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Subject: Digitizing film

Digitizing film

From: Elizabeth Knazook <eknazook<-at->
Date: Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Stephanie Gowler <s-gowler [at] northwestern__edu> writes

>... I am in the
>process of surveying our library's motion picture film collections,
>the vast majority of which are on cellulose acetate film base at
>various stages of decay, in order to prioritize collections for
>re-housing and reformatting, based on their condition.
>...
>For those of you who have undertaken film reformatting projects
>recently: what deliverables did you request from the vendor(s)? Were
>all films transferred to film base duplicates or were there
>collections for which you only received a digital copy?
>
>Any information and experiences you can share on the pros and cons
>of transferring the original acetate film directly to digital would
>be greatly appreciated.

If purchasing new copies are not an option (the words 'motion
pictures' makes me think of Hollywood-produced works), my question
for you is: How does your audience expect to be able to view these
films? We have a number of professors in our Image Arts department
who insist that the experience of watching a projected 16mm film is
integral to the understanding of the film. You may want to survey
your users and find out how important it is to them to be able to
show the film as a film and not a digital copy.

That said, using a digital copy as a master copy is not completely
out of the question. A high resolution file can protect the original
film from wear and tear and can produce multiple viewing copies for
researchers. About 2 years ago our library received a donation of
35mm films that we believed to be of historical and cultural
significance, and not available in any other format. The films were
beginning to smell slightly of vinegar--a sign they were
deteriorating and should not be projected any more. We could have
copied them onto a polyester base, but we were able to argue that
the content of these particular films was of primary importance and
not the viewing experience. Most users would be those who booked
appointments in our Special Collections reading room, and they
prefer a digital copy for pausing and rewinding.

The key is to make multiple copies at the highest possible quality
the first time around--and of course, don't discard the original
film element! Bag and freeze the films so they can be copied again
if it should ever be required. We went with two digital masters--one
on Panasonic HD/D5 digital videotape, which is a high-end broadcast
quality tape that plays back at the original film's 23.98 fps
(frames- per-second) instead of speeding up to videotape's usual
29.97 fps. We then converted the video signal to to an uncompressed
digital file as a back-up, and for authoring DVDs for viewing. I
think the key for this project, whether you go with analogue or
digital, is to think of one copy as a preservation master and
another as a viewing master.

If you want a copy of the detailed report provided by our vendor,
Preserving the Past in Rochester, NY- I'll give them a plug because
we were happy with the service--I'd be glad to email you a copy
directly.

Beth Knazook
Photographic Specialist
Ryerson University Library Special Collections
350 Victoria Street
Toronto ON M5B 2K3
416-979-5000 x4996


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Received on Tuesday, 15 December, 2009

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