Re: Speeding up film preservation (was "The Race to Save 100 Years")

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: alt.movies.silent
Date: Sunday, March 22, 1998 6:18 PM

Frank Wylie wrote in message <>…
>"David P. Hayes" <> wrote:
>>but here is where I again
>>find cause to plea that rare prints subject to deterioration be transferred
>>to an inexpensive, digital format with all the resolution and grayscale that
>>could be expected from the best film-to-film copy.
>Please don't take this as a hostile observation, but after reading
>your plea, it seems to not be so much for preservation, as conversion
>to the digital format.

Conversion to a digital format does constitute "preservation" when at present the affected films are on deteriorating media. I use the term "preservation" exclusive of "restoration," which is how Roger Meyer uses the two terms.

>Currently, the same said restoration/preservation can be done on film
>@ a lower cost and higher resolution on a media that has a proven
>track record.

"Film… a proven track record"? We know that both nitrate and safety stocks are subject to decomposition and fading. As for cost, CD recordable discs which store 660MB are now selling for a dollar, or to put it another way, we're talking $1.50 per gigabyte.

>I will dance a jig of joy when it becomes "do-able" on a desktop
>computer and simple scanner. Until then, I plan on using the media
>that makes the most sense as far as economy Vs quality; film.

"Simple scanner" may be going too far, but the principles of those scanners can be adapted for the required machinery, which could therefore be of moderate expense and competitive to other media.

>In my opinion, a real danger looms on the near-horizon. With all the
>hoopla about digital film preservation/restoration, the general public
>and many film buffs assume that all archives have digital facilities;
>when quite the opposite is true. Archives simply do not have the
>budgets to build a preservation program around a technology that
>changes standards each year and obsoletes itself with alarming

The hoopla should be ignored, and false expectations should be discouraged, but once the hyperbole is stripped away, the truth that remains is that technology has advanced so much that there is incredible bang for the buck. Anyone who knows what kind of computer $1500 would buy ten years ago and compares it to what the same (devalued) amount buys today can see just how much more RAM, ROM, MHz, etc., can be had.

And I never implied that potentially-obsolete standards be employed. I went into detail as to how essential it was to find the optimal transfer procedure to capture as much resolution and grayscale as would be found on a film print; I repeated that sentiment in the very passage that you responded to.

After saying that, we need to remember that digital formats are flexible about resolution and grayscale limitations, so the transfer done today is not unreadable by the machine of tomorrow. An example of this is the DVD format which can store a movie as 1.85:1, 1.33:1, 2.35:1, or any other ratio currently in use or to be invented, without special decoders and without waste of storage data gone to black bars. (I'm not endorsing the resolution or color-scale capabilities of DVD, nor implying that it represents the pinnacle of digital formatting [it doesn't], but am rather spotlighting a single aspect--versatility of picture area--to make the point that technological obsolense needn't happen.)

>The typical American response is to embrace technology for
>technology's sake; never mind the consequences. Even more
>dangerous to me is the automatic assumption that every advance in
>digital film preservation/restoration/production is instantly adopted
>by all who work with film. While many of us know this to be untrue;
>a distressingly large number of my (otherwise intelligent) friends
>express shock and incredulity that the lab I work for does not have
>the latest Cineon digital workstation sitting in the corner for a
>quick session of "remove the scratch" on the latest restoration.

That people make bad assumptions does not invalidate the value of the technology, nor should the most advanced equipment be expected to be found anywhere other than where it would be used around the clock. Digital-scratch-removal does not fall into the category of what I am pleading to see converted to digital form; as I indicated, I most see the need to copy nitrate materials in their present form (with whatever scratches, missing emulsion, etc.) so that chemical decomposition of the nitrate won't eliminate any more one-of-a-kind material. Scratch-removal and other corrections (e.g., insertion of missing scenes from other prints) can wait.

>If this type of assumption becomes ingrained in the general public;
>then what is to keep it from working it's way into corporate culture?
>This could possibly manifest itself in the elimination of certain
>filmstocks (or all filmstocks) needed to continue film restoration,
>should companies like Eastman Kodak feel that current digital
>technology can replace motion picture film.

If corporate culture acts in its best interest, Eastman Kodak will continue to make filmstock for film-to-film copying as long as labs are buying it. And if one company were so stupid as to stop making it when there is a market for it, a competitor will step in to fill the vacuum. What definition of "corporate culture" were you using?

David Hayes


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