Scanning for archive on the rise while feature film market shrinks

By some estimates Kodak has produced some 3 trillion feet of film since the company’s inception in 1889, much of which remains undigitised in archives around the world. Its output is shrinking rapidly from 12.4 billion linear feet to 449 million this year, according to the Wall Street Journal, as demand for motion picture film stock plummets. However, a number of movies are still shot on film, high profile ones too, including Star Wars Episode VII which director JJ Abrams has chosen to shoot entirely on 35 mm. Interstellar the new science fiction movie from Christopher Nolan is a 35mm anamorphic film and 65mm IMAX print and Quentin Tarentino’s latest western The Hateful Eight is shot on 70mm CinemaScope.

Indeed the number of film scanners on the market remains stable. Vendors include Scanity (devised by Munich's DFT, owned since 2012 by India's Prasad Group); Blackmagic–owned Cintel; Lasergraphics' Scanstation; Berlin-based MWA Nova Flashscan; the Kinetta archive scanner; Filmlight's Northlight and GoldenEye 4 from Digital Vision. FotoKem, one of the world's leading film scanning labs, uses the Imagica system marketed by RTI.

By far the most common use for film scanners is in archive and restoration. Many of the news organisations like CBC and ITN have digitised all their 16mm archives and some of those run to 40,000 hours. Then there are a great many smaller archives of franchises like Nascar and the NFL and many small towns in the U.S house their own film archive.

“The tricky thing is to find what is important,” says Digital Vision product manager Patrick Morgan. “That is where archivists come into their own because what is important is not always what you can sell but what has historical significance.”

He cites, the 48-frame, 5-second long Sneeze made in 1894 and the first motion picture to be copyrighted in the U.S.

“The market potential for scanning is still huge but the problem is a great many archives don't have the budget to afford scanning or preservation tools,” he says.

Uniquely, he claims, Digital Vision is able to offer a complete workflow from film scanning to restoration and archiving. Its Phoenix restoration software has recently been upgraded with DVO DeFlicker and DVOReGrain tools while the THOR 4K hardware accelerator is designed to running the most demanding algorithms in real-time or faster.

The company’s Golden Eye 4 archive scanner can scan any film size from 8mm to 70mm without changing the optics. Its features a cool LED light source, optical registration and constant sprocketless transport to scan fragile, damaged and valuable film.

“When we designed Golden Eye 4 we tried to go after the maximum number of formats we could scan from 16 mm and 35 mm to the plethora of formats in between such as 9 mm, 7.5 mm 17.5 mm sizes,” he says.

He describes the Bifrost Archive Bridge as a process rather than a product (although it incorporates a number of DV products). Ballpark for a Bifrost install is €600,000.

“Bifrost essentially enables archives to create high quality digital media through the streamlining and automation of many once-specialised tasks and processes,” he says. “The process starts when the film is taken out of the can and the film is assessed for its suitability for scanning. An operator uses the Steenbeck and Bifrost QC software to log, edit and add to the existing data.”

The rest of the workflow is as follows: Thumbnails are captured during logging and data can be exchanged with other systems using XML files. Golden Eye ingests the XML file created by the Steenbeck operator to create a scanning list. Illumination and best light settings are done on a clip by clip basis. Separate audio elements can be digitised in parallel due to A/V sync references having being set in the preparation stage. Bifrost uses industry standard Avid Pro Tools hardware to record and synchronise audio. .

An automated image processing pass is applied using settings chosen during the preparation stage.

Dust, scratches and other defects can be removed automatically with no operator involvement. Digitised picture and audio content is automatically synchronised and made available for the archivist to sign off using the Bifrost QC application. Output is to any format required such as DPX or mezzanine formats like MXF – as well as browse copies at QuickTime resolution.”

“We don't specify where or how they archive,” says Morgan. “That's almost as personal as one's religion. Some prefer LTO, others spinning disc. The idea is to make it as simple as possible for archives to get through their media and digitise it.”


An important topic, Adrian. Thanks for the update.

Is it true that 35mm film is still the only trusted archiving format? I have been told that after digital scanning and restoration, creation of a new seamless 35mm print on an ARRI Laser is often the format of choice for major studios. There’s no guarantee that today’s digital storage formats and technologies will still exist even 20 years from now, but today’s 35mm films will last for hundreds of years. And they’re “human-readable.” Hold a film strip up to a light and you can see what’s on it.

October 30th 2014 @ 13:49 by Brian McKernan

We may be covering the archiving medium in a future article, but the focus here is on the scanning before digital restoration.

What you do with the files is a whole different topic. If we could carve digits in stone the data might last as long as an Egyptian tablet, but sadly their information density was very low!

I share your concern that even if the digital media exists in twenty years from know is there a device to read it. Formats fall by the wayside as operating systems move on. Take a eight-inch floppy, what do you do with that today?

October 31st 2014 @ 15:30 by David Austerberry Editor

Tough to find a machine that can even play a floppy today (AND interface with a modern PC or Mac).

Enjoyed the article. Looking forward to another someday on archiving (and the advantages of 35mm film for that purpose).

October 31st 2014 @ 15:38 by Brian McKernan
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