PeriscopeFilm 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.
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 PeriscopeFilm’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.