This is how the sandman's HDTV tuning works


The Sandman has been accompanying Germany’s children to bed for over 60 years. Again and again old episodes from GDR times flicker on the screen – in amazingly good picture quality. We asked how this is technically implemented.

With several screenshots in the appendix, DIGITAL-FERNSEHEN reader Johannes Thiede reports to the DF editorial team. Still images from a series of sand men can be seen, in which Pittliplatsch and Schnatterinchen are likely to once again have one of their many discussions. Of course, Moppi should not be missing either. The popular trio has accompanied generations of children to bed with over 500 evening greeting stories. On closer inspection, we see that the same scene in the pictures looks different – even though both were recorded with “MDR HD”. Left “rustling” SD quality as always and right as sharp as if the decades-old episode had just been shot in HDTV quality. The solution is quickly found: the left screenshot is from April 30, 2017, the right one is currently from March 15. How can that be, asks Mr. Thiede. Are all the old episodes now being restored?

Framework and evening greeting

We get the answer from Nina Paysen, who is responsible for the Sandmann in the “Family and Children” department of the Berlin-Brandenburg Broadcasting Corporation (RBB) and thus also plans to broadcast the MDR and children’s channel. First of all, she makes it clear that every Sandmann program consists of two parts. In the so-called “frame” the frame action takes place, in which our sandman visits the children and after the “evening story” now called “evening greeting” with Pitti, little king or caller goes home, drives or flies.

In the evening greeting “The Checkered Pitti”, the image improvement becomes clear through the resampling of the original film material. On the left the unprocessed broadcast from April 30, 2017, on the right the broadcast from March 15, 2020 with significantly more details and color optimizations. Screenshots: Johannes Thiede

The Sandman had its television premiere on November 22, 1959. Director, author, puppet and set designer Gerhard Behrendt designed the figure on behalf of the German Television Radio (DFF). Many fashions, trends and viewing habits have changed since then, but the sand man is still there.

“The daily Sandmann program is made up of constantly changing, rarely repeating combinations of Sandmann frames and friends’ stories,” explains Paysen. “These programs are planned monthly by the editors and cut by a cutter at RBB.” While the programs used to be physically delivered to the cutting station on tapes and cut there, digital image editing has been used for some time. For four years, the material that was previously filmed and archived on tapes has now been digitized and archived. “Every time that Sandmann stories that have not yet been edited are reworked, they are technically corrected – especially at the color level. Due to the constantly improving technology, the processing has been continuously higher quality in the past four years, “explains Nina Paysen proudly and adds:” We are very happy if our viewers also notice this positively. “

HDTV Pittiplatsch

With image processing and color correction, SD tapes are far from being pure HDTV material. Here the editors reach deep into the archive. In the case of very old “frames” or the old stories of Fuchs and Elster, Pittiplatsch or Plumps, material from the German Radio Archive (DRA) in Potsdam is used. This has the advantage that it is the analog raw material (35mm film), which has not been processed several times, but can be scanned digitally. “A very large part of the old inventory has now been processed,” explains Paysen. “In the foreseeable future, we will probably have our entire archive with a total of approx. 400 ‘frames’ and numerous friend stories in digital and edited form.” Incidentally, this quality is also necessary so that the sandman can shine in HD and is suitable for HbbTV is.

Moppi is also shown much sharper in the picture on the right, above all this can be recognized by the spots on the ears and the hair. Screenshots: Johannes Thiede

For readers interested in technology, there is a good explanation why the Sandman is turned on at RBB or MDR at 6.55 p.m. There are purely technical reasons – we just have to assess the image quality right now. In this connection, the question naturally arises of how our reader Mr. Thiede came to his discovery: “Quite simply, I am particularly interested in sandman films from the GDR era with Pittiplatsch as well as fox and magpie and often draw them for a time-shifted view on. I just don’t delete particularly original ones. So a few dozen have certainly accumulated. “We think: It’s a nice hobby!

They were the creators of the Sandman and his mission: Gerhard Behrendt (center), the director, author, puppet designer and Sandman father, Wolfgang Richter (left), the composer of the Sandman song, and the animator Harald Serowski. Image: @ RBB

The story of the sand man

On November 22, 1959, “Our Sandman” had its first appearance on East German screens. The television makers in Berlin-Adlershof had thereby won a race: A few weeks earlier it had become known that the SFB wanted to produce a “sand man”. The first episode was shot with elaborate trick technology. In order to distinguish itself from the west, the new series was called “Our Sandman”.

The literary “predecessor” is the “Sandmann” from the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. There the goblin was actually called “Ole Lukøje”, which can be translated as “Ole Eye Closers”. “Our Sandman” is a real standing man and cannot be pushed out of the screen. It came reliably every evening even after the last day of broadcasting by German television, December 31, 1991. In the past 60 years there have been only a few evenings without sleeping sand. That was on the days of the death of the first GDR Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl (September 21, 1964) and Vice-President of the State Council Johannes Dieckmann (February 22, 1969). Even on the evening of the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989), the sandman brought the little ones to bed.

This article was first published in DIGITAL TERNSEHEN edition 5/2020

Also read: Sandmännchen: Pittiplatsch new edition with new figures

Image source:

  • Pittiplatsch_restauriert_2: Screenshots Johannes Thiede
  • Pittiplatsch_restauriert_5: Screenshots Johannes Thiede
  • Unser_Sandmaennchen: © RBB
  • Sandmann-RBB: @ RBB

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