Collection Of Old Films Rescued For Preservation

Periscope Film owners [Doug] and [Nick] just released a mini-documentary about the rescue of a large collection of old 35 and 16 mm celluloid films from the landfill. The video shows the process of the films being collected from the donor and then being sorted and organized in a temporary storage warehouse. There is a dizzying variety of films in this haul, from different countries, in both color and black and white.

We can see in the video that their rented 8 meter (26 foot) cargo truck wasn’t enough to contain the trove, so they dragged along a 1.8 x 3.6 m (6 x 12 ft) double-axle trailer as well. That makes a grand total of 49 cubic meters of space. Our back-of-the-envelope calculations says that filled to the brim, that would be over 30,000 canisters of 600 m (2,000 ft) 35 mm movie reels.

When it comes to preserving these old films, one big problem is physical deterioration of the film stock itself. You will know something is wrong when you get a strong acetic or vinegary odor when opening the can. [Nick] shows some examples where the film has even become solidified, taken on a hexagonal shape. It will take months to just assess and catalog the contents of this collection, with damaged films that are still salvageable jumping to the head of the queue to be digitized.

Film Scanning Artist [Esteban] Performing Color Correction
Films are digitized at 4K resolution using a Lasergraphics ScanStation archival quality film scanning system, and then the restoration fun begins. One issue demonstrated in this video is color deterioration. In the Eastmancolor film technology introduced in the 1950s, the blue dyes deteriorate over time. This, and a plethora of other issues, are corrected in the restoration process.

We’re particularly jealous of film scanning artist [Esteban]’s triple-headed trackball. We learned from a quick Google search this beast is merely the entry level control panel from UK company Tangent — they make even larger flavors.

If you’re interested in doing this with 8 mm home movies, we covered a project way back in 2011 of a DIY home movie scanning project. We also covered one of Periscope Film’s restored training films about NASA soldering techniques from 1958. Kudos to organizations who focus on keeping these types of interesting and historical films from being dumped in the landfill and lost forever.

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60’s Comedy Rescued From Nigerian Basement

In the sixties, videotape used to film television programs was expensive. When a program had been shown as many times as the contract required the tape was wiped and reused, unless someone requested it be saved for some reason. At least, this was the BBC’s doctrine. Many episodes of the BBC’s programs have gone missing due to this reuse of the videotapes but sometimes the films of these episodes are found in an attic or storage facility. [Cplamb] brings us the story of the salvation of some episodes of British comedians Morecambe and Wise’ first series on the BBC, their first color series.

Do make duplicates, the BBC would film a television playing one of the videotapes. This film duplicate would be sent out to television stations around the world, rather than the tapes. The Morecambe and Wise film was found in the humid basement of a television station in Nigeria. Due to the conditions, the film was “diseased” and was in danger of decomposing into soup.

A series of hacks was used to restore the episodes from the rotting film stock. X-ray microtomography was used to scan a roll of film to see if this could be used. This worked because the film has a layer of silver oxide emulsion(the image) on one side and plastic (the film stock) on the other. A program was written so that the resulting voxels could be remapped into two dimensions in order to see the original frame. However, the volume that the machine could x-ray was small – using it on an item the size of a full roll of film would probably destroy the film, if it could be done. The next hack was to cut the film into small blocks using a laser cutter. This itself seems destructive but if you can either cut it up and scan it or let it turns into soup the choice is easy.

A second part of the story has been published, but the third article in the series hasn’t been yet, so we don’t know how the resulting film looks. But this is a pretty cool story involving scanning, x-rays, programming, and laser cutters — all hallmarks of the great hacks we see on Hackaday. Check out this article on the mechanics of film projection and this one on automatically scanning 8mm film for similar style hacks.