two options that are very much a part of nearly every Universal Monster and classic monsters offering. Companies like Diamond Select Toys and Mezco offer their Universal Monsters collectibles, traditionally, in both B&W and color. As a fan, it’s always interesting to see both presentations as color presents a wildly different take than of the original black & white offerings. But Smothers does recognize this and he’s stated this his personal belief is “that a colorized image should not look colorized.” A perfect example of this could be found in lobby cards for for The Mummy’s Ghost of starlet Ramsay Ames. In certain lobby cards, her hair appears blonde, whereas in real life it was dark brown. This is something Smothers is very aware of and something he actively thinks about when colorizing video and/or stills. Taking very few liberties, Smothers makes it his effort to present color in only as true a way as it could possibly be.
Colorizing the opening of The Munsters was of great joy for Zach Smothers. And his two favorites to work on is Grandpa’s costume and Lily’s makeup. “I think they are my favorites to work on because they give such a nice pop of color in any scene.” As for his favorite episode? “Will Success Spoil Herman Munster? and luckily, it has a lot of scenes that are well-suited for motion tracking and colorization.”
The Munsters are one of the most popular of monsters and families in pop culture. “I think it is still popular because it sends a positive, timeless message and reminds us that it’s ok to look different or go against the grain,” said Smothers in regards to his belief on why they hold up and are still so loved. We love the classic monsters and Munsters for the same reasons and it’s always very rewarding to meet new people and speak with those that enjoy these properties as much as we do. We’re very excited to have met Zach Smothers of POP COLORTURE and we can’t wait to continually follow his work. While he has worked on clips that could be viewed on YouTube, he does have a personal goal to eventually color a a full episode(s).
I think a full episode will be pretty far out in the future because colorization is usually done by a team of artists. Even with motion tracking and efficient methods, it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort working by myself. My dream is to colorize the series or even just a few episodes for a blu-ray set or a new release. I really respect this series and there are some episodes I hear mentioned over and over that fans would like to see in color. I would love to be the one to do it, so maybe some day!
Zach Smothers currently resides in Los Angeles and POP COLORTURE van be found on Facebook, Twitter, linkedin, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, and Tumblr.
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)