Film and television archives represent an invaluable resource for Indian broadcasters, publishers and film makers. With the explosion in the number of broadcast, satellite and cable channels, as well as video-on-demand, video, DVD publishing and multimedia services, high quality programme material is in increasing demand. But at present, the level of exploitation of moving picture archives is limited by the high cost and lengthy processing time required to restore archive assets to meet viewers’ expectations. This is all set to change, however, with a series of cost-effective restoration solutions that open the door to more widespread use of film archives.

These developments arise from BGIL project to improve the speed and efficiency of film restoration. Its goal was to enable the widest possible access to valuable archive material by significantly enhancing the efficiency of the video and film programme restoration process. Building on the results from an earlier project BGIL has focused on reducing the restoration time by developing algorithms capable of analysing the image in detail.

BGIL Studio is well equipped to do Film preservation or film restoration which describes a series of ongoing efforts among film historians, archivists, museums, cinematheques, and non-profit organizations to rescue decaying film stock and preserve the images which they contain. In the widest sense, preservation nowadays assures that a movie will continue to exist, as close to its original form as possible. Film preservation is not to be confused with film revisionism, in which long-completed films are subjected to outtakes never previously seen being inserted, newly inserted  music scores or sound effects being added, black.

Preservation

The ‘preservation’ of film usually refers to physical storage of the film in a climate-controlled vault, and sometimes to the actual repair and copying of the film element. Preservation is different from ‘restoration’, as restoration is the act of returning the film to a version most faithful to its initial release to the public and often involves combining various fragments of film elements. In most cases, when a film is chosen for preservation or restoration work, new prints are created from the original camera negative or the composite restoration negative which is often made from a combination of elements for general screening.

Digital Film Preservation

In the context of film preservation the term ‘digital preservation’ highlights the use of digital technology for the transfer of 35mm, 16mm, or 8mm film to digital carriers, as well as, all practices for ensuring the longevity and access to digitized or digitally born film materials. On purely technical and practical terms, digital film preservation stands for a domain specific subset of digital curation practices. Extensive technical literature on the subject can be found at the online library of the Presto Centre Project.

Digital restoration

Once a film is inspected and cleaned it is transferred via telecine to a digital tape or disk, and the audio is synced to create a new master. Seldom does an inspected film not require digital restoration Classic films must be in near-mint condition if they are to be resold.

The main defects needing restoration:

  1. Dirt/dust
  2. Scratches, tears/burned frames
  3. Color fade, color change
  4. Excessive film grain (a copy of an existing film has all of the film grain from the original as well as the film grain in the copy)
  5. Missing scenes and sound (censored or edited out for re-release)
  6. Shrinkage

Modern, digital film restoration takes the following steps:

  1. Expertly clean the film of dirt and dust.
  2. Repair all film tears with clear polyester tape or splicing cement.
  3. Scan each frame into a digital file.
  4. Restore the film frame by frame by comparing each frame to adjacent frames. This can be done somewhat by computer algorithms with human checking of the result.
    1. Fix frame alignment (‘jitter’ and ‘weave’), or the misalignment of adjacent film frames due to movement of film within the sprockets. This corrects the issue where the holes on each side of a frame are distorted over time. This causes frames to slightly be off center.
    2. Fix color and lighting changes. This corrects flickering and slight color changes from one frame to another due to aging of the film.
    3. Restore areas blocked by dirt and dust by using parts of images in other frames.
    4. Restore scratches by using parts of images in other frames.

Enhance frames by reducing film grain noise. Film foreground/background detail about the same size as the film grain or smaller is blurred or lost in making the film. Comparing a frame with adjacent frames allows detail information to be reconstructed since a given small detail may be split between more film grains from one frame to another.

Modern, photo chemical restoration follows roughly the same path:

  1. Extensive research is done to determine what version of the film can be restored from the existing material. Often, extensive efforts are taken to search out alternate material in film archives located around the world.
  2. A comprehensive restoration plan is mapped that allows preservationists to designate elements as ‘key’ elements upon which to base the polarity map for the ensuing photo chemical work. Since many alternative elements are actually salvaged from release prints and duplication masters (foreign and domestic). Care must be taken to plot the course at which negative, master positive and release print elements arrive back at a common polarity (i.e., negative or positive) for assembly and subsequent printing.
  3. Test prints are struck from existing elements to evaluate contrast, resolution, color (if color) and sound quality (if audio element exists).
  4. Elements are duplicated using the shortest possible duplication path to minimize analog duplication artifacts, such as the build-up of contrast, grain and loss of resolution.
  5. All sources are assembled into a single master restoration element (most often a duplicate negative).

From this master restoration element, duplication masters, such as composite fine grain masters, are generated to be used to generate additional printing negatives from which actual release prints can be struck for festival screenings and DVD mastering.